A&E has taken its viewers inside the world of hoarders, addicts, and Scientologists on some of its hit programming, but next month, the network will premiere what could be its most controversial documentary yet: a glimpse into the Ku Klux Klan.
On Jan. 10, A&E will air the first of eight segments of “Generation KKK,” a documentary-style show that follows some of the Klan’s most prominent families and the activists who hope to change their views.
The show comes at a time when hate groups and bias-based crimes are becoming increasingly prominent as racial tensions divide the nation. While a better understanding of the groups and the ideals that drive them to commit violent hate crimes can illuminate the certain issues, some worry the show could glorify or glamorize America’s most famous hate group, drawing support for the cause or even recruiting new members.
“This series gives viewers an unprecedented look at what it is like to be born into hate. Our producers gained access to Klan families allowing for full immersion into this secret world and its impact on the next generation,” Rob Sharenow, the executive vice president and general manager of A&E, said in a statement announcing the series. “ ‘Generation KKK’ brings viewers inside the places where hatred and prejudice are born and bred, and carried forward or not.”
The group, which is the oldest hate group in the nation, had 190 active chapters as of last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. For more than 150 years, the organization has thrived, and A&E is hoping its foray into the Klan will expose how members attempt to grow their numbers through new recruits or indoctrinate children into the fold.
To capture the Klan in a larger societal context, the show will also feature voices of opposition, including several anti-hate activists and former white supremacists, as well as family members born into the Klan who wish to escape its marred history.
“People involved in hate groups do so because they’re suffering,” Arno Michaelis, who now works with young people to prevent violent extremism after spending years as a member of a hate group himself, told The New York Times. “I really draw upon that truth to respond to their aggression with compassion, and doing so makes a very powerful first impression.”
These activists have formed strong relationships with those deeply embedded in the culture of hate, and the network says the show will follow their journey to draw people out of the extreme fringe group.
Still, the network will be responsible for taking millions of viewers into the depths of the well-known but marginally understood group, and some worry that missteps on the part of producers could take the effort in the wrong direction. Anti-hate advocates hope the show will illuminate the shared experiences average Americans have with hate group members while abhorring the sentiments expressed by the organization and reminding viewers that the alt-right group is an extreme example of dangerous intolerance.
"On the one hand, it is wise to humanize these people; they're not aliens from outer space, they're human beings who have gone wildly off the tracks," Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told USA Today. "On the other hand, there's a real danger of making these people look (merely) like regular folks with slightly odd opinions."