HOWTO defeat the Klan with humor and bravery

The repentant former KKK leader Johnny Lee Clary explains how Reverend Wade Watts, an NAACP leader, disarmed him by being cool, funny and brave, engaging in some first-rate psy-ops. Be sure to listen through to the end for the chicken story.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader Johnny Lee Clary (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)



  1. If only all Christians practiced the turning of the cheek like Reverend Wade Watts… that is one bad ass reverend.

  2. Finally, a Christian that actually followed the teachings of Christ. He always turned the other cheek, and loved his enemy.

  3. Can someone explain why this bigot is not in jail? He did say he set fire to the church, didn’t he?

    #1… Good luck finding Christians turning the other cheek, my wife as a child came across some mean nuns in catholic school.

  4. @ #3 (LYSY404) – In some parts of the deep South, the KKK’s influence permeated far into the local government. In such cases, Klansmen did just about whatever they felt like, restricted only by fear of reprisal by angry mobs. There would be little or no action taken by the local government. One could compare it to schoolyard bullies: as a victimized kid, I had no recourse because I didn’t know the bullies by name. Even when I did find out a bullies’ name, no action was taken by the administration. As a teacher, I find that the biggest repeat offenders are defended by their parents, who probably fear them. Masked Klansmen are hard to identify, and the local authorities don’t want the Klan to attack them in retaliation. Since the church fire was put out before it destroyed the building, and nobody was killed, the Federal government didn’t get involved.

    Bless that Reverend! I’ll have to remember those tactics and tell others about them. “A kind word turned away a flock of wrath.”

  5. There is so much wrong with this video.

    Why is the audience laughing along with this guy when he continually chuckles about failed attempts at demoralizing a black man?

    Why is he being interviewed by a British gentleman? Is he the leader of the UKKKK?

  6. The host is not British, he’s an Australian called Andrew Denton. His show Enough Rope both regular people with interesting stories and famous people alike. His interviews were never typical, they were always extremely honest, and never went the same way as any interview with another host.

    Also note there is such a thing as nervous laughter, and the best laughter was when the clan was foiled by Watt’s good nature.

    Excellent interview, Andrew Denton’s a legend. Plenty of his interviews are available… around :-)

  7. Here’s the guy’s bio from his website:

    I understand the concern on his past crimes, and I don’t know the measure of what evil he did as a youth vs. what he’s been able to do since. I do find it encouraging that dyed in the wool racists can see the error in their ways and change. It seems pretty obvious that the audience is laughing along with the Reverend and at the Klan looking ridiculous.

  8. The best repentant story I’ve heard lately is that of Frank Schaeffer. He wrote Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and he’s been on Rachel Maddow a few times with some really great insights.

    As for this guy…good that he’s changed, but seriously, i agree with #6.

  9. @#3 #5
    It wasn’t always so implicit or psychological. Klan members were also in the local government. It’s not like they were so “fringe” as the Right would like to make out.

  10. Andrew Denton is Australian and the show was for Australian TV.

    Why do we laugh at the antics of the racist cowboys in Blazing Saddles? Why do we laugh at Ignatius J.Reilly?

  11. #6

    “Why is he being interviewed by a British gentleman?”

    Ahhem. That’s Andrew Denton, on Australian television (I live in Sydney). He’s an Anglo-Aussie …

    Well, can’t accuse you of rac-ism, just nationalitism (whatever that means)….too funny.

  12. Oh geez, the audience isn’t laughing at the klan’s attempts at demoralizing the Reverend, they are laughing at the jokes the Reverend is saying in response.

  13. @ Weaponx: The audience is laughing because it’s funny. The racism itself isn’t funny, the actions of Wade Watts, on the other hand, are.

    As you say the audience is laughing at the failed attempts at demoralizing a black man. Emphasis here is on _failed_.

    Just because racism is involved doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to see the humour in a situation.

    Given that Johnny Lee Clary and Wade Watts went on to team up and work together, and that Clary speaks out against the KKK, I’d say that we can probably at least assume that maybe things have changed a bit for him, as far as worldview goes.

    “Why is he being interviewed by a British gentleman? Is he the leader of the UKKKK?”

    As others have mentioned, please learn the difference between an Australian accent and an English one before you embarrass yourself again.

  14. Well, apparently this wasn’t that deep in the South… it happened in Oklahoma. (I know to yankees, there’s not much difference between Oklahoma and Mississippi.)

    And according the his Wikipedia page, Reverend Wade Watts is J.C.Watts’ uncle (one f the few blacks in the Republican party “leadership.”) Sadly, I don’t think J.C. has ever shown as much courage or smarts as his uncle.

  15. Wow. This is one of the most awesomest things I’ve ever seen.

    Nothing wrong with this video at all, WeaponX; I’m afraid you just missed the point: this guy is reformed – he’s recounting the truth of the tale of his ugly past that leads from his ignorance to his enlightenment, from his hatred to the triumphant moment when a reverend used his love and wit to dispell a Klansman’s bitterness and hatred.

    As I said: awesome.

