Citing a need to return to traditional American values and as a response to what he believes is the imminent destruction of the United States by immigrants and labor groups, a local ex-minister has planned to climb to the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia on Thanksgiving Day and light a cross on fire to signify the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. A former minister with the honorary title of “Colonel”, William J. Simmons wants to defend America against minorities, immorality and non-Protestant Christian influences, including Roman Catholics. He believes this is necessary to counter the growing influences of Communism in American government, which threatens to undermine the white Christian values that this country was supposedly founded upon.
Ok, for those of you who read nothing beyond the headline and made an assumption based solely off that, this was Thanksgiving Day – in 1915. This was 98 years ago and it was the first revival of the KKK, after it had died out in the 1870′s due to government crackdowns. Since then, it was revived two more times. Once after WWII and then again in the 1970′s under David Duke. The first revival was brief but incredibly successful, and throughout the following decade their ranks swelled to the point where they marched on Washington in 1928.
Eventually, the movement died out. The leaders took the money they made off literature and membership dues, sold the group, and laughed all the way to the bank. Despite all of the attention given to hate groups today, never in US history was a group as successful as the KKK throughout its first couple of incarnations in terrorizing minorities in America.
What’s the point of this article? It’s simple. Let’s stop with Godwin’s Law or comparing every action of those we find ourselves politically or socially opposed to as the exact same as the KKK.
Yes, the Tea Party and other conservative groups do things that border on or cross over into the ideologies of the KKK or other hate groups, but if we are as intellectually mature as we believe we are, then we should be able to differentiate between then and now. There are some beliefs that are shared, but they are not exactly the same. Equating the two is a lazy approach which actually ends up marginalizing those who are pointing out and making legitimate statements against racism.
The GOP may be willing to default on the national debt if their political demands aren’t met, but they aren’t gassing six millions Jews (my family included). They may be trying to disenfranchise voters and apologize for gun nuts who kill unarmed black teens, but they’re aren’t killing civil rights activists or hanging minorities from trees. Ted Nugent may be a draft-dodging gun nut who may have had a thing for teenage girls, but calling him an actual pedophile makes us just as guilty as him insinuating that President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim.
If and when the actions and policies of the Tea Party exactly mirror the KKK or Nazis, then we can accurately apply that comparison. Sure, there are small pockets of radicals all over the country who still preach “white power” — just look at the newest story out of North Dakota for yet another example of that lunacy. But there’s a big difference between reporting on those stories with the facts, as opposed to labeling the Tea Party a bunch of Nazis. We do ourselves and our principles no favors by being intellectually dishonest. The KKK is the KKK; the Republican Party is not. Hitler is Hitler; Barack Obama and George Bush are not. There are plenty of valid reasons and ways to criticize people and groups, but when we stoop to this kind of melodrama, it only serves to make our valid points seem as ridiculous as our invalid comparisons.
We’re liberals and progressives here. Let’s stop making judgments and statements based off stereotypes and intellectually lazy bias confirmation articles. We can create a dialogue that doesn’t rely on name calling while standing firm on principle and ideals. We can and should point out racism in all forms, Tea Party or otherwise, with the facts on each case — not by leading with a headline calling them Nazis just to attract easy hits. Otherwise we’re no better than “they” are, and we end up doing a disservice to not only ourselves, but each and every person who’s speaking honestly about inequality and social justice in our country today.
* For the sake of full disclosure, the photo accompanying this article is from last year, when the KKK really did try to adopt a highway in Georgia. After the state denied their application, the ACLU ended up suing the state on behalf of the KKK, saying their First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being violated. We live in a bizarre world, indeed — all the more reason not to complicate things even more with unnecessary sensationalism and intellectual dishonesty.