Joseph ‘J.J.’ Harper, a self-appointed Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard who demonstrated outside the 2003 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club and attended the 2005 murder trial of Edgar Ray Killen, died Friday after a six-hour standoff with local law enforcement agencies.
Harper apparently shot himself after firing several times at police who had surrounded his home at 685 Nelson Corner Road.
According to Macon news station WGXA.tv, the confrontation took place on the day before a court-ordered division of property was to take place between Harper and his wife, who were divorcing.
When Dooley County sheriff’s deputies arrived in response to a 7 AM phone call from Harper, they found the yard filled with her property. Harper sat on the porch wearing body armor, armed with pistols and a shotgun.
Despite making every effort to de-escalate and resolve the situation peacefully, Dooley County Sheriff Craig Peavy was obliged to call in local and state special response teams after Harper menaced him and his deputies a second time at about 8:30.
As a multiagency response began, Harper stopped talking to law enforcement and took time to call local news outlets instead, keeping them abreast of developments. He was a relentless self-promoter to the end.
Parting ways with his fellow American White Knights after a protest outside the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama during 2003, Harper elevated himself to Imperial Wizard by forming his own splinter group.
As the SPLC’s Joe Roy quipped, Harper thereafter became “a one man Klan,” even putting the phrase on his sign.
“If he shows up at Augusta with his two poodles, he’ll have a protest of three,” Roy said at the time, referring to an amusing photograph of Harper with his dogs found on his website. “I don’t think he’ll draw many supporters.”
Indeed, Harper always appeared as a lone voice, never organizing others to join his crusade.
During 2003, Harper trolled the media by arguing for the legendary golf club’s ‘right’ to exclude female members. Augusta, which firmly rejected his ‘support,’ was the focus of negative attention for their regressive membership policy; Harper was just glomming onto the issue.
“This equal rights stuff has gotten out of hand,” Joseph J. Harper, imperial wizard of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said Friday. “We’re not concerned with whether they want us there or not. We’re concerned with their right to choose who they want to choose” as members.
[…] Told about the KKK’s plans, Tiger Woods shook his head.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” he said.
Two years later, Harper made another small splash by attending the historic trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who was finally convicted in the infamous 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Harper didn’t seem dangerous at all to Alan Shipnuck, a golf writer for Sports Illustrated who got to know the oddball klansman for his book about the club controversy, The Battle for Augusta National. He says:
It’s surreal to read about Harper’s death — I was at that house 13 years ago as a dinner guest. He and Evelyn were gracious hosts. I got the feeling J.J. was happy to have someone to talk to — he was a loner, from all that I gathered. He clearly loved the attention that came with the Augusta National membership controversy. I think his desire to be heard and recognized was much deeper than any ideology he professed to believe in. In our time together he espoused some surprisingly nuanced, progressive views — J.J. worshipped Tiger! — but then he’d catch himself and go back on script with the KKK nonsense. Honestly, he seemed totally harmless. It’s a shock that his life came to such a violent end.
But Harper clearly wanted a lethal confrontation with law enforcement Friday morning.
First brandishing more firearms, he then began to shoot at officers, who responded by firing tear gas into the residence hoping to flush him out. Dressed in a protective mask, Harper was resisting the gas, but police eventually heard a gunshot from inside the building.
When they sent a robot inside to look for him, the Imperial Wizard was dead.