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February 20, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Virgil Griffin, 64, the leader of a Ku Klux Klan chapter in North Carolina that was involved in a deadly 1979 clash with members of the Communist Workers Party, died Feb. 11 at Gaston County Memorial Hospital in Gastonia, N.C.

Griffin, a Klan member for 40 years, became known nationally when five marchers were killed Nov. 3, 1979, in a clash with Klan members during a Communist-inspired "Death to the Klan" rally in Greensboro.

Griffin, who lived in Charlotte at the time, led a caravan of nine cars carrying members of the American Nazi Party and Klansmen to Greensboro to stage a counter-protest.

They drove their cars through a throng of leftist protesters and eventually got out of their vehicles and opened fire, killing five and injuring 10.

In 1980, an all-white jury acquitted six Klansmen and Nazis of first-degree murder in the case. Griffin was not among those tried on state charges, but he did face federal charges of violating the protesters' civil rights. He was acquitted in 1984.

Over the years, Griffin blamed Communists for the deadly incident and said members of the group he led were merely protecting themselves.

Griffin, who made his living as an auto mechanic and working in the textile mills, was involved in several splinter groups of the Klan, including the Cleveland Knights of the KKK based in Mount Holly, N.C.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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