BILOXI, Miss. — George Malvaney says he had shed his identity as a Ku Klux Klan member and would-be mercenary by the time he walked out of federal prison, never to look back, two days before his 23rd birthday in July 1982.
Today, Malvaney is a key player in the protection and cleanup of Mississippi’s shoreline as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s busted Deepwater Horizon well.
He works daily with Coast mayors and supervisors and recently took U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., on a tour of a BP staging area in Gulfport.
Malvaney oversees a diverse work force as chief operating officer for BP subcontractor U.S. Environmental Services. He previously worked for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
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“It’s something that happened 30 years ago,” Malvaney told the Sun Herald. “I have an unblemished record. My work speaks for itself. My reputation speaks for itself.”
Malvaney grew up in Jackson, Miss., in an era when white adults liberally laced conversations with the N-word, black help ate on the back porch, and downtown restaurants refused service to “coloreds.” He does not like to talk about or remember his days in the KKK. He said he was actually recruited by the white supremacist group in Virginia, after he joined the Navy at age 18.
He and the Navy parted ways over his KKK activities. While he was serving in Norfolk, Va., he organized a Klan rally in Virginia Beach, according to a book that involved his short-lived career as a mercenary. The Navy transferred him to Brunswick, Maine, before he was granted an honorable discharge in 1979. Back in Jackson, he remained active with the Klan for several months.
“In retrospect,” Malvaney said, “you sit back and it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not trying to get in a position of defending it, because I’m not. It just doesn’t make any sense to me now. I’m a different person and have been for 30 years.”
Klan contacts recruited Malvaney, who was working in construction, to help stage a military coup on the Caribbean island of Dominica. He was promised $3,000 in pay, according to a book about the failed coup, “Bayou of Pigs.” The plot’s ringleaders had planned to transform the impoverished island into a cash machine through drugs, gambling and offshore banking, according to a newspaper account from that time.
The New York Times article explained how well that plan went. “The invaders had automatic weapons, a Nazi flag, a rubber raft and bad luck,” the article said. “A Dominica Army officer inadvertently gave away the plot in a note he tried to smuggle out of jail, and a disabled Vietnam veteran, the only hero of this story, helped federal agents trap the invaders before they left Louisiana.”
Malvaney pleaded guilty to a violation of the federal Neutrality Act and received an indeterminate sentence under youth provisions of federal law. He was shuttled around the federal prison system, but said he served most of his 1 1/2 years in Englewood, Colo.
“You realize quickly it’s not the place you want to be,” Malvaney said. “Prison was a life-changing event.”
Malvaney didn’t think so much about how he got there as he did about how he would live differently when he left.
“You just decide that’s not where you want to be. I learned from my mistakes and never looked back,” he said.
He got his construction job back when he got of prison in 1982. By fall, he was enrolled at Hinds Community College. From there, he went to the University of Southern Mississippi.
As a youngster, Malvaney was an avid fisherman and hunter. He pursued environmental studies, working summer internships for the state Department of Marine Resources and graduating with his bachelor’s degree. He went to work for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, first as a technician and then in emergency services, responding to chemical and oil spills.
In April 1987, six years after his arrest, his felony conviction was erased.
He has worked since 2001 at U.S. Environmental Services, where he manages a diverse work force of 200. He is working daily to protect Mississippi’s shoreline.
Malvaney has always enjoyed fishing offshore for trout and redfish, and in blue water for grouper, snapper and amberjack. He wears a fisherman’s shirt to work and spends most of his time in his second office, a Ford F-150 Badlander.
Malvaney works all along the Coast.
“I like him,” said Pass Christian Mayor Chip McDermott. “He’s personable, he’s available. If we have a problem, that’s who we call. You go to the top and you get things done. He is the man.”
“I don’t know anything about what happened then. I know he’s a good man for this job here. He’s out there, he’s on the forefront. As far as I’m concerned, he’s as good as there is.”
Said Malvaney: “Prison is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve come a long way and I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles to do this. I’ve worked very, very hard, and I’ve got 30 years of history as a good Mississippian.”