JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nearly one year ago, Ken Parker joined hundreds of other white nationalists at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That day, he wore a black shirt with two lightning bolts sewn onto the collar, the uniform of the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi group.
In the past 12 months, his beliefs and path have been radically changed by the people he has met since the violent clash of white nationalists and counterprotesters led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32.
Now he looks at the shirt he wore that day, laid out in his apartment in Jacksonville, and sees it as a relic from a white nationalist past he has since left behind.
“This is their new patch,” he said, pointing to a symbol sewn to the sleeve. “The old one, they had a swastika on there. They wanted to rebrand themselves to not look as racist, to be more appealing to the alt-right crowd.”
As he lays out more paraphernalia on his living room coffee table, Parker’s cramped apartment starts to look like a museum — not just of the modern hate movement, but of his life for the past six years.
He picks up a green robe from his time as a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, a title he earned by recruiting new members, first in Georgia where he lived after joining the Klan in 2012, and now in Florida.
“I think it cost $170, and I never got eyeholes on my hood,” Parker said as he held up the mask. He later explained why: “I didn’t hide behind anything. I stood behind what I believed.”
Parker said he felt the need to be in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, to “stand up for my white race.”
“It was thinly veiled [as an effort] to save our monuments, to save our heritage,” he said about the rally. “But we knew when we went in there that it was gonna turn into a racially heated situation, and it wasn’t going to work out good for either side.”