Gary Thomas Rowe

Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. (August 13, 1933 - May 25, 1998), known in Witness Protection as Thomas Neil Moore, was a paid informant and agent provocateur for the FBI. As an informant, he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan to monitor and disrupt it, and incited violence as part of the FBI's COINTELPRO project. Rowe was accused of participating in and helping to plan violent Klan activity against African Americans and civil rights groups.[1]

Gary Thomas Rowe
Gary Thomas Rowe, Jr.

August 13, 1933
DiedMay 25, 1998(1998-05-25) (aged 64)
Savannah, Georgia
Other namesThomas Neil Moore
Spouse(s)4 wives (all divorced)
Children5 (2 adopted)

From 1965 until his death, Rowe was a figure of recurring controversy after he testified against fellow Klansmen who were accused of killing Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a civil rights volunteer. He was accused of being an accessory to the murder. Other violent acts that he was accused of, and at times admitted to planning and perpetrating, include the attack on the Freedom Riders and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. He was given immunity by the FBI and he was never convicted of any wrongdoing. Rowe confirmed many of these accusations in his 1976 autobiography, My Undercover Years with the Ku Klux Klan,[2] and in confession and testimony given to the United States Senate.


Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. was born on August 13, 1933, in Savannah, Georgia, to Gary Thomas Rowe and Alma Ann Sellars.[3] He dropped out of high school to join the Georgia National Guard and United States Marine Corps Reserves. After his discharge, Rowe attempted to join the county sheriff's department but his application was rejected because he did not have a high school diploma.[1] He earned a living as a nightclub bouncer, and he worked briefly with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, helping them bust up illegal alcohol stills in return for cheap firearms.[1]

Rowe was married four times, fathered three children and adopted two children.[3]

Recruitments by the FBI and the Ku Klux KlanEdit

Rowe was recruited by FBI Special Agent Barrett G. Kemp in April 1960. The FBI discovered that the Klan was attempting to recruit Rowe, a man known for his work with the ATF and who was seeking a career in law enforcement. The FBI decided that what made him a good candidate for the Klan also made him a good candidate to be an informant against the Klan for the FBI.[citation needed]

In 1975, when in front of the Senate committee, Rowe told them that the FBI knew and disregarded his participation in the violent attacks on African Americans and was also tasked with causing friction within the KKK by having sexual relations with some of the Klansmen's wives.[4]

Rowe successfully infiltrated Eastview Klavern 13, the most violent chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in American history, in May 1960.[1] He began receiving payments from the FBI for "services rendered," and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover personally approved these payments.[2]

The payments that Rowe received from the FBI ranged between from $80 to $250 with the addition of expenses.[3]

Involvement in the Ku Klux KlanEdit

Mob attack on the Freedom RidersEdit

In 1961, Gary Thomas Rowe helped plan and lead a violent mob attack against the Freedom Riders in Anniston, Alabama. He worked together with the Birmingham Police Commissioner, Bull Connor, and Police Sergeant Tom Cook (an avid Ku Klux Klan supporter) to organize violence against the Freedom Riders with local Ku Klux Klan chapters.[5] They assured Rowe that the mob would have 15 minutes to attack the bus before any arrests were made.

Rowe admitted to using a baseball bat during the attack,[6] in which the mob attacked the Greyhound bus carrying the Freedom Riders at a bus station in Anniston, Alabama on May 14, Mothers Day. They slashed the tires and set the bus on fire with the Freedom Riders still inside. The mob held the doors shut, intending to let the peaceful civil rights group burn alive, but a small explosion scared them back from the door. As the Freedom Riders exited the bus, they were badly beaten by the mob and many had to be taken to hospitals which refused to treat them.[7]

Although there were state patrolmen there during the incident and they gave off warning shots to call off the mob, they did very little to protect the Freedom Riders from being burnt alive and beaten. The majority of the Freedom Riders that were intercepted in Anniston sustained many life-threatening injuries either from the beatings done by the Ku Klux Klan, or from prolonged exposure to the smoke and fumes from the destroyed bus, and were sent to Anniston Memorial Hospital for immediate attention. When an ambulance arrived, some of the black Freedom Riders were refused a ride to the hospital by the driver until several white Freedom Riders who were injured, got off the bus and only came if their fellow Riders who were black could be allowed to ride. When the injured Freedom Riders arrived at the hospital there was no doctor present, only nurses to provide aid to those in need. They were eventually denied receiving medical attention since they "caused a commotion" by bringing the white mob over to the hospital. Even though Gary Thomas Rowe informed the FBI three weeks prior that the attack on Freedom Riders would happen, they decided not to intervene but only to ask what had happened to Genevieve Hughes, who was one of the injured Freedom Riders, with her only stating, "When I woke up the nurse asked me if I could talk with the FBI. The FBI man did not care about us, but only the bombing".[8]

The Freedom Riders were attacked by the KKK again in Birmingham. And again, Gary Thomas Rowe played a central role in the mobbing and with the help of Commissioner Bull Connor. They used iron pipes, baseball bats and bicycle chains to beat the Freedom Riders as they left the bus.[7]

Years later, Rowe recalled how a call from police headquarters to Rowe had tipped them off to when and where to attack the Freedom Riders in Birmingham,[9] saying:

We made an astounding sight ... men running and walking down the streets of Birmingham on Sunday afternoon carrying chains, sticks, and clubs. Everything was deserted; no police officers were to be seen except one on a street corner. He stepped off and let us go by, and we barged into the bus station and took it over like an army of occupation. There were Klansmen in the waiting room, in the rest rooms, in the parking area.

