Fact Check: Joe Biden Did NOT Campaign With Grand Wizard of KKK

Hoax Alert

  • by: Monte Plott
Fact Check: Joe Biden Did NOT Campaign With Grand Wizard of KKK

Did Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden formerly campaign with a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan? No, that's not true: Former U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia renounced his 1940s Klan activity. The claim has previously been challenged, and there is no evidence that he ever held the Klan leadership title of grand wizard.

The claim surfaced again in a post (archived here) where it was published on Facebook by user name The Conserative on February 29, 2020. The text of the meme reads:

Biden with Grand wizard of KKK. So who again is playing you, lying to you, using you for the votes, Creators of the KKK, opposed civil rights of blacks. Yup thats the Democratic party.

Facebook users saw this:

The photo was taken more than a decade ago, on October 24, 2008, as Biden, then the vice presidential candidate with Barack Obama, attended a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, according to AP Images, which includes the photo among its news photos.

In the picture, Biden is accompanied by West Virginia's then-senators, Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, and by then-Gov. Joe Manachin. Although the post's text does not specify which person was allegedly "Grand wizard" of the KKK, the head of Byrd is circled, as is that of Biden.

Byrd admitted in interviews late in his life, and there are reports that he led a local chapter of the KKK. In his autobiography, as reported by The Washington Post, he acknowledged he had been a Klan member in the 1940s and had helped recruit new members in West Virginia. Byrd, who died in 2010, repeatedly recounced his Klan involvement. He never claimed to be a "grand wizard" - historically the highest-ranking leader in the arcane lexicon of the Ku Klux Klan.

According to the Post's story from June 19, 2005:

In the early 1940s, a politically ambitious butcher from West Virginia named Bob Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the "Grand Dragon" for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter.

As Byrd recalls now, the Klan official, Joel L. Baskin of Arlington, Va., was so impressed with the young Byrd's organizational skills that he urged him to go into politics. "The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation," Baskin said.

The young Klan leader went on to become one of the most powerful and enduring figures in modern Senate history. Throughout a half-century on Capitol Hill, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has twice held the premier leadership post in the Senate, helped win ratification of the Panama Canal treaty, squeezed billions from federal coffers to aid his home state, and won praise from liberals for his opposition to the war in Iraq and his defense of minority party rights in the Senate.

Despite his many achievements, however, the venerated Byrd has never been able to fully erase the stain of his association with one of the most reviled hate groups in the nation's history.

"It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one's life, career, and reputation," Byrd wrote in a new memoir -- "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields" -- that will be published tomorrow by West Virginia University Press.

There is no evidence that Byrd ever held the Klan rank of grand wizard, which gets complicated as different factions of the KKK used different titles in the leadership ranks:

  • Empire - constituting the whole area of the Klan's activities. This was led by the Imperial Wizard and his staff of ten Genii, as well as a Grand Exchequer(treasurer) and Grand Scribe, whose duty was to keep lists of the subordinate officers. The Genii, Imperial Exchequer and Scribe were appointed by the Imperial Wizard.[4]
  • Realms - while the role of Realms was laid out in the first prescript they were only identified as states in the second. Realms were ruled by a Grand Dragon assisted by eight Hydras, as well as a Grand Exchequer and Grand Scribe, whose duties were identical to the above officers on the imperial level. All officers were appointed by the Grand Dragon.[5]
  • Dominions - identified in the second prescript as "coterminous with such counties as the Grand Dragons of the several Realms shall assign" and "not to exceed three in number for each Congressional district".[6] The Dominion was headed by a Great Titan assisted by six Furies, a Great Exchequer and a Great Scribe, appointed by the Great Titan.[7]
  • Provinces - the second prescript identified the Provinces as equivalent to a county. It was supervised by a Grand Giant, assisted by four Goblins, a Grand Exchequer, and a Grand Scribe, appointed by the Grand Giant.[8]

Regardles, the Facebook post itself doesn't cite any source for its claim.


  Monte Plott

Monte Plott is a Senior Editor with Lead Stories and has previously been a reporter and editor with The Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA Today and the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. Most recently, he was a news editor with CNN Digital News for more than a decade.

He has taught journalism at four universities from Emory and Georgia State in Atlanta to the University of Tirana in Albania, where he served as a Knight International Press Fellow.

His footnote in journalism history is his byline on the lead front-page story in the first edition of USA Today in 1982.

Read more about or contact Monte Plott

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