The Christian Broadcasting Network

The 700 Club with Pat Robertson


Johnny Lee Clary: Christ and The Ku Klux Klan

By Sarah Purnell
The 700 Club

Original Air Date: January 4, 2011“My whole family was racist, especially my step-grandfather on my mother’s side.  He was a very hateful man and he hated Black people with a passion.”

Johnny Lee Clary was taught to hate and fear. His family was racist and their household was full of aggression.

“There was a lot of alcoholism in our home and fighting all the time,” Johnny Lee tells The 700 Club. “My mother was constantly cheating on my father. My mother drove my father into bankruptcy, and then my father was faced with losing everything he had worked hard for. I watched my father, one night, take a pistol and put it to his head and blow his brains out.”

Johnny was only 11 years old when his father died. Immediately after the funeral, his mother threw Johnny out and moved her new boyfriend in.

“She goes, ‘I don’t care where you go or what you do, but you’re going to get out of my house.’ She put me on a bus and sent me out to California to go live with my sister.”

He wasn’t prepared for life in multi-racial Los Angeles.  His sister’s live-in boyfriend was abusive.

“That just made me hate that much more. So I was hating everyone. At 14 years old, I felt like committing suicide myself.  I was thinking seriously about ending my life so I could go be with my dad.”

Then he saw a man on TV who reminded him of his father.

“I saw David Duke on television, which was the head of the Ku Klux Klan.  He was doing a television show and telling everybody that the White people needed to stick together. This made me feel some kind of a weird connection to my dad.”

Johnny wrote Duke a letter telling him his life story. Before long, there was a knock on the door.

“I opened up the door he shook my hand and said, ‘I’m a friend of David Duke’s.  We’re here to protect you, son.  What you need is a family.’”

That family was the Klan.  For the next four years different Klansmen taught Johnny the ways of the KKK. When he was 18, he returned to Oklahoma to start his own Klan chapter. Johnny became a “klegal”, a public spokesman for the KKK. Eventually he rose to the rank of Imperial Wizard, the Klan’s top leadership position.

“I finally felt like I’d found something that I could amount to in life. I would travel around to the different Ku Klux Klan rallies and the different meetings and I would give speeches.”

The FBI opened an investigation on Johnny and infiltrated the Klan with undercover operatives. Johnny fell in love with one of the agents, but after she turned her intelligence over to the FBI, she went into the Federal Witness Protection program.

“My heart was shattered and broke, and I knew it was just a matter of time before I was going to end up getting arrested.”

Johnny decided his only shot of staying out of prison was to step down as Imperial Wizard. But when he did, the Klan turned on him, fearing that he too was an FBI informant.

“’We knew we couldn’t trust you,’ they go. ‘If you was a true Arian warrior, you would be happy to go to prison for the White race.’ Now, they all hated me. I became a person without any friends.  I became a man that was an island.”

His association with the KKK also made it hard to find work.  He stated drinking, and the fear and hate consumed him.

“I thought of my daddy and I thought Daddy had the right idea.   I sat down and was looking at the gun and there was a Bible sitting there. I thought that there is no possible way that the good Lord can forgive somebody like me, because I had been so full of hate. I had all the violence and lived such a bad life, but I looked at that Bible and it fell open to Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son.”

Johnny read Jesus’ parable of the young man who demanded his inheritance from his father, then squandered it all. He returned home to the father remorseful. His father did not chastise him, instead he celebrated his return.

“I finally got on my knees and said, ‘God, my life is screwed up.  God, I’m in a mess.  I need Your help.’”

A few hours later, the phone rang. A local car dealer offered Johnny a job.

“I said, ‘God, I told You if You’d help me, I’d go to church.’ So that following Sunday I went to church.”

He picked a nearby church. What he saw there amazed him: Blacks and Whites sitting together.  The love and unity moved Johnny’s heart, and at the end of the service, he ran to the altar and gave his life to Christ.

“I felt like a new person, brand new creation.  I felt like I had had a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Johnny knew that there were many people who needed to hear this message of love and acceptance. He didn’t know how to get started, so he called on the Rev. Wade Watts, Minister of an African-American church that the Klan harassed.

“The Klan had set fire to his church and did everything under the sun to harass this man.   I remember he debated me at a radio station one time. He looked right at me, and he goes, ‘You can’t do enough to me to make me hate you.  I’m going to love you. I’m going to pray for you whether you like it or not.’ So I went down there to his church.  I walked in there that day and half of his congregation stayed away.  They said, ‘Rev. Watts, don’t bring that man here.  He’s an evil man.’”

When he shared his story, the congregation opened their hearts to him. 

“Rev. Wade Watts and I became best of friends. He took me on the road with him, and he began to mentor me.”

Johnny learned how to love and live in unity with all people. He became the first Caucasian elder in the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly Africa-American denomination. He also educates members of the FBI on White supremacy. He’s married to his best friend, Melissa.

“Not only has He given me a good wife to stand by my side, but He’s given me good friends. He’s given me a good life here on earth.  He’s given me hope, gave me the gift of love. Taught me what love’s all about. Isn’t that what God is?  God is love.  I’m not that mixed up kid looking for a family any more.  I’ve got a family. I’ve got a relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

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