Southern Gothic: NC Klan Cases Expose Seedy Underworld
By David Holthouse and Casey Sanchez
SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The dead man in Glen Gautier's dreams always asked the same question: "Why didn't you bury me with my glasses?" The nightmares began torturing Gautier in early 2002. That year, a certain phantom kept leading Gautier back to a hayfield on his brother's farm along Pine Ridge Road in Sampson County, N.C., where the body of the man Gautier had conspired to murder, a fellow member of the Ku Klux Klan, had lain buried and rotting for a year and a half.
By his own account, Gautier (pronounced "go-chay"), who was 50 at the time, had carried out the killing with three other members of two separate but allied Klan chapters, or "klaverns," that roamed the backwoods of semi-rural central North Carolina in 2001, stealing guns, making bombs, plotting murders, and carrying out at least one.
The others seemed to pay the killing no mind. But Gautier was different. He kept driving to the hayfield and standing over the grave like he was paying his respects, and he had recurring nightmares in which he sat across a table from the dead man, unable to speak or move.
On Jan. 1, 2003, Gautier called the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and said he knew all about a Klan killing, that he'd been there when it happened, that he'd tell them who else had done it, and that he'd show them where the body was buried.
The next day, at one in the afternoon, Gautier met with detectives from the SBI and the Sampson County Sheriff's Office in a room at the Southern Belle Motel, where he spilled his guts. His confession triggered parallel state murder and federal gunrunning cases. They've since dragged on for years but are now finally approaching resolution, either by trial or plea bargains.
These investigations have opened a rare window into the inner workings of the modern-day Klan in the South, a secret and sordid culture of violence, racism and paranoia, where coon dogs are traded for liquid dynamite, crosses are burned next to the local Waffle House, and a Klan grand dragon presides over meetings in a ramshackle clubhouse on the edge of a swamp.
The following account is based on interviews with law enforcement authorities as well as court records, including hearing transcripts and detailed notes on interviews of seven Ku Klux Klan members, both suspects and witnesses, conducted by investigators from the SBI, the Sampson and Johnston County Sheriff's Offices, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Although resolution of both the gunrunning and murder cases now awaits the psychiatric evaluation of the main Klan leader, almost every part of this account is supported by multiple sources. Most participants, including the Klan leader's son and wife, have pleaded guilty to charges in the gunrunning case and have made concurring official statements detailing their activities.
Gautier joined the Klan when he was 47. It was early 1999. His landlord and sometime employer, a vinyl-siding contractor named Charles "Junior" Barefoot, had just formed a new klavern of the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the oldest and largest multi-state Klan organizations in the United States. Ray Larsen, the group's Indiana-based imperial wizard, or national leader, issued Barefoot a charter to form his klavern after Barefoot contacted Larsen by phone and the Internet. Barefoot appointed himself grand dragon, or local klavern leader, and practically begged Gautier to join. (The title of grand dragon normally designates a statewide Klan leader; in the National Knights, however, klavern bosses often refer to themselves as grand dragons.)
At the time, Gautier was staying in a singlewide trailer on a small plot Barefoot owned next to a marsh, a few miles off a winding state highway lined with cotton fields. Barefoot lived in a house on the same land with his wife and hunting dogs. Flying from a flagpole in the front yard were a Confederate battle flag, a Ku Klux Klan banner, and a tapestry bearing the likeness of country music legend Hank Williams Sr. Signs on the fence read:
Within a few months, the klavern had about 20 members who each paid $13 to join and $5 a month in dues. They met on the third Sunday of every month at five o'clock, either at Barefoot's house or their alternate clubhouse, a large wooden chicken shack a few miles away. The meetings opened with a Bible reading and then rapidly degenerated into alcohol-fueled bull sessions about the plight of the white man.
So it went for about a year. Then, in March 2000, Larsen put Barefoot in touch with Michael Anthony Brewer, a 28-year-old plumber with a long criminal record. Brewer was the grand dragon of a klavern based in Lumberton, N.C., a Robeson County town about 90 miles south of Raleigh.
