AURORA, Mo. — The elderly man was well known in this slightly faded farm town for his failed attempts at elective office, his libertarian leanings, his Southern charm.
Police arrested Cross on Sunday on suspicion of shooting and killing a 14-year-old Boy Scout and his grandfather at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kan., and a woman at a nearby Jewish assisted living center.
As authorities announced Monday that they planned to treat the slayings as hate crimes, a fuller picture began to emerge of the former
"He sounded like someone you could drink a beer with — except for the fact that he believes people should be exterminated," said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who developed a telephone relationship with Cross last fall.
Early in a four-decade career during which Cross was involved in some of the most notorious racist crimes and movements in modern U.S. history, the former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the
Beirich first got in touch with Cross in 2013 when she was trying to reach one of his friends, a notorious white supremacist named Joseph Paul Franklin, who shot Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and civil rights leader
Sunday would have been Franklin's 64th birthday. And Monday was
Little is known about Cross' alleged motives, but Beirich posited that the avowed racist and author of a memoir called "A White Man Speaks Out" "has got emphysema, and this is a twisted, white supremacist bucket list."
Judy Dingman has worked at the local newspaper, the Aurora Advertiser, for 18 years, and said she got to know Cross after he started submitting letters to the editor.
Dingman, now the general manager, described him as by turns "controversial" and "pleasant." But she said his writings and letters indicated that "he had definite hatred for the Jews and the Jewish media and blacks as well."
Locals in this southwestern Missouri town of about 7,500 people tolerated Cross and "allowed him to go about his business" because they respect each other's privacy, she said.
"People are allowed to follow their beliefs and not be bothered" here, Dingman said, adding, "I would hope you would not judge our community by his actions."
Still, Aurora-area resident Gary McGlothlin, 61, said the KKK had a long history here and in surrounding counties just north of the Arkansas border.
"A lot of those you see running the rebel flag are KKK," he said — including Cross, who stuck a Confederate flag bumper sticker on his truck.
McGlothlin and his longtime partner, Charlee Heitz, 33, said some KKK members passed down the tradition to successive generations "like a disease." Others are more subtle, perhaps because they belong to churches and run businesses. For them, Cross' failed campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2010 — when he attracted just seven votes out of nearly 2 million cast — became a litmus test for local opinion.
"There was a lot of people believed in what he stood for," said McGlothlin, who met Cross at a swap meet and found he shared some of his views — but not about race.
Cross was libertarian, in favor of smaller government, McGlothlin said — a popular view here. He was also virulently anti-immigrant at a time when locals have grown alarmed about an influx of immigrants and illegal drugs.
"He spoke intelligently, and when you're in a community that's being overrun by Mexicans and dope dealing, you ignore the racial comments and look at the intelligence in it," Heitz said.
But Cross also had his share of critics. Heitz figures he attacked strangers in a bigger city because "he was getting old and he wanted to make himself known" to show "he wasn't all mouth."
Cross was a prolific poster on the Vanguard News Network, a supremacist website, writing more than 12,000 posts over a decade.
A January 2012 post recounted his visit, at a professor's invitation, to a Missouri State University class studying white supremacists in the Ozarks.
Cross showed the class video clips of old marches and a speech he gave in 1985. He also yelled at students, using anti-Semitic slurs and advocating violence, according to the professor, David Embree.
At one point, Cross recounted online, he got in a shouting match with a student, telling her, "Hell yes, I hate you and all Jews, and you all deserve my hate for what your people have done to mine."
Embree said Cross had dreamed of raising up a new Hitler, but seemed more like a "wordy, worn-out has-been frustrated at his inability to recruit new haters."
Cross included the professor's phone number in his online post. Embree said he then got phone calls from other supremacists wondering why he had invited a "snitch" and a "coward."
The reputation stemmed from his trouble with the law in the 1980s.
Once the target of a national manhunt, Cross served three years in federal prison after being indicted on weapons charges for plotting robberies and the assassination of Morris Dees, the Southern Poverty Law Center's founder. As part of a plea bargain, he testified against other white supremacist leaders in a 1988 sedition trial.
At the time, said Devin Burghart, vice president of a group that tracks right-wing extremism, most in the movement thought Cross was a "rat." His autobiography, postings on Vanguard News Network and work with a publication called Aryan Alternative helped him largely shed his pariah status.
"One of the important things that we're concerned will get lost in this larger discussion is the portrayal of him as a lone wolf," said Burghart, with the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Cross "has a four-decade-long pedigree of acting within some of the most violent white nationalist organizations in the country."
In the cases that led to his testimony, and a stint in the witness protection program, a North Carolina federal judge found that Cross — charged as Miller — was a member of the Order, a white supremacist group dedicated to revolution. The Order, which robbed banks to finance its operations, may be best known for the 1984 assassination of Alan Berg, a Denver radio talk show host who mocked supremacists and ridiculed an Order member on the air.
Douglas McCullough, a former federal prosecutor now on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, prosecuted Cross. In an interview Monday, he described him as "not a very brave person."
"He liked to dress up in his military beret and camouflage and yell and scream and talk about his hatred of the blacks and Jews and blah blah blah," McCullough said. "But as far as actually doing something himself, the person I knew didn't [seem capable of that kind of violence].... But I guess it doesn't take a very brave person to shoot unarmed people."