The state of race relations here in one of Colorado’s most racially diverse cities is something for other municipalities to behold (as you’ll read in Quincy Snowdon’s cover story on the following pages), but Aurora certainly was not immune to extreme hate not so long ago.
The most-recent reminder of the state’s difficult history with the Ku Klux Klan came when Black Lives Matter activists recently pressured Stapleton residents to request a name change on account of namesake Benjamin Stapleton’s involvement in the Klan. That effort has little traction.
But longtime Front-Rangers will recall the early 1990s saw a massive resurgence in activity by the Klan and other white-power groups. T-Shirts in the style of the iconic ‘I Want You’ recruitment poster — instead of the visage of good ole Uncle Sam — bore a hooded KKK member and a P.O. box in Aurora for the Realm of Colorado Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
One of the flashpoints of that early 90s revival of the Klan was their rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on a snowy January morning in 1992, one that was fought over in court before it even had the chance to become a moment of disgrace for our state, drawing national attention.
Dozens upon dozens of members of the Colorado State Patrol and other law enforcement lined the streets of Denver outside the Capitol building in hopes of stemming a potential riot as members of the Klan — many of them having organized in Aurora and loaded into trucks with David Duke bumper stickers — paraded Confederate and Klan flags and “whites only” signs and used Nazi salutes through the streets and onto the steps of the Capitol itself. Expletives flew from the mouths of Klansmen and counter-protesters alike, the former’s common refrains aimed as much at the black and minority communities as they were toward Congress for approving of the federal holiday for the civil rights icon. “To hell with Martin Luther King,” chanted Klan national director Thomas Robb.
Perhaps the most-prominent of the local Klansmen was Aurora’s Shawn Slater, who had risen to become the head of the state’s Klan in his early 20s. His ascent came after years of raising hell at Smoky Hill High School and included famously suing a local King Soopers store for firing him on account of his involvement with a 1991 rally held on Adolf Hitler’s birthday. He owned a mail-order operation called Skrewdriver Services, selling racist paraphernalia including white-power rock music cassettes. Slater would go on to mount a campaign for Aurora City Council and, according to The New York Times, had an answering machine message stating he would one day run for governor.
The MLK Day event would later devolve into a flurry of rocks, ice and snowballs hurled through the air. Officers donned riot gear to escort members of the various hate groups out of the area.
The ranks of the Klan would seemingly subside in coming years as more and more of the black community, other people of color and supporters of equality and inclusion would continue to take to the same streets to keep the dream alive.
As for Slater, he lives on primarily in the many pieces penned in the aftermath of the Klan’s early 90s resurrection. Even online white-power enclaves seem to be clueless as to whatever became of Colorado’s one-time top Klansman. For all anyone seems to know, he exists as an unknown specter in a modern-day Aurora that has thrived in the past two decades with an abundance of diversity.