    If there is a heaven, Reverend Wade Watts is going in it.

  16. The host Andrew Denton once did a show called Stairways to Heaven, where different artists (notably, Rolf Harris) covered Stairway. Worth searching YouTube for.

  17. What an amazing account! This is the approach the church should take for any social issue. Where’s the advantage of the numinous if it doesn’t lead to love, not hate? I am challenged and inspired by Rev. Watts’ example, and appreciate Johnny Lee Clary’s story.

    As supposed followers of Christ, how would people react if all we did was demonstrate the love of Jesus rather than the scorn or ridicule or the impression of some militant ‘you’re stepping on our rights’ entitlement. This approach could be adopted for /any/ interpersonal relationship, demonstrating radical, unconditional love. Me and my peers farther over on the Religious Right would do well to drop everything and return to a default position of unconditional love. How would that affect our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our communities, our politics, our ‘opponents?’ Would that we all could exhibit so much grace, class, and simple good humor, inclusive instead of exclusive.

    I think the Penny Arcade guys have the proper perspective here:
    Jesus says, ‘Don’t be a dick.’

  18. While the reverent’s story is amazing, I wouldn’t be too quick to carry an expectation of his success onto other cases. There is only so far turning-the-other-cheek can get you, when your foe has a very real history of lynchings, draggings and murder.

  19. #6 – I’ve met an Auschwitz survivor who frequently joked about Nazi failures and at ridiculous behavior of Nazis and neo-Nazis, and shared the laughs.

    He knew what Charlie Chaplin knew in making “The Dictator”, what Mel Brooks knew when he made “Springtime for Hitler”. That ridiculing extremists does not mean you’re ridiculing their victims.

    Ridiculing extremists dis-empowers them. It forces them to face the absurdity of what they’re doing. It bereaves them of what they demand the most: Fear, respect and to be taken seriously.

    The opposite of extremism is not the opposite extreme. In fact, that’s exactly what they want. Klan members WANT racial riots. Osama bin Laden WANTS a ‘clash of cultures’.

  20. As #19 said, Comedian Dick Gregory had this same story in his 1964 book, “Nggr: An Autobiography”.

    His starts:
    I walked into this restaurant, and the white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.”

    “I said, ‘That’s alright. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

  21. @6/weaponx: You really have to have a stick up your butt to think this is a pro-racist video…! People are obviously laughing at his humorous story that highlights the folly of racist thought, not because they think racism in and of itself is silly.

    On one hand I appreciate your no-compromises attitude about social injustice, but this sort of completely humorless, always assuming the worst about people, over-the-top political correctness contributes to an environment where it is far more difficult to move forward than it needs to be. And really, the story, and Watts’ beautiful approach should highlight that for you, so I think in your concern for justice you have completely missed the point.

    Lighten up!

  22. Alex M, I agree, and good post. Minor nit: Brooks made The Producers, whose title characters created Springtime for Hitler.

    Is “The opposite of extremism is not the opposite extreme” original with you? I’m going to be quoting that line a LOT.

  23. The opposite of extremism is not the opposite extreme

    You’re right Xoph, that is a great line!

  24. This video was amazing — showing the power of love to change hate into understanding. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Xhopher: Thanks! Well, I wasn’t consciously quoting anyone with that line, but it’s a bit too simple for someone _not_ to have said it before. :)

  26. Johne Cook wrote: Me and my peers farther over on the Religious Right would do well to drop everything and return to a default position of unconditional love. How would that affect our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our communities, our politics, our ‘opponents?’

    If you approach your opponents with cheerfulness and unconditional love, you’ll start by reducing the number of your opponents, and finish up by gaining allies (me, for example).

    You’ll need unflinching bravery, though, since you’ll have to repeatedly face death and worse. It’s a true test of your faith.

  27. The “chicken” gag has been used by many people over the years, someone else here cited Godfrey Cambridge, but I recall Dick Gregory using it too (makes me wonder if Clary is making up that part of the story.)

  28. Alex, this thread is the only cite Google can find for the whole phrase. It sounds familiar because it’s so right, but that doesn’t mean you’re not the first to say it. Naturally people have said many things to the same effect, but I think the phrasing is yours.

  29. Johnny Lee Clary is still a bigot, just against other groups. His website shows his hatred for atheists, gays, and “liberals”. The only person deserving of respect in his story is Rev. Watts.

    1. Soooooo TRUE!!! This is Rev. Watts testimony! Johnny has said numerous times that any liberal or if you are democrat you are not saved and can’t be blessed of God. Still a bigot and a fanatic.

  30. Stairway to Heaven was recorded in a different style every week on Denton’s Money or the Gun show. Tis interview was on a show which was called Enough Rope which was fantastic. You can probably read the transcripts on somewhere. It was a show which blended celebrity interviews with interviews with normal everyday people or people with amazing personal stories. Some of them are particularly Australian but there were many international guests that you foreign types might find interesting.