Larsen, the imperial wizard from Indiana, wanted the two grand dragons to get to know one another and to consider merging their klaverns. Barefoot and Brewer exchanged E-mails to arrange a meeting at a Burger King in Benson. There, they made plans to bring their klaverns together the following Sunday at Brewer's home in Lumberton.
At this initial gathering of the two klaverns, Brewer's wife Sissy served a chicken dinner while the grand dragons and their klaverns formalized the alliance. As Barefoot later put it in a statement to investigators, they agreed to "take care of each other's problems" and "kill snitches."
Threats, Prayers and Crack Cocaine
Brewer, the grand dragon of the Robeson County klavern, also met in 2000 and 2001 with National Knights klaverns in Bladen County, N.C., Whiteville, N.C., and Laurens, S.C. But his association with the Barefoot klavern was the tightest, probably because it required the shortest drive.
The grand dragons had a rocky relationship. At one meeting, fellow Klansmen told officials later, Barefoot told Brewer that he didn't like the way Brewer was looking at Barefoot's wife and threatened to skin Brewer alive, "like he had a boy in Florida." Brewer replied that if Barefoot wanted a war, Brewer would give him one.
Violent boasts and death threats were as common at the klavern meetings as the Bible readings they opened with. Klansmen boasted of shooting a black man five times before lynching him near Godwin Lakes in Harnett County that spring. Barefoot hinted that he'd had a hand in killing two black men in the late 1980s, saying their bodies had been dumped within the space of a week near Stricklands Crossings. Brewer claimed he was "responsible" for the body of a "gutted prostitute" he said had been found near his property.
According to North Carolina law enforcement authorities, none of these details match any unsolved homicides.
Charles Barefoot and his wife went broke trying to run the Enchanted Barn honky-tonk, and Barefoot blamed Sheriff Steve Bizzell. Later on, Barefoot allegedly boasted that he'd prepared a "50-pound bomb" for the lawman.
Barefoot ranted about overthrowing the United States government by assassinating its officials, starting with Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell. Barefoot and his wife had gone broke trying to run a honky-tonk bar they bought called the Enchanted Barn, and Barefoot blamed the sheriff. He said Bizzell kept sending deputies into the Enchanted Barn to "check for licenses," effectively shutting him down.
"I'll have his head," Barefoot allegedly sputtered. He said he had a "50-pound bomb" he was saving "for the sheriff's office."
There were rumors within the klaverns, meanwhile, that a small faction of the National Knights led by Brewer was ripping off crack cocaine houses in Fayetteville, N.C. According to later statements by Klansmen to police, Brewer had talked openly at a meeting about making money by busting into crack houses, killing all the black drug dealers and users inside, and stealing all the cash and cocaine. He said that a friend had driven him around Fayetteville, pointing out easy targets. Months later, Brewer and his two closest Klan confidants suddenly all bought new pickup trucks, and Brewer purchased a new doublewide trailer. These sudden purchases struck the other members of the klavern as strange, since the grand dragon was always whining about his financial problems. Combined, the two klaverns of central North Carolina had nearly 50 members. For more than a year after they united, the klaverns kept a low profile and, whatever they may have been up to, avoided trouble with the law. But then the grand dragons decided to join a parade.
Every September, as many as 40,000 people travel to Benson, N.C., population 10,000, to participate in Mule Days, a four-day Southern hoedown of mule racing, coon jumping, ugliest and prettiest mule pageants, and human braying contests. Most years, the gravest danger Mule Days' organizers have to worry about is drunken riders wobbling in their saddles on jam-packed streets. But in 2001 they had to contend with the Klan.
Barefoot and Brewer put out the word to all the klaverns of the National Knights that the North Carolina boys would host a big cross-burning in Benson during Mule Days. Ray Larsen agreed to attend as the guest of honor and to bring his Indiana klavern with him.
