Johnny Isakson is not a Klansman—at least, not the Johnny Isakson I know.
I have known the U.S. senator, who was once a Democrat, since he served in the Georgia statehouse. Back in 1996, as a Republican, he lost his first primary race for the Senate to a conservative firebrand, billionaire evangelical in a landslide. Georgians said he was “too liberal” for their tastes.
While his current politics leave much to be desired and I am increasingly uncomfortable with his slide to the right, there is one thing that I know for sure: Isakson is not a bigot.
I should know.
In the early ’90s, I was a single mother raising three preschoolers on welfare. It was Isakson and leaders like him who wrote and supported legislation that quite literally saved our lives and provided that kind of hand up that we needed. In 1996, Isakson led the passage of what was then known as the Georgia Peach Program, a state fund that provided child-care subsidies for families like mine who were receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The Peach program is now known as CAPS and, just as it did back then, it disproportionately helps African-American women living in poverty to go to work and school.
In 1993, Isakson also supported the creation of the HOPE Scholarship and Georgia Pre-K, the first programs of their kind in the country that used state lottery revenues to fully fund college scholarships to all high school graduates with a B average and sent hundreds of thousands of 4-year-olds to school.
All of my children participated in the Pre-K program and two of them are HOPE recipients now attending public colleges in Georgia. The third did not qualify, only because she was accepted into and graduated from Brown University, an Ivy League school. How she got there says a lot about her intellect and work ethic, but it also says something about Johnny Isakson.
Bigots don’t write legislation like that. They don’t stand on the floor of the statehouse demanding bipartisan support. They certainly don’t fight for children like mine.
Even so, I remain curious about what the evidence holds. If there is even a chance that Isakson has been or is a Klansman, I want to see it. The charge is far too serious to simply junk “innocent until proven guilty” without vetting the data.
When I first learned that the hacktivist Anonymous was going to publish a list of alleged Ku Klux Klan members, I was more than curious. I wanted to know who was hiding their sheets under a business suit. I especially wanted to know if there were any current members of Congress on the 1,000-person list.
The final list, released Monday, including four U.S. senators, a handful of mayors, and police officers. While I do not doubt that many on the list may indeed belong to hate groups, the fact that Isakson is included leaves me wondering about the veracity of the claims.
Using Twitter handle TheAnonMessage, the global activist network—which was responsible for outing dozens of Klanners in and around St. Louis after the death of Michael Brown—said last week that it would expose old and current members. Anonymous claimed it would reveal the identity of 1,000 members acquired through a compromised Twitter account. The data dump, which included personal information, started today using PasteBin. (Anonymous claims that the leak had nothing to do with them, promsing the real deal on Nov. 5.)
“Today we have shut down servers, gotten personal information on members of the KKK, and infiltrated your twitters and websites. And this is just the beginning,” said a message on their website. “On November the 4th we will be having a twitter storm, spreading awareness about the operation. And on the 5th we shall release more than 1000 Ku Klux Klan members names and websites, new and old.”
There are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Klan members today, filled with the same vile and racial animus that once terrorized this nation. In recent years, the group has actively sought to grow its membership by using social unrest to actively recruit new followers.
Now, I would normally applaud a campaign like #HoodsOff, but we’ve been here before. Anonymous hasn’t always been right and there is an inherent danger in releasing false accusations into the wild.
Last year, a member of the group claimed a Missouri police officer—who had never been to Ferguson—shot Michael Brown. Hundreds of death threats followed.
Today, there are substantial policy issues on which to disagree with Isakson. But to wily-nilly accuse him of being involved in a white supremacist hate group that proudly trumpets its history of raining terror across this land—burning people out of their homes, lynching black men—is wrong.
There is no room for error here. If you’re going to do it, you have to be damn sure that you are right.