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Ex-Klan leader Berry dies at 60

No obituary or visitation for former Wizard

Berry

– Jeffery Lynn Berry spent much of the 1990s as the vociferous National Imperial Wizard of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – marching on town squares, courthouse greens and even an elementary school.

But when Berry, 60, died a few weeks ago in Cook County, Ill., of lung cancer, the event passed with no obituary, notice or funeral service.

According to Indiana State Police Detective Mark Heffelfinger, Berry was living with his son in Kankakee, Ill., the same son who nearly killed Berry almost seven years ago.

Berry, formerly of Newville in DeKalb County, cost local municipalities tens of thousands of dollars in security costs when he would conduct a “rally” at whatever town or city was in his sights.

He frequently identified himself as “Reverend Jeffery L. Berry,” and literature from his group claimed it was on a “holy” mission, aimed at liberating America from the forces of “Liberalism, Communism and Zionism,” as “Krusaders for God, Race and Country.”

In a 1997 appearance on “The Jerry Springer Show,” as quoted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Berry said, “A nigger is a beast – it’s not a human being. … A race traitor is the most disgusting thing there is.”

Many area communities explored legal ways to keep Berry and his associates off their municipal lawns – sending him bills for law enforcement protection and requiring that he fill out applications to protest. Some communities, such as Goshen, floated “anti-masking” ordinances designed to at least keep the white-robed Klansmen from hiding their faces.

Most frequently, though, officials urged residents to stay away from the events. There were usually many more police and counter-protesters than Klan members present.

Amid his own frequent encounters with the law, Berry also served as a confidential drug informant in DeKalb County.

In November 2000, Berry was arrested on charges of theft, conspiracy to commit criminal confinement with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit intimidation and conspiracy to commit robbery with a deadly weapon. The charges stemmed from a November 1999 episode in which Berry held a Louisville, Ky., television news crew hostage, demanding they surrender the videotape of their interview with him.

The SPLC sued Berry on behalf of the journalists and obtained an award of $120,000 in federal court.

Sentenced to seven years in the Indiana Department of Correction for those crimes, Berry sent a letter from prison to a DeKalb County judge denouncing his involvement with the Klan and saying he had “turned his life over to God.”

After his arrest, Berry seemed to pull away from the Klan, Heffelfinger said. And without him, the group kind of “melted away,” he said.

Around Berry’s heyday in the late 1990s, the SPLC identified more than a dozen chapters of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan around the country and called it the fastest-growing Klan organization at the time.

According to the SPLC, no other chapters of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are left in Indiana.

A few years after his release, while at a party, Berry got into a fight with another man. His son, Anthony Berry, got involved and pummeled Jeff Berry repeatedly in the head, causing “life-altering” brain injuries. The son was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to help cover the costs of the medical bills.

Berry spoke at his son’s sentencing in August 2007, and after a few short statements disavowing his son’s actions, was barely heard from publicly again.

Heartland Memorial Center in Tinley Park, Ill., handled his body after his death. The funeral home’s website lists only the following: “Jeffrey Lynn Berry, January 3, 1953-May 31, 2013. No visitation or obituary.”

rgreen@jg.net

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