An Informant Talks: Part 1

ByABC News
January 26, 2007, 1:02 PM

— -- Interview with Ernest Gilbert for "20/20" May 2000

The "20/20" report "Justice at Last," which aired in June 2000, investigated the unsolved 1964 slayings of two young black men -- Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore -- in Mississippi.

Six-and-a-half years later, a federal grand jury has indicted a reputed former Klansman for kidnapping with the aggravating circumstance of murder in the deaths. James Ford Seale, 71, pleaded not guilty this week to the crimes.

The following is a transcript of a "20/20" interview with Ernest Gilbert, the former FBI informant whose information helped shed light on a civil rights murder case that had gone cold.

Part 1 of 2

20/20: Mr. Gilbert, were you a member of the KKK in the nineteen Sixties?

GILBERT: Yes, I was.

20/20: Did you hold a leadership position in the Ku Klux Klan?

GILBERT: I held several leadership positions in the Klan.

20/20: Were you elected to a leadership position in the Klan?

GILBERT: Yes, I was.

20/20: What were you?

GILBERT: Well I was the state national organizer for the Klan. Uh, I started out uh I had got involved in the Klan when I lived in Brookhaven, Mississippi. And uh that was the first Klan I belonged to was the old, original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

20/20: The original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan?

GILBERT: The old, original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The gentleman that headed that up, I don't know his name, but he lived across the river from Natchez in Louisiana.

20/20: Tell me, did you, did you believe what the Klan believed in at that time?

GILBERT: I'm not sure that I I have never believed in cold-blooded murder. I never believed in burning churches, that's God's house. There are so many things that the Klan did after I got involved in it that I did not approve of. And, the Klan itself, it didn't make any difference what position you held. There was this little group, and this little group, and another group, and all of them did what they wanted to do and they didn't answer to anybody. And there were many, many good people in the Klan that abhors the violence that took place. Including me. I, I mean, I never once thought about going out and killing somebody, burning their house, or anything like that. It was, in the beginning it was supposed to be a political organization to elect officials to try and stop the Civil Rights Movement. Now that's what, uh, it was told to me what we was going to do when I first got in it.

20/20: But, did it change? Did it become --?

GILBERT: It changed --

20/20: Did the Klan, did the --?

GILBERT: It changed drastically.

20/20: I'm sorry, I interrupted you. Let me ask you then, did, did the Klan, did the Klan then, did the Klan become violent?

GILBERT: Yes. It became violent. Very, very violent. But it was only one-tenth of one percent of the Klan membership. And uh, the violence that came out of Natchez, Mississippi was not supposed to be that kind of things take place in the organization.

20/20: All right. Let me, let me follow on. Did you have, did you have a job with the Klan? A specific job? Were you the recruiter?

GILBERT: I was uh I was elected as the organizer, state organizer of the Ku Klux Klan.

20/20: In Mississippi.

GILBERT: In Mississippi. Now, to bring you up to date on history of the Klan. Uh, I joined the original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as I told you. The people in the state of Mississippi said they were not going to pay dues to a man in Louisiana. We had a gathering of the Klan, and formed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of the state of Mississippi.

20/20: You were a member of the White Knights of the K.K.K. in Mississippi.

GILBERT: Absolutely. In other words, I was there every minute. We had lawyers, and some of them out of the state capitol.

20/20: Were there members --

GILBERT: Maybe I shouldn't say that. [BACKGROUND VOICES] They came and helped us set this thing up as a organization and, and it was thoroughly organization. And nobody but nobody was supposed to do any kind of violence that wasn't approved by the top officials. And I was the top official at that time.

20/20: You were the head of the White Knights of the K.K.K. in Mississippi?

GILBERT: For, for a certain length of time, when it first came into being they elected me as the head. I was in the bed with pneumonia. And they elected me, uh, without me being there.

20/20: Were you the Imperial Wizard of the K.K.K.?

GILBERT: Beg your pardon?

20/20: Were you elected, were you elected to the position, were you elected to the position of Imperial Wizard?

