Oh C’mon, Let the Ku Klux Klan Adopt a Highway
Posted by Enrique on 06.21.2012
Haters gonna hate
Ever heard of the Ku Klux Klan? Neither have I, but apparently like they were a force to be reckoned with in the first half of the 20th century in America. In the year 2012, the white supremacist ideology that made the KKK infamous has been thoroughly discredited, so much so that the only way they can get their name out in public anymore is through Adopt-a-Highway programs.
They can't even do that in some states. Georgia recently rejected a local KKK chapter's request to adopt a highway in that state, setting up a potential legal battle. While no patriotic American would endorse the racist views that the KKK is associated with – c'mon, so what if they adopt a highway? Let's not stand in the way of these guys doing something productive.
The story so far…
The KKK used to be kind of a big deal. If Wikipedia can be believed (and I can think of no reason why it wouldn't be), the first version of the KKK was started by disgruntled Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. The more well-known version was founded in Georgia in the 1921, and claimed to include as many as 5 million members at one point. This was the KKK that engaged in terrorist acts, assassinations, suppression of black voters – and if that wasn't enough, they were big supporters of Prohibition.
By the 1940s, KKK membership had essentially collapsed. Since that time, the KKK brand has continued to be used by freelance supremacists – which I assume is similar to the way that every international Islamist terror group of the last ten years is kinda sorta connected to "Al Qaeda." Current KKK membership is estimated to be no more than 5,000.
Still, they seem to have come a long way. Even if they are white supremacists, at least they don't appear to be engaging in acts of terrorism. In fact, in the case of this Georgia chapter, they seem to have taken an interest in being green:
Harley Hanson, the "exalted Cyclops" of the Klan's "Realm of Georgia," filed the application to adopt a one-mile stretch of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains, near the North Carolina border, on behalf of the International Keystone Knights of the KKK in Union County. […]
"All we want to do is adopt this piece of road and clean it," Hanson told FoxNews.com by phone. "We're not doing this for a membership drive; we've got all the members we want. And we've got intentions to do it more than four times per year." […]
"We'll have at least six at every cleanup, no more than 10," the 34-year-old electrician said. "It's a very secluded type of road and it gives our members something to do; [it's] just another activity that we can do."
Aw, they just need something to do. They're a bunch of bored dudes who want to make a secluded road pretty. If there's one thing the social justice industry has taught us, it's that claiming to have good intentions is the root of all decency.
But not in this case. No one wants to send the message that people who hold odious beliefs should attempt to be helpful, so Georgia rejected Hanson's application:
"The impact of erecting a road sign naming an organization which has a long rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern," the Georgia Department of Transportation wrote the Klan chapter.
"Impacts include safety of the travelling public, potential social unrest, driver distraction or interference with the flow of traffic." […]
State Representative Tyrone Brooks said Georgia should fight the Klan's application in the courts and if it loses, "I think you might want to end the program."
To be sure, it's understandable that this would be a sensitive issue in Georgia where the KKK has a particularly sordid history. But you have to facepalm at this Brooks character saying they should end Adopt-a-Highway if the KKK gets to participate. That's the public sector mentality for you.
If I could ask a silly question – how likely is it that a few racists cleaning a secluded highway would impact public safety? It's hard to find much evidence that any contemporary KKK wannabes have much capacity for violence. There are certainly some incidents – here's a case from a few years ago when some KKKers severely beat a teenager they thought was Hispanic. And here's another case of a 2008 murder that was perpetrated by a KKK member, although the victim was a potential recruit rather than a minority.
While these are tragic cases, it appears the type of violence engaged in by KKKers these days is pretty run of the mill, the kind of thing that happens in urban America every day. This is not a group capable of terrorism or assassination like they were decades ago. I find it hard to believe letting them clean a secluded stretch of road would lead to any violence. At worst, it might make people momentarily uncomfortable to see a road sign with "Ku Klux Klan" on it.
If Georgia had just let these KKK jokers adopt that back road, rather than try to infringe on their rights, it still would have been a story for a few days, but it wouldn't have resulted in a potential lawsuit that could consume state resources and which will certainly fail if pursued – in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state of Missouri when it tried to do something similar. Instead, by rejecting the KKK's application, Georgia is making them free speech martyrs and giving them more attention than they deserve.
I'm reminded of a white supremacist rally that happened last year in West Allis, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of my hometown Milwaukee. As it happens, the rally occurred about ten blocks from where I live, and I was caught off guard as I was doing my weekend errand-running. The turnout was so huge, I actually had to alter my usual path to the grocery store. I mean, can you imagine the inconvenience? Woe was me.
And I don't mean the turnout of white supremacists was huge. The turnout of counter-protesters was huge. According to my local newspaper, "The neo-Nazis numbered 25 to 30. About 2,000 people attended a counter-rally an hour earlier, according to police." Speaking of police, this story says there were 130 law enforcement officers from seven different agencies in attendance – at a rally of a few dozen lame-o racists.
What exactly did this massive counter-protest achieve? Given the turnout numbers, it seems pretty clear there's no risk of white supremacy becoming a respectable ideology any time soon. These 25-30 neo-Nazis had no real power to influence anyone. I bet those counter-protestors thought of themselves as doing something important, but really they were just vehemently reminding a bunch of unpopular people that they're unpopular.
Congratulations, counter-protestors, you've taken a bold stance against hate by opposing a bunch of cranks who can't hurt anyone with their silly ideas. If a few white supremacists hold a rally and no one shows up, they don't make a sound. They don't deserve the attention they seek with their trivial rallies, and I think the folks who counter-protest them would be better off leaving them be.
White supremacists also don't deserve to have their rights taken away for espousing bigotry. Civil rights don't mean anything if we're not willing to defend them for groups that don't attract much public sympathy – whether those groups are prison inmates, cigarette smokers, or unrepentant racists. Adopting a highway is probably the least harmful thing anybody associated with the KKK brand has ever done. Might as well let them do it without making a fuss. It's not only the best way to deny them the spotlight – it's also the right thing to do.