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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

May 21, 2004
Dispensing Hate

The history of the KKK arguably defines it as a terrorist organization.

Nevertheless, it's also arguable that they're entitled to the same free speech rights as any other group. If they can find a campus organization willing to sponsor them, then they should be entitled to speak on campus.

Freedom of speech isn't about people we agree with being free to speak. It's about everyone being free to speak.

For the record, when the KKK wanted to speak on my campus in Kansas in the early 80s, I and most students supported their free-speech rights.

(Of course, when they showed up, we exercised our free speech rights and sang at them until they fled the stage, the building, and the campus without having spoken a word anyone could hear.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:11 PM


Actually, the history of the Klan is unequivocal: for the first century or so of its existence it was the foremost US-based terrorist organization (there were a few anarchists in the early 20th century, but being anarchists, they weren't that organized), but Potok is right: there's not much left of the Klan at this point, and the organizations that exist are not always direct institutional descendants of the "glory days" Klan.

There is a difference between freedom to speech and balanced speech. There are cases where, even when balance is invoked, that it needn't be evenhanded if one side is so well known/represented that having a speaker would be redundant.

My wife told me of a case (I don't remember offhand it it was at her alma mater or elsewhere, and she's reading to our son right now) where a notorious anti-homosexual preacher wanted to speak at a college; similarly, he needed student organization sponsorship to use school facilities. So, the GLBT student group stepped up and sponsored him, which required that their name be on his fliers and that he note their sponsorship at the beginning of the talk.....

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 21, 2004 11:05 PM

The KKK is "arguably" a terrorist organization? Arguably? Jesus. What would then qualify as "absolutely" terorist? Dumbest. Relativism. Ever.

Posted by: Derek Catsam at May 23, 2004 12:15 AM

Derek - The qualifer comes in because I'm not certain precisely what groups qualify for the designation under the current rather fluid definition.

Posted by: Anne at May 23, 2004 08:49 AM

Derek: The KKK is an organization whose methods and reach have changed considerably over time. As I said above, there was a time when it was unequivocal, but that time has passed. You'd have more luck attacking them under RICO (multi-state organization violating laws, in this case civil rights laws, with malice aforethought) than under USA PATRIOT. They want to be frightening, but they're not even the most dangerous White Power folks out there right now.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 24, 2004 02:39 AM

As usual, Jonathan said it first, and better. The KKK is largely a symbol these days and as such is abhorent, but they're also a shadow of what they used to be. There are much more dangerous organizations working in this country today.

In any case, you can make such groups illegal, but that won't get rid of them, it will just increase their sense of paranoia.

There will always be those who hate. There will always be the impotent who think that gathering together in darkness makes them powerful.

All we can do is monitor such groups and take any increase in membership or activity as a sign that a society is getting sick.

Posted by: Anne at May 25, 2004 08:58 AM

I take flack for this on HNN, but I'm a supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center. These people read stuff that would make me naseaous, and keep track of people that would make me question my committment to public justice. I can barely stand to read their intelligence reports, but they cover this stuff and nobody else does. Their definitions are sometimes criticized as overbroad, but given the way in which these things seem to evolve, I don't think so.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 26, 2004 12:20 AM

Jonalthan -

I'm a big fan of the work done by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Like you, I can't fathom how they can do what they do, but I'm profoundly grateful that our society has them.

I don't think of their definitions as "overbroad" so much as "forward-looking." They do tend to try and figure out where problems will arise in the future and using terms defined too narrowly can be a handicap.

Posted by: Anne at May 26, 2004 09:03 AM