NOTE: You need to read the article or live around here to understand most of this.
The above article appeared in our local rag, the Livingston County Press and Argus last Thursday, January 6, 2005.
It has caused a huge media stir, with news desks from Detroit and Lansing even checking in.
While I am a big believer in free speech and free commerce, I find it highly distasteful to display such a rage-inducing article in the front window of a storefront on the main drag in a town that has long worked to overcome it's racist past. I equate it to a decision he would hopefully make to not display that antique three headed dildo he took on consignment. Why wouldn't you display an antique three headed dildo? Because it's offensive to almost everyone.
I don't care if Mr. Gray sells Nazi or KKK items in his store. I agree with him in that it is a part of history. However, he must be a real dolt to not realize that:
A) Such prominent display will incite many people (or is that what he is hoping for to drive the price up?) and
B) The day he selected to auction this robe just happened to be Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. If he didn't realize that little fact, he truly is a dolt. All one needs to do is look at a calendar. (The auction date has since been rescheduled.)
I would also like to reiterate, this robe originated in Florida and came from someone in Saline, Michigan. Although it ended up in Howell, it has no apparent ties to Howell.
Now, for our history lesson.
Howell has endured a reputation as a racist place due to one man. That man would be Robert Miles, pastor of the Mountain Church of Jesus Christ, Christian. The Church is also known as the Mountain Kirk Church of Jesus Christ, Christian.
There is surprisingly little biographical information available about Robert Miles. At least not in any of the mainstream research places I looked. Here are the bare bones.
Robert Miles grew up in New York City's Washington Heights, in the northern part of Manhattan. He graduated in 1940 from George Washington High School, coincidentally the same high school Henry Kissinger attended.
He was a very conservative, religious young man who planned on attending the Union Theological Seminary. It was a well-known secret, however, that the Free French Forces movement had offices above a jeweler's (Cartier to be exact) in New York City and were looking for recruits. Miles scrapped the Seminary and joined the Free French Forces.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the United States Navy and finished his service in the Philippines. He married and moved to Michigan. To Cohoctah township, which is a community north of the town of Howell, proper.
NOTE: I have a friend who lives in Cohoctah and has the post office box that used to belong the the Mountain Kirk Church. She occasionally receives letters for them, although the church doesn't exist anymore. One was a badly written missive from an inmate in a New York state prison looking for help overturning his conviction. Every word he used that started with a "c" he changed to a "k", a la "Konstitution." (Thanks Erin, for sharing that with me! You know I love knowing details like that.)
Miles worked in the insurance business and indeed, was eventually the head of the Michigan Association of Insurance Executives. One has to wonder if he ever worked at Citizen's Insurance, which is headquartered in Howell and used to be the largest employer in town. Citizen's is noteworthy for being the first company in Michigan to offer car insurance. Thanks, guys, a whole lot, I'm sure you dreamed up no-fault as well.
He had always been a super patriot, ultra conservative in his political beliefs. By all accounts, he was a pretty jolly fellow who hid his darker side extremely well. The older he got, the more ultra right wing he got. In 1968, he was looking to support George Wallace in his failed bid for the presidency and Michigan didn't have any sort of formal campaign headquarters for Wallace.
He did find The United Klans of America, who had a local grass roots network for Wallace going in Michigan. Miles had found his place and his calling.
He rose fast through the ranks of the racist group, becoming the Grand Dragon of Michigan (is this akin to Fred Flintstone becoming the Grand Poobah?) . Over time, he held the position of Imperial Kludd, serving as the chaplain or spiritual leader of the whole lot of racist bigots throughout the country.
Miles' beliefs were rooted in dualism. He based this on a total misinterpretation of Genesis 6 and thought that this mythical super-race of giants were going to descend from the stars to mate with the most beautiful of earth women to create a sort of uber-race. White uber-race, of course.
NOTE: Is that some crazy shit or what? My baby daddy is an alien.
Also incorporated into his dualism beliefs were the teaching that both Yahwah (the far right wackos' name for God) and Satan were doing equal battle for the souls of the true master race, the Aryans.
Miles used to boast of how easy it was to get people going whenever he wanted a little media coverage. He'd just gather some cronies, throw a lighted creosote soaked cross in a yard and scatter a lot of cigarette butts around. The media were sure to descend.
In 1971, he was sent to federal prison for bombing empty school buses in Pontiac, Michigan and assault. He served six years of a ten year sentence in the federal prisons in Marion and Leavenworth. It should be noted that when he was indicted for sedition in Fort Smith in a separate incident, along with members of the Order, a.k.a. the Silent Brotherhood, he hired a Jewish attorney from Detroit for his defense. He was acquitted. Guess he wasn't that racist when his butt was on the line legally.
He published his newsletter, From The Mountain, until 1989, until his wife's health started deteriorating. As far back as 1984, Aryan followers could read his sermons on a computer bulletin board, accessible to any bigot with a dial up modem.
Robert Miles was great buddies with Richard Butler of the Aryan Nations outside of Hayden Lake, Idaho. In fact, after he performed his sermon at one Aryan National Congress, he performed a rather bizarre religious ceremony I've certainly never seen any sort of pastor do: He performed the blessing of the guns.
He ran a sort of survivalist camp on his farm, complete with cross burning rallies, for many years. Hard information of this is sketchy, so take this for what it's worth. Allegedly, most of the attendees were from out of town, indeed, out of state. One has to believe, however, that Miles had at least a certain amount of local followers he was able to call to duty on short notice.
Supposedly, the farm has been sold. I wasn't able to chat up my contact in the local government to verify who holds the deed and what it is actually used for.
This is the type of history Howell is trying so hard to live down.