GILBERT: Imperial Wizard.

20/20:That was your title?

GILBERT: In the White Knights. Okay When things started falling apart--

20/20: What do you mean, "falling apart"?

GILBERT: People doing little, this little group and that little group, everybody doing their own thing. Nobody was, uh, uh, had to answer to anybody. And this is when uh, these two kids and this is about them, not about me, and not about the Klan. This is, this is for those two kids that were murdered. I knew about it after the fact. They came to me and told me all the gory details of it, and I ask them, "Why in the hell are you telling me this?"

20/20: What did you, what did they say?

GILBERT: They said, "Well, if anything ever comes of it, and, and, we want you to know so you can protect us." So, anyhow --

20/20: Okay, why don't we get to that in a minute. We'll uh, we'll just do a little more of the general. Okay, the general stuff.


20/20: Were you, did you recruit, did you recruit law enforcement officers as part of the Klan?

GILBERT: Yes, I did. But I'm not going to call any of them's name.

20/20: That's fine. Did you recruit Sheriff's Deputies?

GILBERT: Yes, I did. And Sheriffs.

20/20: [OVERLAP] Police officers?

GILBERT: And Sheriffs, and police officers.

20/20: And Sheriffs?


20/20: Did you recruit Well, let me start again. Did you recruit Sheriff's Deputies?

GILBERT: Yes, I did.

20/20: Sheriff's themselves?

GILBERT: Yes, I did.

20/20: Did you recruit police officers?


20/20: Highway patrol officers?


20/20: And they all secretly belonged to the Klan?

GILBERT: They secretly belonged to the Klan. They there wasn't ten members, as big as the Klan was, that knew who they were.

20/20: Did these law enforcement officers discriminate against certain people?

GILBERT: No, they did not. I don't know of any case where it yes, I do. I do. I am well up to date on a case that happened. And you know where it happened. Uh, there were two other people killed and and uh, murdered and uh, yes uh the law enforcement knew about that. I don't think they had anything whatsoever to do with it. But they did not do anything about it.

20/20: Are you talking about the so-called "Mississippi Burning" case?

GILBERT: I don't know. I don't know what, I never watched the Mississippi Burning case. I don't even know what it's about.

20/20: [OVERLAP] Okay. All right. There were three civil rights workers who were killed.

GILBERT: Yeah, and they buried them in a pond dam.

20/20: And those three young men, um no one was brought to justice regarding those three men.

GILBERT: I don't think anybody's ever been brought to justice about any of it, tell you the truth Me included.

20/20: Are you saying when those three men were killed that there were members of law enforcement who didn't try to find the killers because they were members of the Klan?

GILBERT: I absolutely believe that. But, I don't want any names. This is not about what was in the past. Some of the people have repented, some of them are trying to live it down just like I am. Some of the people wish to God they'd never known anything about it. And I'm talking about law enforcement, I'm talking about the whole body that made up the Klan.

20/20: Okay.

GILBERT: There are so many people today that wish to God they had never been involved in it. It was the time and the atmosphere at that time that actually created it. And I'ma say this, and I may get shot for saying this: I blame this whole thing on the government of the United States and the state government. All those black people wanted was the right to vote. Why in the hell couldn't they give it to them? Why did they have to march? And, why did they have to go through all this Hell to try to get, uh what they deserved all along? And [CLEARS THROAT] they didn't ask to come to this country. They were brought here as slaves. They were bought and sold, and they were used. And they have been used since Day One. They are just as much American citizens as I am.

20/20: Do you honestly believe that?

GILBERT: Yes, I believe that. I have always believed that. They can't help if they're black. God, made them black, I didn't. He made me white, I don't know why. He made the Indian red, and look what we did to him. This is their land, it's not ours. God it gave it to them. He created this earth, he created every living thing that, that, man can ever comprehend or fathom. And they came here and they butchered him. They took his land away from him, and look where they are now. Why in the Hell don't they free them and let them be free Americans?

20/20: Yes, sir. When you were a member of the Klan, you initially joined it because you thought that the mission was a valid mission.