Eager to impress the imperial wizard, Barefoot and Brewer applied for a permit to allow the Klansmen to march in the Mule Days parade. The Benson Chamber of Commerce promptly rejected their request.
The night before the parade, nearly 100 Klansmen from klaverns in five states camped out in a field adjacent to a Waffle House in downtown Benson. They grilled meat and burned a cross. Larsen conducted a ceremony inducting Barefoot's son, Daniel, into the National Knights. As the night wore on, the Klansmen laid plans to show up and march in the next day's parade, permit be damned. They either didn't know or didn't care that undercover agents from the FBI and the Benson Police Department were among them.
"[We were] actually able to infiltrate the meeting that was being held," Steve Bizzell, Johnston County's sheriff, told the Intelligence Report. "They were gonna move to disrupt the parade and be a force to be reckoned with." The next morning, about a dozen Klan members attempted to join the parade dressed in black combat fatigues decorated with blood-drop Klan insignia and Confederate battle flags. Barefoot and Larsen were among them.
"They were actually on the sidewalks amongst families," said Sheriff Bizzell. "They actually came down the parade route walking behind observers on the sidewalks. They tried to intimidate the crowd there."
But the Klan members were outnumbered.
Barefoot had been embarrassed in front of the imperial wizard, outmaneuvered on his own turf by a local sheriff who was already his proclaimed enemy. "We [the KKK] don't believe in violence. We're different now," Barefoot told a local reporter that day. "We're out here to make a point, that white people are a declining breed but we are still here."
A short time later, the Wal-Mart in the nearby town of Dunn held a deer-season sale on Pyrodex black powder, commonly used as a propellant in muzzle-loading rifles. Junior Barefoot, as he told law enforcement agents later, bought a cartload and started making bombs.
The design was crude but deadly. According to his wife, Barefoot packed five cans of black powder into a two-foot section of PVC pipe attached to a quart jar filled with ether, gunpowder and dry-wall screws. He made a series of these bombs in late 2001 and detonated at least three in his backyard, experimenting with fuse lengths. He talked a lot about Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, and about blowing up the Johnston County Courthouse to kill Sheriff Bizzell.
Late in 2001, Barefoot added to his explosives arsenal by trading one of his prized hunting dogs for two tubes of Kinestik, a highly volatile and powerful liquid explosive. Barefoot stored the pink gel in his freezer. He allegedly instructed his son Daniel that if Barefoot were ever arrested and put in the county jail, which is housed in the same building as the courthouse, that Daniel should place a bomb beneath a propane tank outside Sheriff Bizzell's office, light the green trip line, and run like hell. The grand dragon wasn't sure he'd survive the blast in his cell, but his rough plan for that eventuality was to follow the Neuse River to Greensboro and go into hiding with the help of a klavern there.
Early in 2002, witnesses told the authorities, Barefoot directed his son to bomb a different target: his stepdaughter's house. Barefoot had repeatedly threatened his wife's daughter by another man, once suggesting that he'd arranged to have her gang raped. Now he wanted her house destroyed by one of his black powder-and-ether bombs. Daniel said he was "excited" to do it. In preparation, Daniel kept the Kinestick in his freezer, a fact his roommates discovered when he warned them not to slam the freezer door. But Daniel's eagerness outstripped his nerve. When he crept up on the target house, the stepdaughter's dogs scared him off, so he set fire to an empty hay barn and a school bus parked on the property instead. (Daniel Barefoot later pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the case.)
As the year progressed, Barefoot grew increasingly unhinged. One night, in a rage, he pulled a 9mm pistol fitted with a laser sight and, his wife said, pressed the barrel to her forehead. She left him, moved into a motel, and obtained a restraining order that prohibited Barefoot from coming near her or possessing firearms outside his home.
