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Alternatives to the Klan

August 13, 2004

In his book "Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan," historian David Chalmers says that the Klan was founded in 1866 to oppose Republican state governments in the post-Civil War South.

Chalmers and others note that after it first burst onto the scene, there were two subsequent revivals of Klan activity. Ironically, the last, during the 1960s, spurred passage of much civil rights legislation.

In fact, although the Klan has inspired fear among many, its views have never won over a majority of the American people.

So why does the group still persist? And why did it schedule a rally in Sharpsburg on Aug. 28?

The Klan survives for a couple of reasons. One is that for some people, there's an adrenaline rush that comes from defying the culture of the majority.

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It's why teenagers pierce their tongues and dye their hair purple - to declare that they're different and that they don't care who doesn't like it.

The second reason is that some people truly believe the Klan's philosophy of superior and inferior races. It is a little bit like belonging to the Flat Earth Society, albeit with more disturbing overtones.

The Klan is coming to Sharpsburg for the same reason any group rallies - to show its strength and to attract new members.

The proper response should not be to confront Klan members. That would play into their fantasy of being part of an embattled group that's struggling to preserve the truth.

Fortunately, a group of people in southern Washington County have figured out a way to cope without confronting the Klan members.

They've formed the Coalition for Tolerance and Unity and will sponsor or support two events that same day. The first, at Antietam National Battlefield, will run from 11 a.m. to dusk and will feature eight live bands and several children's activities.

In Keedysville, there will be an all-day dance marathon with a $500 cash prize as part of the town's annual Ruritan Festival.

Both sound like fun and attending either would be a good way to show the Klan that while the Constitution guarantees their right to speak, it does not force anyone to listen.

For more information, visit the coalition's Web site at www.peaceunity.com

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