When A&E first announced its unscripted series, Generation KKK, the vague title sparked fears that 2016’s final “fuck you” to the world would be a reality TV series about a bunch of vitriolic racists. The network attempted to abate concerns by explaining the show was in fact a docu-series that sought to “expose and combat racism and hatred in all its forms,” renaming it Escaping The KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate In America for good measure. But even under those new auspices, there were many people who remained skeptical or opposed to the series, including actor and activist Wendell Pierce, who wanted to be damn sure no active Klan members were being paid for their participation.
Last week, A&E learned that “nominal” payments had, in fact, changed hands. This was in “direct violation of A&E’s policies and practices for a documentary,” so it canceled the series. But now Variety reports that the KKK members who did participate in filming claim they were paid as much as $500 a day by the production company behind the docu-series, This Is Just A Test. Variety interviewed over two dozen subjects across six states who were involved in the series, who allege that they received payments and instructions for how to behave on air from producers (not that they needed much prompting, presumably.)
All of the participants are active Klan members, but storylines were constructed to depict domestic turmoil—such as one wife supposedly wanting her husband to leave the racist group—and other conflicts that they say didn’t exist. One Kentucky-based member said that when the producers learned his wife didn’t oppose his bigotry (she actually shares in it), they brought in a different member’s wife to play the opposition. Another member tells Variety he and his wife had a similar storyline, where she was instructed to threaten to leave him if he didn’t ditch the hateful group: “It was a joke, really. My wife and I get along fine. She was never going to leave me because I am in the Klan. A&E made that all up and told us what to say.” (Variety notes that the KKK members’ references to A&E in the interviews were actually references to TIJAT.)
That all sounds pretty damning, but there are even more allegations, including claims that the TIJAT team “paid for material and equipment to construct and burn wooden crosses and Nazi swastikas” and that they “encouraged” one KKK leader to use the n-word during his interviews. So far, A&E’s declined to comment on this latest report, but TIJAT has responded by claiming the KKK members might have been coerced into making false allegations. The production company issued a statement that reads in part: “We take these allegations very seriously and, in partnership with A&E, we will be looking into them fully. We have been told that participants in the series have received threats and coerced into speaking out against the authenticity of the show.”