  31. I haven’t thought about this in a long time but I changed the mind of an Aryan Nation chapter leader. I knew these skin heads that weren’t neo nazi but hung out with some who were. I was introduced to him one night and he happened to be carrying around a cattle prod that he keep sparking. Everyone in the house was scared of him. I told him to hit me in the neck with it. Yes, I’d been drinking, but I knew that if he’d been hitting the switch on it as much as he had, there was no juice left in it. Anyway, I took it standing up and then told him right in front of everyone that no man hides behind a weapon and that no one needed a weapon to defend himself if his actions were pure. It impressed him. We started talking twice a week about his ideology and I tried to steer him to the right path. Then he just disappeared one day.

    A few months passed and I’d forgotten about him until one day I saw him in the mall passing out those little Jesus comics. He thanked me profusely and said that he reexamined his ways and found Christ because of me. I said I was glad for him and shook his hand but in reality I felt sorry for him. He just found a different ideology to follow instead of becoming someone who thought for himself.

  32. Although it’s great that his perspective has changed, Johnny Lee doesn’t seem overly bothered by any effect his actions might have had on Rev. Watts and his congregation. Just because Rev. Watts was able to respond with courage and generosity doesn’t mean damage wasn’t done. I feel a little dirty having watched him win positive attention for recounting the story of terrorizing a man and burning a church. And yes, his website does promote homophobia (“filthy lifestyle”).

  33. It’s is an amazing and touching story. I laughed lots. The reverend is a brave and smart man.

    It makes me wonder if most religious people would be as compassionate towards others without the carrot or stick of religion to influence their behaviour. I hope so. Clary still quite intolerant of other things without his KKK beliefs would seem to support this. I need a bigger sample size.

  34. That was awesome and inspirational, and I commend the good reverend for his spirit.
    There are other ways of dealing with the klan that are also effective. Shooting them in the stomach, severing the achilles tendon, and dousing them with gasoline and setting them on fire can also get the point across, as well as provide a few laughs.
    If you aren’t quite as creative as the good reverend, do what you can.

  35. ahem. my previous comment seems a little bitchy.

    My point being a lot of these reformed characters (Bill Schnoebelen being one of the more prominent, modern examples) are merely seeking the gratification they found in previous positions of power.

    As they progress up the spiral they find new ways to frame and relate their behaviour as it exemplifies their underlying ideology.

    That incedence of excuses we sheild ourselves with. THAT stuff is Hard to change.

    The window dressing,
    Not so Hard.

  36. I don’t think the point of the story is to glorify a repentant Clary so much as it is to show that a positive result was achieved through the actions of Watts.

    Unfortunately, Clary still hates Atheists so if you’ll excuse me, I have a few chickens to kiss.

  37. Oh!

    Thought I was weaving in the theme quite nicely.

    As in, there seems to be a wee bit of a suggestion that JLC doesn’t quite live up to the shining example he effuses upon so heartily.

    Me speak pretty one day.

  38. Don’t go rushing to defend clary now everyone. From his site:

    “Q: Who do you think are the most hateful, prejudice bigots in the world today? ….Kelly & Jack Bradshaw, Watts, Calif.

    Johnny: That’s easy! Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Louis Farrakhan, David Duke, Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church who run a website called “”, Sean Penn, Rosie O’Donnell, Bob Maher, Linda Ronstadt,and The Dixie Chicks! I can think of many more but these will do now for starters!”

  39. Yeah, that gives me hope that racism can be overcome. It’s heartwarming, it really is.

    Unfortunately if you go to his site and browse around he’s still got a lot of demons.
    -He posts hate speech against Islam, Atheists, and Democrats.
    -He supported invading Iraq, he links foxnews, and he worships Regan. So he’s a republican, one of the bad kind.

    Maybe it’s just his nature to be full of hate.

  40. “Can someone explain why this bigot is not in jail? He did say he set fire to the church, didn’t he?”

    Do you even know what prison is? obviously not. Prison is 1st Segregation, 2nd Rehabilitation. This man may have spent some time in prison, prehaps he got away with Wade not pressing charges, it is irrelevant. He is now an anti-racist preacher.

    Also, show some sympathy, have you read his wikipedia page, people don’t choose to be rascist, but it is forced on you like by you’re parents, childhood and experience.

  41. #1 Anyone stupid enough to buy into the Klan ideology cannot be all that bright.

    #2 He’s still a wacko Jesus freak who hates gays. Read over his website.

    #3 Crimes should not be forgiven just because someone says “I’m sorry”

  42. His belief as well as his faith in God are truly inspiring. I can’t name someone that could have done what Reverend Watts did let alone with a smile on their face. As a christian I can only hope to have as much faith as that man.

  43. My favorite minister often talks about “courageous Christianity.” This is one of the best examples of it I’ve ever run across. Rev. Watts was, apparently, a man very much in touch with the Spirit. By the way – even if someone else told the chicken story, it in no way diminishes Rev. Watts’ use of the story – it’s amazingly hard to dredge up jokes/punchlines and clever ripostes in situation where you are threatened. What words did Jesus say more than any others in the New Testament? “Fear Not.”

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