How I discovered my childhood priest was in the Ku Klux Klan

Washington Post

He had taught me to venerate Confederate history.

By Maria Santos Bier August 25

The Rev. William M. Aitcheson was my childhood priest and my history teacher. A fervent advocate of the Confederacy, he used to joke about “Saint Robert E. Lee” in his homilies at church. When I was in middle school in the early 2000s, he taught a Civil War history class for the home-school group at my church in the small Shenandoah County town of Woodstock, Va.

He was also a former Ku Klux Klan member, who in 1982 was fined $26,000 for burning crosses in the yard of an African American family and on the grounds of two Jewish establishments — a fine he had never paid. Before that, he was charged with six cross-burnings in Maryland and with sending a threatening letter to Coretta Scott King. He had also been charged with making pipe bombs and was found with various weapons and bombmaking materials in his bedroom and basement. But I didn’t uncover those latter facts until this month, when I stumbled onto a discovery that would eventually prompt Aitcheson to step down temporarily from his public ministry. He wrote in an op-ed that his service to God had changed and redeemed him. But I knew he wasn’t being entirely honest.

I remember him as an imposing figure who took his history lessons to us home-schoolers very seriously. He had a reputation for being a bit gruff, but he was never unkind to me, and I recall him fondly. He knew so much about history, and I trusted him when he taught us that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, not slavery; that the South’s cause was noble and just.

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