Big headlines for Klan serve as an important reminder

June 12, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

At any given time, there are likely to be a half dozen groups clamoring for press attention from the newspaper. It may be a civic club with a new fundraiser, a sewing club with a new quilt or an activist group with a new gripe.

But space in a newspaper is a scarce commodity (although you wouldn't know it from reading Mallard Fillmore) so these groups almost always go home unhappy with the ink, if any, they are afforded.

So what must they think when they see a front-page, above-the-fold, three deck headline trumpeting every last sneeze of the Ku Klux Klan? The turnout over/under when this happy little group of chums gets together for a public shindig is generally about six.

At a Klan rally in Sharpsburg last year, 10 marchers showed up. A rally planned for Boonsboro this July was abruptly canceled, reasons unknown.


Although we might be able to guess. Herald-Mail staff member Andy Schotz put it beautifully when he wrote, "(Klan Wizard Gordon) Young, who lives in Hagerstown, has said he would recruit members of other white supremacy groups to be at this year's rally, which is what he said before last year's rally."

In other words, to haul in their supporters they don't need a bus - they don't even need a minivan, they need a Mini Cooper. It's become the Whu Klux Klan.

Which, to my mind, is why the Klan stories are so deserving of the coverage they get.

There's an argument, and a strong one, that if no one pays any attention to these rallies - if 10 can be said to rally, as opposed to just kind of milling around - they will dry up and go away. Without the 100 police officers flanking the parade route, without the dozens of anti-Klan protesters watching with disapproval, without the headlines, they will starve for a lack of attention and disappear.

And yes, the rallies probably would disappear. But the anger and hatred would not. Angry people who get no attention just get angrier.

Coverage of the Klan serves two purposes. First, it reminds the rest of the community that no matter how much progress we have made in the matter of race and cultural relations - and we have made tremendous strides in a remarkably short period of time, historically speaking - there is still work to be done.

It reminds us to watch ourselves, and monitor our own feelings toward other groups of people against whom we might develop unhealthy thoughts. I haven't read any Klan white papers on Muslims, or people of Mid-Eastern descent in general, but I'm guessing you won't see a swarthy wizard anytime soon.

So if, in our own hearts, we start thinking ill of all Muslims, or being suspicious of all Arabs, perhaps this Klan publicity will serve as a wakeup call to the dangers of treating people as groups instead of as individuals.

But the real value of these rallies is as an historical yardstick. What a perfect opportunity to say to your kids, "Here is what the Klan is today, here is what the Klan used to be and here is why it matters."

Viewed in the proper perspective, these Klan stories are not a disgrace, but a tremendous message of optimism. If this were 1920, the Klan rally might have attracted hundreds if not a thousand marchers. It would have been an impressive display of strength. No one would have gotten in their way, or dared look at them ill. Not only would there have been no policemen to keep them in check, probably a number of the officers would have been marching under hood themselves.

Of course they don't wear hoods as much these days, but maybe they should. Because you can see the eyes of the young men, especially the ones bringing up the rear. And in them, there is no arrogance and determination. Rather, there is fear and uncertainty. Maybe even a flicker of doubt.

No one would ever admit to it, but at some point a Klansman must have looked at the throngs of opponents, then at the paucity of his brethren and wondered if maybe his group didn't have it wrong.

That's why there is value in those who care enough to attend these rallies and frown. Hate groups need to know they are being watched. They need to know that if they are going to hate, they run the risk of being hated themselves. They need to know how it feels.

And the rest of us need to see their faces, their photos, and realize that racism doesn't always hide behind a sheet - sometimes it hides behind the face of someone who looks just like you or me. We need to be aware of that.

And it's important the newspaper is there to chronicle a very important part of history and human behavior, no matter how little the ember may be glowing.

Because a newspaper that decides that the Klan is irrelevant is doing a serious disservice to the community. What happens if the next rally attracts not 10, but 20? And then 50 and then 100? An important and dangerous trend will be taking place, unreported and unchecked.

Bad things fester in the dark, and denying the existence of bad things only encourages a faster fester. Also, we chalk racism up to a lack of education. But education is a two way street.

Klansmen are people, and there is a reason they feel the way they do. Upbringing and events have formed them in ways we will never know -especially if we never bother to ask. A lot of them probably haven't had it so easy in life. We should discover what happened to them to cause such malaise; cures come easier when the cause is known .

As a newspaper and a community, it's easier, of course, to simply ignore them and say we don't care. But more progress might be made if we don't ignore them and we do care.

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