Whenever I think of the Ku Klux Klan, I think of a man named Thomas Blanton.
It took a jury just two-and-a-half hours to convict Blanton of blowing up a Birmingham, Ala., church in 1963 and killing four black girls.
The trial took place decades later, in 2001, when Blanton was 62 — an ex-Klansman who, according to tapes played at trial, once told a friend, “I like to go shooting, I like to go fishing, I like to go bombing.”
Blanton went on trial during my brief tenure at a Birmingham newspaper, and I was always struck by how bland and ordinary he looked in photographs. And yet he was convicted of a horrific crime — an act of pure evil.
The Klan will never escape this violent legacy, no matter how many times it tries to rebrand itself as a civic-minded organization interested in advancing the rights of white people.
Which is why it’s good to see people in Gloversville and Johnstown coming together to rally against the hate that the KKK represents.
The impetus for the gatherings was a three-part series in the Gloversville Leader-Herald on KKK activity in Fulton County. During the past year, residents have received recruiting fliers from the Loyal Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
One might hope that anti-KKK rallies wouldn’t be necessary in 2017, but the group remains active and, according to a 2016 Associated Press article, “dreams of restoring itself to what it once was: an invisible white supremacist empire spreading its tentacles throughout society.”
Given the Ku Klux Klan’s history of racist violence and rhetoric, a resurgent KKK is a scary thought.
That said, it’s worth noting that the group is but a shadow of its former self — weak, disorganized, beset by infighting.
As a 2016 article titled “What is the Contemporary KKK?” featured on the online news site Slate observed, “While the KKK once stood as a hierarchical organization with terrifying goals and the means to achieve them, its descendants can best be described as a very loosely affiliated network of small groups that are all but irrelevant as political entities and marginal even within the white supremacist movement.”
Earlier this year the Anti-Defamation League released a 10-page report on the KKK that contained similar findings.
According to the report, the Klan’s primary activity appears to be “the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and Islamophobic fliers.”
We’ve seen this in Fulton County, and it’s been an unfortunate development — an ugly effort to intimidate people and spread a bigoted message.
But it isn’t necessarily indicative of a huge KKK presence.
As Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Daily Gazette last February, these “lit-drops” are a way for the KKK to appear bigger than they really are. “It’s very low-effort. Essentially, it’s one guy driving around in the dead of night; there’s no risk.”
In other words, today’s KKK is a ragtag band of losers, fond of dressing up in robes, giving members grand-sounding but ridiculous titles such as Imperial Wizard and meeting in secret to badmouth other racial groups.
This doesn’t mean the contemporary KKK doesn’t represent a threat, or that its members are benign.
Far from it.
As the ADL report noted, “Klan members continue to be linked to criminal activity and violence.”
One of the Klansmen interviewed by the Leader-Herald told the paper that “we don’t condone violence.”
But it seems that anyone who really felt this way wouldn’t join the KKK — a violent group with a violent history that it will never, ever escape.
The Klan will always be the organization that Thomas Blanton belonged to when he bombed a church in Birmingham that killed four black girls. It will always be the organization that committed countless acts of terrorism against blacks, Jews and others.
Which is why residents of Fulton County are right to be concerned about the KKK gaining a foothold in their community.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.
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Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County