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Defending the New Klan


Clarence Lusane

It

is perhaps a sign of millennium madness that the century will end

with the bizzare phenomena of an African American lawyer defending

in court the right of a member of the Ku Klux Klan – whose name

ironically is Black – to burn crosses. However, it seems that some

sense of sanity prevailed in that both the lawyer and his client

lost.

This

unnatural event occured in the recent trial of Barry Elton Black,

who in August 1998, in his role as the Imperial Wizard of the

International Keystone Knights of the KKK, held a rally and burned a

cross in Carroll County Virginia. The inferno, but not the rally,

violated a 1930s state law that specifically prohibits cross burning

by the Ku Klux Klan. The International Keystone Knights, one of

about 50 Klan groups nationally, is thought to have less than 200

members.

Arguing

that Black had a constitutional right to carry out this act was his

lawyer David P. Baugh, who is African American and a member of the

Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Among the

many irrational and naive statements made by Baugh justifying his

defense of Black was his view, "If I can’s protect him, I can’t

protect anyone else." Baugh apparently believes that Black and

the Klan have a right to verbally and physically terrorize others

which is exactly the purpose of these rituals. It is extremely

doubtful that Black used an African American lawyer for anything

other than tactical purposes, or that his views on race relations

were progressively altered.

Nobody

was buying Baugh’s argument. Significantly, an all-white jury took

on 25 minutes to return a verdict of guilty. In addition, testimony

against the Klansman came from three whites – the sheriff who

witnessed the event and arrested Black, his deputy, and Rebecca

Sechrist, a white woman whose lives in a trailer adjacent to the

property where the cross was burned. Sechrist breaks the stereotype

of poor whites who are routinely portrayed as unrepentant racists

waiting for Pat Buchanan, David Duke, or the local militia to

recruit them into racism’s army. While these "ordinary"

citizens did the right thang and said no to intolerance and

discrimination, the same can not be said for the so-called liberals

around this affair.

An

important political battle among liberals is going on here. On the

surface, it appears to be a conflict between two principles. On the

one hand, liberal groups such as ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law

Center, and others, argue that freedom of speech and of expression

should not be breached under any circumstances. On the other hand,

there is also the principle of anti-racism, racial equality, and

protection of human rights, which these groups also strongly

support.

In

fact, there is no conflict. What the KKK is all about, whether in

white hoods or blue suits, is not freedom of expression or freedom

of speech. In the post-Civil Rights Era, racist groups such as the

Klan no longer have the bold-face protection of local sheriffs who

use to let them violate the Constitution without nary a whisper of

opposition. Now, these groups attempt to employ constitutional

protections as they continue to advocate and, in many instances,

seek the elimination of people of color, gays and lesbians, Jews,

trade unionists, and others who fall outside of their narrow notions

of worthiness.

While

the Klan remains numerically small, estimated to be less than 5,000

nationwide, what they represent should not be casually dismissed,

nor have they surrendered the agenda of violence and coercion that

has marked Klan history from the mid-1860s to the present. Racist

violence continues to raise it vicious head. Only two years ago, in

the same county where the Klan rally occured, a black man was burned

alive and then beheaded by a white laborer. To view the Klan and

other organized racists as only fringe politics misses the role they

play in perpetuating an atmosphere of intolerance where old

stereotypes can fester and grow.

Not

only has the Klan continued to represent the most repugnant racist

views here in the United States, but has expanded its international

reach. Various Klan leaders, such as David Duke and Bill Wilkerson,

have long had ties to racists in Europe. In France, the neo-fascist

National Front, led by Jean Marie Le Pen, has invited Klan members

to meetings and conferences for a number of years. In England, the

modern Klan has worked with fascists and racists organizations such

as the British National Front and the National Socialist Movement,

since at least the early 1960s. In the 1990s, U.S.-based Klan

leaders have facilitated the creation of a small Klan chapters in

England, Wales, and Scotland. According to the anti-fascist

magazine, Searchlight, their activities have mainly been confined to

defacing synagogues, some fist fights, and passing out racist

literature. Though marginalized in the United States and elsewhere,

the Klan has not disappeared and neither should the opposition to

its purposes and goals.

So

the decision by 12 white jurors in a small town in Virginia may be

only a small footnote in the contemporary political passions of the

present, but it signifies an important statement against racism. The

Virginia case once again underscores the view that when faced with a

radical option liberals duck and run for cover.

Clarence

Lusane, Ph.D. "Chance Favors the Prepared" American

University School of International Service (202) 885-1674

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