Former KKK member warns Congress of danger of veterans turning to extremism

Chris Buckley said he knew he wanted to serve his country from an early age and joined the Army as part of a delayed entry program while still in high school.

“I remember how proud I was to have the honor to be on the frontlines defending my country as that Tuesday I saw on TV in my high school cafeteria the collapse of the twin towers,” Buckley told the House Veterans Affairs Committee this week.

But the trauma Buckley endured while serving in combat led him down a dark journey he never expected.

“How did I go from that to becoming a Ku Klux Klan member? It’s a sad tale but one that is sadly not uncommon amongst our veterans,” said Buckley. “I was not born racist.”

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Buckley said a defining moment for him came in October 2008 when he and his best friend Sgt. Daniel Wallace were ambushed by the Taliban.

Wallace was killed in the attack.

“Daniel died in my arms while trying to push his brain back into his skull,” said Buckley. “I came back from Afghanistan a different man. I developed a deep sense of resentment against all Muslims.”

Buckley even tattooed the word ‘Kafir’ which means infidel in Arabic on his arm as a warning to Muslims and as a way of remembering who he described as the enemies.

Buckley said the trauma from combat also opened up old wounds from his childhood which exacerbated his pain and resentment.

Once returning home, Buckley said he struggled to get PTSD treatment through the VA and developed an opioid addiction after an injury.

“I wanted to blame others,” said Buckley. “I was developing a habit of numbing my psychological pain by resentment directed against my growing list of enemies, Muslims, gays, Blacks and Jews.”

The KKK appeared to be there for support.

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“They did not approach me with pitchforks and burning crosses, but with a plate of BBQ ribs, a bible and the promise of brotherhood I missed from my days in the Army,” said Buckley.

Buckley said when his four-year-old son asked for his own KKK outfit, his wife stepped in and said she had enough.

Buckley changed course, condemning the racism and hatred he once sought to cope with his pain.

This week, he urged Congress to invest in more support for veterans and active-duty service members.

“Prevention of radicalization is always better than treatment,” said Buckley. “We need to prepare our troops not only for being soldiers, but also for civilian life when they transition home. We need preventive solutions for our soldiers to deal with the trauma of active duty and healthier ways.”

Buckley said he now focuses on pulling others out of extremism by working with groups like Parents for Peace.

He shared his story as a warning to policymakers and to others about the complex threat of extremism.

“While I am ashamed of my time in the Ku Klux Klan, I am proud of being on the frontlines of combatting this threat,” said Buckley.