April 9, 2007

The Ku Klux Klan is coming to Bloomington

The Ku Klux Klan announced this past week that they will be marching in Bloomington “in full robe and hood”, according to an email that imperial wizard Phil Lawson sent to the Herald-Times. Personally, I will believe it when I see it. To some extent, the Klan has already won by getting a lot of attention and a front-page article in the newspaper.

Two days after the H-T ran a front-page article on the possible Klan visit, the staff editorial urged the community to ignore the KKK’s hateful message. The editorial said it would be nice “if the only evidence of this appearance were to be a small item near the bottom of Page 2, with a tiny headline announcing they’d come and gone.”

Could the Herald-Times possibly be more hypocritical here? I don’t think so. The editorial board (which includes the publisher, editor, and managing editor) could easily make that happen, by not covering the Klan’s plans at all, and not bothering to send a reporter or photographer to the rally (if it happens). The Herald-Times has served as the main source of advertising for the Klan’s visit. Running a front page story and then wishing for virtually no coverage two days later is just laughable.

A few years ago, the Herald-Times was scolded for “running a quarter-sized picture of a Klansmen in a sheet” on the front page of the paper. A staff editorial the next day justified the photo by saying “We hope they were jolted and offended. They ought to be jolted and offended. It’s one reason we ran the picture.”

The H-T’s former stance was far preferable to their current one. First, it lacks the brazen and credibility-shredding hypocrisy displayed last week. Second, the Klan’s visit is newsworthy and therefore should be covered. It gives the community time to prepare and plan a response, even if the response is to ignore the racist fools and stage an alternative event on short notice.

Mike Leonard argues that the police should not be sent to protect the Klan from possible violence. That would be foolish and dangerous. If violence breaks out, then it is not only KKK members who could be harmed, but the people who go after them and also innocent bystanders, including children. It is also un-American to refuse protection based on political views, no matter how despicable those views may be.

The Klan seems to want a scene, though. If they are able to bring 150 to 300 KKK members to Bloomington with no notice, there will be no time to prepare. The Klan clearly hopes to catch people off-guard and provoke a “heat of the moment” reaction that they can use to claim martyrdom. Therefore, the Bloomington Police Department will need to be ready to scramble if and when the KKK does show up to prevent hostile actions, and the alternative event will need to be flexible enough to start as soon as the Klan begins marching.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that the KKK has the same First Amendment rights that everyone else does and those rights must be respected. As I’ve said many times in the past, the first and most important line of defense for free speech is free speech that is almost universally repulsive. Once a precedent is set for restricting speech, it is only a matter of time until it grows out of control.