A photograph of Rowe and several others, including Eastview Klavern leader Hubert Page, beating George Webb on May 14, 1961, was taken by Tommy Langston of the Birmingham Post-Herald, who was also caught and beaten. Although the camera was smashed, the film survived and the photo became one of only a few pieces of physical evidence of Rowe's involvement.

16th Street Baptist Church BombingEdit

In 1963, Gary Thomas Rowe may have helped perpetrate the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls. One of the Klansman eventually convicted of the crime, Robert E. Chambliss, said that it was Rowe who bombed the church.[10] Rowe, who was no stranger to dynamite, had twice failed polygraph tests when questioned as to his possible involvement in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, investigative records show.[11] Because of this, the FBI and the prosecution did not use Rowe as a witness in Chambliss's trial.

The FBI also said to believe that Rowe was supposedly involved with the bombing of Martin Luther King Jr.'s motel room at the Gaston Motel on May 11, 1963, as well as the bombing of Martin Luther King Jr.'s brothers house and parsonage. Through one of his African American informants, Rowe claimed that it was black Muslims who were responsible for placing the bombs there. Rowe was eventually arrested by Alabama police with several other Klansmen after being tipped off, in June 1963 for having a truck full of assorted firearms and explosives that were to be used at the University of Alabama to prevent the admission of James Hood and Vivian Malone. But was soon later released from jail with their weapons.[3]

The murder of Viola LiuzzoEdit

In 1965, Rowe was involved in the murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo as she was returning from the Selma to Montgomery marches with other activists. Rowe was in the car with three other Klansman as they chased Viola's car after they saw a black man in the passenger seat. They pulled up next to her car and shot her dead. Rowe gave this testimony in court as he testified against the three other Klansman: Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr., William Orville Eaton, and Eugene Thomas.

The FBI attempted to downplay the situation and discredit Liuzzo by spreading rumors that Liuzzo was a member of the Communist Party, was a heroin addict, and had abandoned her children to have sexual relationships with African Americans involved in the Civil Rights Movement.[12][13] This came at a time when the Bureau was also trying to smear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Communist party.

In 1965, Rowe testified as a trial witness against the three other Klansman involved in the murder of Viola Liuzzo. Because he provided information that led to the conviction of his fellow Klansman, Federal authorities placed Rowe in the Witness Protection Program under the name of Thomas Neil Moore. Following the testimony, Rowe was rewarded with a job as a deputy U.S. Marshal.[10]

Rowe was relocated to his home town of Savannah, Georgia. Later that year, Alabama authorities attempted to have Rowe extradited back to Alabama to charge him the murder of Luizzo.[10] However, they were unsuccessful. Rowe claimed that the FBI promised him complete immunity for the information he provided that led to the conviction of the other Klansman.[10]

Later years and deathEdit

After Rowe testified against fellow Klansman in the Luizzo case in 1965, Rowe was relocated to Savannah, Georgia, his home town, where he worked for the U.S. Marshals and for a private security company. For the rest of his life, Rowe would be a highly controversial figure. However, he was never convicted of any wrongdoing.

Rowe surfaced in 1975 before a congressional committee. Wearing a bizarre cotton hood that resembled the Klan headpiece to conceal his new identity, Rowe told the Senate committee that the FBI had known and approved of his violence against blacks. He testified that the FBI did nothing to stop the violence, even when he gave them advance warning.[10]

In 1978, Rowe confessed to killing an unknown black man in a riot with a firearm, a previously undisclosed crime. By making this confession, one of the investigation memos suggests that Rowe may have been bargaining for blanket immunity for whatever occurred while he was an informant.[11]

In 1979 his autobiography was adapted into the NBC TV movie Undercover with the KKK starring Don Meredith as Rowe.

At the age of 64, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. died of a heart attack on May 25, 1998 in Savannah, Georgia. He was buried under the name Thomas Neil Moore, the name given to him by the Witness Protection Program. According to Eugene Brooks, who had been Rowe's lawyer, Rowe had become bankrupt and had long been divorced from his fourth wife.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d May, Gary (2005). The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo. Yale University Press.
  2. ^ a b Rowe, Gary Thomas Jr. (1976). My Undercover Years with the Ku Klux Klan. New York: Bamtam Book.
  3. ^ a b c d "Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. | Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2017-06-01.
  4. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (1998-10-04). "Gary T. Rowe Jr., 64, Who Informed on Klan In Civil Rights Killing, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-06-01.
  5. ^ "Civil rights rider keeps fight alive". Star News. Associated Press. January 30, 1983. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  6. ^ a b Kaufman, Michael T. (1998-10-04). "Gary T. Rowe Jr., 64, Who Informed on Klan In Civil Rights Killing, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  7. ^ a b "Civil Rights Movement -- History & Timeline, 1961". Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  8. ^ Raymond., Arsenault (2006). Freedom riders : 1961 and the struggle for racial justice. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195136746. OCLC 60796141.
  9. ^ Gross, Terry. "Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961". Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Rowe says he'll fight extradition". The Tuscaloosa News. October 4, 1978. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  11. ^ a b Raines, Howell (July 11, 1978). "FBI informant tells of murder, silence". Ocala Star-Banner. New York Times. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  12. ^ "Viola Liuzzo". Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  13. ^ Anderson, Jack (March 21, 1983). "Hoover smear tactics hurt civil rights case". The Evening News. Retrieved 2016-02-12.