Former Ga. KKK Leader Shares How He Turned His Life Around and Now Helps Others: 'People Change'

"I think scars teach us about where we've been in life," said Chris Buckley, who had his tattoos covered up and now works to counsel others willing to reverse their hatred

One Georgia man has moved on from a life of hate, now dedicating his time to helping others do the same.

Chris Buckley was an imperial knight-hawk in the Ku Klux Klan's Georgia White Knights, which he turned his back on in 2016. The father of two — who served in the Army for 13 years and completed tours in Afghanistan and Iraq — once worked as security for the controversial KKK, according to WTVC.

Now, after meeting Syrian refugee Heval Mohamed Kelli, Buckley has evolved his world outlook, not only covering up old tattoos but working internally to make amends and move forward on the right foot.

"People like Dr. Kelli came into my life, and he was the exact description of what I hated: he was a Syrian Muslim refugee coming here," Buckley told the outlet of his first impression of his now good friend. "If they'd have known me five years ago and know me now ..."

"People change," he said. "You just have to give them the opportunity."

Buckley counsels others via the nonprofit Parents for Peace to help people pinpoint the pain behind their self-hate. "I think scars teach us about where we've been in life," said Buckley, who explained his past bigotry stemmed from a troubled childhood.

KKK Walker County man, Chris Buckley
Chris Buckley. WTVC NewsChannel 9/Youtube

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In a June 2018 profile, The Washington Post captured Buckley's early interactions with Kelli when the pair first met. The outlet reported that he had left the military after suffering a broken back from a Humvee accident. From there, he struggled with a painkiller addiction that led to further drug use.

“He wasn’t the man I married,” said his wife Melissa at the time.

When Melissa began to see how her husband's involvement in the KKK would negatively impact their kids, she sought help to try to get him to disavow the group.

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According to the Post, the turning point for Buckley came when a mentor named Arno Michaelis took him to several Los Angeles shelters for homeless people and former gang members. It was at one of those stops that a Black woman spoke with him — their talk ending with Buckley crying and showing remorse for his actions.

“That’s when I knew Chris wouldn’t be going back to the Klan," Michaelis said of the pivotal moment.

In 2018, Buckley told the outlet he planned to give back and bring clarity and reform to other misguided individuals. “I don’t know what I want to do,” Buckley said. “I just want to do good to make up for all the bad.”

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero ( which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement ( provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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