(WASHINGTON) — The Ku Klux Klan has applied to adopt a stretch of highway in northern Georgia, setting off a battle between a state representative condemning the application and the group’s ardent but anonymous leaders.
“The state of Georgia is absolutely shameful in even considering an application from the KKK,” Democratic Georgia State Representative Tyrone Brooks told ABC News. “If the state will accept an application from the KKK, we may as well get ready to accept applications from the Nazi party, Taliban, Al Qaeda and Aryan Nation.”
The group, the International Keystone Knights of the KKK, denied Brooks’ comments.
“What we’re trying to do is something positive and this Tyrone Brooks is trying to raise a stink about it. We just want to do something good for the community,” a representative of the KKK group, who would only agree to be identified as the “Imperial Wizard,” told ABC News.
The man was adamant that his real name not be used, in order to protect his job and family, he said.
“[Brooks is] coming out and calling the Klan a terrorist organization. Prove it in black and white that the U.S. government has labeled us a terrorist organization,” the Imperial Wizard said. “Prove it. He needs to prove it. I challenge him.”
The Imperial Wizard insisted that the Klan does not commit criminal acts and that “everybody has a past they want to forget about.”
When asked if he maintained the beliefs of the KKK, notorious for violently condemning minorities and religious beliefs that conflict with their own, the Imperial Wizard said, “I’m a separatist. I’m not a racist. I believe in the separation of the races. It was originally printed in the Bible.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation states on its website that, “Any civic-minded organization, business, individual, family, city, county, state, or federal agency is welcome to volunteer in the Georgia Adopt-A-Highway program.”
If a group’s application to adopt the one-mile stretch is approved, they get a sign on the side of the road saying they have adopted that stretch of highway and are required to do a litter collection at least once a year, according to the GDOT.
“The state of Georgia should absolutely reject this application from the KKK because the KKK does not fall into the category of a civil-minded organization,” said Brooks, who is black. “They’re not a garden club, Kiwanis or the League of Women Voters. They’re a racist, terrorist, hate group.”
The Imperial Wizard said that the KKK group had the “blessings” of the GDOT before controversy began to arise from the application.
When asked if the GDOT had in fact given the group their blessing, GDOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg told ABC News, “No, it’s not approved.”
Goldberg said that a meeting to discuss the issue was held earlier today, but, “We don’t have a decision on the resolution. It’s still open at this time.”
The case is similar to one in Missouri that resulted in a lengthy legal battle. When a KKK group tried to adopt a Missouri road, the state tried to ban the effort. The state eventually lost when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that membership into the “Adopt-a-Highway” program cannot be denied because of a group’s political beliefs.
Brooks wants Georgia’s story to end differently.
“I think the state of Georgia should send a loud, clear message that we are not going to allow the KKK to adopt our highways and byways,” he said. “Say that firmly and then let the chips fall where they fall.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jackie Wattles and Amanda Barnett, CNN
Dakin Andone, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Morgan Loew, CNN