On July 18, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—“The Largest Klan in America!” according to the group’s website—are holding a rally on the South Carolina statehouse grounds to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag.
The group is protesting “the Confederate flag being took down for all the wrong reasons,” says James Spears, the Great Titan of the Pelham, North Carolina chapter of the KKK. “It’s part of white people’s culture.” One does wonder what Spears thinks the right reasons would be.
Despite the KKK’s abhorrent beliefs, it has a right to assembly and hold a rally on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds because groups cannot be excluded because of their ideology, according to Brian Gaines of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, which oversees reservations.
Yet the KKK is not solely a group of white individuals in hooded cloaks who spew a vile ideology of hatred of African Americans and other non-whites (it’s pretty anti-Semitic, too). It is a group that has repeatedly inflicted physical terror for generations upon those it hates. The concern is not primarily its ideology of hatred and white supremacy, but the fascist terrorism it inflicts upon those it despises.
As an African-American male I have learned to accept that some people just will not like me or may judge me negatively because of the color of my skin. This is an unpleasant part of life. You cannot remove all the bigots and racists from the world. We all have an equal right to live, but what must always be considered unacceptable is inflicting physical violence and terror upon those you hate.
The KKK is far more than a hate group, and its racist propaganda extends beyond hate speech and into what is known as dangerous speech—a form of hate speech that clearly seeks or at least has the clear potential to incite violence.
Susan Beseech, the director of the Dangerous Speech Project, in her paper, “Countering Dangerous Speech: New Ideas of Genocide Prevention,” (PDF) writes that “by teaching people to view other human beings as less than human and as mortal threats, thought leaders can make atrocities seem acceptable—and even necessary, as a form of collective self-defense.”
When Spears was asked about his thoughts on Dylann Roof’s terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church that killed nine African-American worshipers, he said, “I feel sorry for the boy because of his age and I think he picked the wrong target. A better target for him would have been these gang-bangers, running around rapping, raping, and stealing.”
According to Spears, the problem was not the killing of African Americans, but Roof’s decision to kill African Americans in a way that would draw so much unwanted attention. Roof could have easily chosen to kill black “gang-bangers” and much of this hassle could have been avoided, according to a Great Titan of the KKK.
And before Roof began his killing spree he said to one of his victims, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”
There should be no ambiguity that Roof and the KKK not only use a dehumanizing hate speech that presents African Americans as mortal threats to “white culture,” but also feel justified in using force to create terror within the black community.
The danger posed by this ilk is more than theoretical or emotional.
Internationally, the discussion regarding dangerous speech and possible legislative applications has progressed much further than in America. The catalyst for the conversational shift from loathing but allowing hate speech to exploring ways to prevent dangerous speech has begun due to acknowledgement of the impacts of leaders of mass social movements in Rwanda, Srebrenica, and other mass atrocities disseminating ideologies of hatred to spur their followers to act, cow bystanders into passivity, and justify their crimes.
In America, the KKK is the embodiment of this threat. Yet disturbingly, the group’s continuing presence in our society, and its primary targets of abuse—African Americans, who have historically been legally dehumanized by the state—results in America being less alarmed by the Klan’s presence despite knowing about the terror it and like-minded individuals inflict.
According to a recent report (PDF) by Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, 3,960 African Americans were lynched from 1877 to 1950 in 12 states, all in the South. Additionally, despite the magnitude of this report it would be incredibly difficult to record all the other killings and injuries that the KKK and other racist gangs have inflicted upon African Americans. The numbers reach into the hundreds of thousands by most estimates.
To many Americans, the KKK seems to be a relic of the past, but a reduction in terror is not a removal of danger. In April, three Florida Klansmen were arrested for plotting to kill an African American man. And since the Charleston shooting on June 17, African-American churches have been set ablaze at a rate reminiscent of the 1960s and prior. None of these has specifically been connected to the Klan, but Klansmen and church-torchers slink out of the same fetid swamps.
In response to the race-driven attacks inflicted upon African Americans, some people feel inclined to deflect blame or present non-sequitur statistics such as crime in black communities to downplay the impact of these actions, while also dehumanizing black Americans.
This perpetuates a vicious cycle of abuse toward black Americans, as the rest of society finds illogical justifications for ignoring terrorism.
Eventually, as a society we will have to accept that black lives matter even if that results in a dismantling of notions of white supremacy. Anything else is a tacit endorsement of a society that condones dehumanizing propaganda and the inevitable unhinged danger and terror that will befall certain segments of society.
In less than a month, the largest chapter of the KKK will hold a rally on government property to express its disapproval of the removal of a flag that represented a treasonous American faction. To many Americans the rally will represent bigotry, racism, and hatred that we would like to move beyond. To African Americans it will represent a continued terror that condones and encourages the killing and maiming of black life, the burning of black churches, and various other forms of intimidation.
An unwillingness to recognize this danger and explore solutions can no longer be the status quo of American society.