When the Klan Comes To Town
COEUR D'ALENE, IDAHO
When the men in white hoods or jack boots come to town, what's the best response? Ignore them? Hold a civil-rights rally? Confront them verbally, maybe physically?Skip to next paragraph
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The question is far from academic. White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups are on the rise around the US, according to experts tracking organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations. And increasingly, they are holding rallies and marches to make their point.
Ann Arbor, Mich.; Waukegan, Ill.; Elkhart, Ind.; and Jasper, Texas - where a black man was killed lynch-style last month - are among the most recent. Up here in northern Idaho tomorrow, Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations group he leads from a wooded compound in nearby Hayden Lake are scheduled to march through downtown Coeur d'Alene.
The Northwest is known for attracting militant anti-government and racist individuals. But this region is not alone in seeing public displays by such groups.
"It's a tactic they choose very specifically to get publicity and to draw new members," says Devin Burghart of the Center for New Community, a faith-based community-organizing group in Oak Park, Ill. "In the past year, for instance, the Butler, Ind.-based American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held 39 rallies in 14 states."
"Barely a weekend goes by when they're not holding a rally somewhere," adds Mr. Burghart. "It is an indication that Klan activity is on the rise after a severe decline in the early 1990s."
And its not just activity by the Klan. "Aryan Nations branches in several states have held rallies in the recent past where they have not before, and the National Alliance also seems to be unusually active lately," adds Mark Pitcavage, a historian in Columbus, Ohio, who specializes in right-wing extremist groups and runs the "Militia Watchdog" Web site.
For their part, organizers of such marches and rallies say "it's useful to show we're involved in grass-roots activity," as one put it.
"It helps to put a face with the name, or a hood with the name as it were," says Christopher Johnson, former California state director for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who now focuses on the group's Web site. "When there are hot spots of racial unrest or instances of government oppression of white folks, that's a useful tool."
Although he refuses to cite numbers, Mr. Johnson says membership in his branch of the KKK has "increased dramatically" during the past few years.
Given the secrecy of such organizations, it is difficult to confirm such assertions. But those monitoring the Klan, the Aryan Nations, and similar groups report that the number of groups is rising, although some may have only a few members.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., reported in March that there now are 474 "hate" groups around the country. Even more troubling to human-rights activists, the number of Web sites run by such groups has grown from one three years ago to 163 today.
America Online, the largest e-mail and Internet access provider in the country, recently began pulling the plug on such sites started by its subscribers. While this kind of control may be allowable under law, it is not as easy for local officials to prohibit marches and rallies by the KKK and like-minded groups.