Then, on July 16, 2002, Renee Barefoot sat down with an ATF agent. She told him that her estranged husband was making bombs, buying liquid dynamite, and talking about blowing up the local sheriff's office. The next day, local police pulled Barefoot over. They found a .25-caliber handgun in the driver's side door compartment of his red Ford pickup and the laser-sighted semi-automatic in a shoulder holster Barefoot was wearing. The officers placed Barefoot under arrest for violating the terms of his restraining order, then drove him in handcuffs to his house, where they served him with a warrant for a search of the premises. The search turned up the pipe bombs, 4,500 rounds of hidden ammunition and two dozen handguns, mini-assault rifles and pump-action shotguns. They also found the pink Kinestik in the freezer. There was no sign of the "50-pound bomb" Barefoot had boasted about reserving for Sheriff Bizzell.
Several of the firearms the ATF agents found were from a batch of 31 guns reported stolen months earlier from an outbuilding belonging to the uncle of a 17-year-old Klan member.
Sometime in late 2001, a group of eight Klansmen drove to the building, where the smallest of them crawled through air-conditioning ducts and unlocked a door. The Klansmen loaded the weapons into the trunk of one of their cars and drove back to Barefoot's house, where they wiped them down with WD-40 to remove fingerprints. Barefoot then divided the guns evenly between the eight thieves, according to their later statements. He gave them a choice: keep one firearm each, sell the rest and give him all the money, or take a cut of the total sales.
The stolen gunrunning scheme evidently served to ease tensions between the two grand dragons. Those tensions ran high that winter after Barefoot refused Brewer's alleged request to orchestrate the murder of two former members of Brewer's klavern, a father and his son who quit Brewer's group to form their own splinter cell in Fayetteville after Brewer refused to initiate a stripper into the Klan.
Brewer played a major role in dealing the stolen guns, most of which were stored in his barn (he later pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges). In the months leading up to Barefoot's arrest, some of the firearms were transported over state lines into South Carolina. In one transaction, a buyer left $1,500 in Brewer's mailbox.
The July 2002 arrest of Barefoot and the discovery of his guns and bombs generated paranoia among the other Klan members in North Carolina. They speculated endlessly about who was wearing a wire and who was talking to the "feds." But they had more to worry about than just stolen guns. There was the matter of the dead man buried in a certain hayfield on Pine Ridge Road.
In August 2001, Brewer called Barefoot and said he had "a problem." The problem's name was Larry Pettit, a new member of Brewer's klavern. Brewer allegedly swore, "If we have to, we're going to get rid of him." It's unclear exactly why Pettit was targeted. He'd spent most of the previous year in a Florida prison on a breaking and entering conviction. During his two-month foray with the Klan, he appeared to be little more than a nominal member.
But for some reason, Brewer suspected that Pettit "knew too much" about threats the grand dragon had made against local law enforcement authorities and couldn't be trusted. A short time later, at a joint meeting of the klaverns that Pettit did not attend, the Klan members voted and, several attendees told the authorities later, the majority ruled: Pettit had to die.
But on the night Pettit was to be killed, Barefoot balked. The pressure was on. Brewer was demanding help and even Barefoot's wife told him that Ray Larsen, the National Knight's imperial wizard, "would not like it if Barefoot did not go with Brewer." But Barefoot had an escape hatch. His uncle had just died, and he was supposed to go to the wake. He told Brewer that he'd send Glen Gautier in his stead, then allegedly promised Gautier that he'd sign Gautier's name in the guestbook at the funeral home to establish an alibi.
That night, three Klan members met at Barefoot's home in Benson, according to Barefoot, his wife and Gautier. They were all armed. Brewer had a .32- or .38-caliber revolver. Mark Denning, a member of Brewer's klavern, carried a pistol. Gautier brought both a .32-caliber revolver and a Maverick 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. They left in Barefoot's white van.
"I hope they don't bring him back," Renee Barefoot remembers her husband saying.
They didn't. According to Gautier, they lured Pettit into the van on the premise of going to rob a crack house and then drove him to the hayfield, where Denning killed him. Then all three men allegedly buried the body.
