U.S. Census Bureau officials say they weren’t aware that a temporary employee representing the agency at last week’s Montana Indian Education Association conference in Great Falls has been an organizer for the Ku Klux Klan.
The employee, John Allen Abarr, has repeatedly been exposed in recent years as an organizer for Klan chapters in Montana and Wyoming. In 1997, Abarr also was linked to the distribution of anti-gay flyers in Bozeman that were signed by the Realm of Montana, a Klan chapter, and the Ku Klux Klan Committee for Public Safety. The return address on the materials was from a post office box Abarr rented in Great Falls, federal officials said at the time.
“Basically, it was totally innocent,” said Tim Mack, director of the Census office in Great Falls, of Abarr’s placement at the Indian conference. “We had no idea of that background at all. If we had known it, he wouldn’t have been there.”
Abarr, a temporary clerk, and another bureau employee staffed a U.S. Census information table at the conference. Abarr was recognized by Ken Toole, program director of the Montana Human Rights Network.
“I’m shocked that a person who has been affiliated with the KKK was at our conference, particularly that he’d represent the Census, which is so important to Indians and Indian tribes in Montana,” education association president Carol Juneau said after learning of the incident. Mack confirmed that Abarr has been employed by the bureau for “a couple of months” and that he’s performed other public relations work for the agency.
“He’s been an excellent worker,” Mack said. “We sent him [to the conference] because of his excellent work. Our experience with him is that he’s an outstanding employee. To my knowledge, there’s been no complaints.”
When contacted at his home last week, Abarr said he’d just been given a memorandum from the bureau that reminded him he’s not allowed to talk to news organizations.
“Census employees aren’t supposed to talk with the media,” Abarr said while declining to answer questions about any current involvement with racist groups.
Jamey Christy, an assistant administrator in the bureau’s Denver regional office, said all agency employees undergo a FBI criminal background check before they can be hired. The check, he said, focuses on felony convictions, “in particular crimes against persons.”
“That’s one reason he was hired, because he didn’t have a criminal record,” Mack said, noting that it’s not a crime to be affiliated with racist organizations. “We don’t discriminate against anyone’s core beliefs.”
Christy, however, said that every Census Bureau employee, whether temporary or permanent, is given a list of potential conflicts of interest, which consist of “anything that might affect the public trust or [the applicant’s] job performance.” But being a member, or a past member, of the Ku Klux Klan isn’t specifically on the list, he said.
“I’ve really not encountered this before,” Christy said. “We’ve obviously tried to make this as broad as possible to draw people from the community” to work on the Census.
Abarr’s public involvement with racist organizations first surfaced in the late 1980s, when he did recruitment work for the Realm of Wyoming. In one Realm publication, Abarr’s name is signed to an essay entitled, “Aryan Unity.”
“There is absolutely no excuse for those who politely watch as their fellow White brethren are under attack,” the essay reads. “It doesn’t matter if your political beliefs are not the same; all that matters is race. ... We no longer have the privilege to remain inactive. Within a few decades the Aryan Race will be so outnumbered that we will cease to have any tangible power at all....”
In early 1994, Abarr was in the news again after the Montana Republican Party renounced The EMC Young Republicans, an unsanctioned student group he was involved with at the former Eastern Montana College in Billings. State GOP leaders spoke out against the group after it was tied to racist activities.
Later that year, it was revealed that Abarr had also been working as a paid phone-bank worker for U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who at the time was seeking re-election to his second term in Congress. The information was revealed after Abarr had left the job, and Burns, who has repeatedly made his own racist comments during his tenure in the U.S. Senate, said in response that he abhorred hate groups and what they stand for.
Also in 1994, the human rights network and six Billings residents, including the city’s police chief, filed a defamation and harassment suit against Abarr and national, regional and local chapters of the Klan over potentially libelous materials the defendants allegedly distributed in the area. Another former Billings man, Roger Roots, was named as a non-party witness in the suit.
Roots was affiliated with Abarr in the EMC Young Republicans group and other political activities, but has repeatedly and adamantly denied being involved with the Klan. The network’s lawsuit was later dismissed after Abarr agreed to apologize for making published “misstatements” about the plaintiffs.
Around the same period, Roots filed his own lawsuit against the network because one of its publications mistakenly linked him to the Klan. As proof that he was not a member, Roots obtained an affidavit from Abarr, who admitted his own Klan membership, but said he was unable to convince Roots to join the organization.
“It’s very important that the Census be able to do effective outreach, particularly in the Indian community,” Toole said last week. “Incidents like this undermine people’s faith in the Census. What it argues for, I think, is that Census officials need to have double-checks, some sampling” of its employees.
“Knowing what we know, we’re going to keep him working in the office, not out in the public,” Mack said of Abarr.