When the men returned to Barefoot's house, they had been drinking. They "got rid of him," Brewer allegedly said to Barefoot, tossing him Pettit's wallet as proof. Barefoot used a blowtorch to incinerate it. By Mule Days, a few weeks later, "the two Klan groups had another meeting, and it was discussed that the problem had been solved," according to the murder indictment.
Within months, everyone within the Robeson and Sampson county Klan chapters seemed to know all about the murder. Gautier spoke of it openly and often. Once again, Brewer allegedly told Barefoot that he'd take care of the problem. But no one silenced Gautier, and in January 2003 the badly decomposed body of Larry Pettit was dug out of a field and his body identified through dental records. A few weeks later, Gautier, Brewer, Mark Denning, and Sharon Barefoot were arrested and charged with murder.
Charles "Junior" Barefoot was already in prison after pleading guilty to violating the restraining order. On the day he was released in October 2004 after serving 15 months, Barefoot was immediately rearrested and charged in state court with the murder of Lawrence Arthur Pettit. In June 2005, federal authorities also charged Barefoot with illegally possessing explosives and plotting to blow up the Johnston County Courthouse. The following January, seven members of the North Carolina Klan factions were indicted for conspiring to steal and illegally sell firearms. Imperial Wizard Ray Larsen has since disavowed any connection with the two klaverns.
The intertwined state and federal criminal cases yielded pressure points that investigators used to turn Klan members against each other. Barefoot's son, wife, and four other members of both Klan factions eventually all pleaded guilty to the federal firearms charges and agreed to testify against Barefoot in exchange for reduced sentences. They provided detailed statements about that case and the murder of Pettit as well.
In a brief phone interview with the Intelligence Report from the Sampson County Jail, Barefoot flatly denied having anything to do with Pettit's murder, claiming he was in Louisiana when it occurred. "I was in New Orleans with a load of cars," Barefoot said. "I haul cars all over the United States." Barefoot added that he did not know Pettit and had no idea why he was killed.
Barefoot said that he hasn't had any contact with his son Daniel since 2002. He said his wife sent him a letter in 2004 which he declined to answer, and that Michael Anthony Brewer also sent him a letter but that he couldn't remember the contents. Barefoot's memory improved on the topic of Brewer's proclivity for violence. "He threatened to put a bullet in me," Barefoot said. "They [Brewer's Klavern] was just off the chain with a bunch of shit."
Meanwhile, the state murder case against Barefoot, his wife Renee, Brewer, Denning and Gautier continues to plod along. The process wasn't hastened any when a case file containing arrest data, Miranda warning records, and other important evidence disappeared from the Sampson County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division.
According to a statement filed by Sampson County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Julian Carr,
Zesotarski also says the plea agreement Barefoot signed in 2002 in the restraining order case should prevent him from being tried again on illegal weapons charges.
Federal prosecutor Eric Goulian says that's absurd. In a response, he writes that federal agents made no such oral promises to Barefoot or his lawyer and adds that the plea agreement didn't cover future "crimes of violence" such as making bombs and threatening to blow up municipal buildings.
Barefoot has done his part to gum up the wheels of justice by filing more than 100 bizarre motions from prison, all of them based upon "redemption" theory, a financial conspiracy theory popular with right-wing extremists. It holds that every U.S. citizen has a "straw man," or secret legal twin, created by the government to capture the economic value of citizens who, the doctrine goes, have unknowingly been sold into slavery to a Jewish-run international banking cabal.
At Barefoot's most recent pre-trial hearing in February, a federal judge cut him off as soon as he started spewing redemptionist jargon. "That's all gibberish and that doesn't make any sense," said U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle. "That kooky stuff you're doing right now is almost proof positive you are not competent" to stand trial.
Judge Boyle ordered Barefoot to undergo a 60-day mental evaluation to determine whether he's fit to stand trial later this year. Barefoot protested. "I want to get on with this trial," he said. "I'm fed up with everybody stalling everything. I'm competent to stand trial right here."