Looking back at a Klan rally - Albuquerque Journal

Looking back at a Klan rally

It seems these days that every time you turn around the Ku Klux Klan is back in the news. And if there’s one group I’d just as soon like put out of mind, it’s the Klan.

It’s likely the KKK is not happy about this particular wave of notice, either, because the people wearing their stuff lately are said to be left-wingers whose contempt is directed at Donald Trump, not exactly one of the Klan’s traditional targets.

I wouldn’t doubt the Klan rally a couple of weeks ago in Anaheim, Calif., was in part to take back its image.

Anyway, since the KKK appears to be back on the radar screen, I thought I would share my experience at a Ku Klux Klan rally at a public park in Ceres, Calif., circa 1990.

I lived nearby and attended in part to see what the big deal was and, quite honestly, to bug them by my presence in their midst. You see, they don’t take kindly to my type.

But I correctly figured with all the police that would be there to protect their free speech rights, nothing bad would happen to me.

And I do believe in free speech. It’s in the Constitution specifically to protect the rights of those who say things that most people reasonably find repulsive and offensive. The stuff everyone agrees with doesn’t need protection.

In the days of my youth, I really thought that the kinds of social issues associated with that old racist hate group would have mostly been addressed by now. (I personally don’t like the casual way the word hate is thrown around these days, but if any group has ever earned the title, it’s the Klan.)

I first learned about the KKK from an article in a mid-1960s Collier’s Encyclopedia Yearbook that had all these night photographs of burning crosses and angry-looking men in white robes and hoods. They scared me, to be frank, but I was just a kid.

Eventually that fear turned more into to sad bemusement. I’m reminded now of Dante’s image of Satan – a dull, immobile demon frozen in ice up to the chest at the center of Hell.

But the rally 15 years ago presented the Klan as something more akin to the dancing oafs seen in the George Clooney comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

So what was the rally like?

a01_jd_22apr_upfrontWell, there were only four Klansmen and one little boy wearing the full hooded costume (they call it regalia, but there’s nothing regal about it).

Also present were three neo-Nazis in uniforms that had a three-legged swastika-like symbol, a couple of militiamen in military camouflage and a handful of skinheads dressed in tight black pants and T-shirts.

I guess they expected people to throw things at them, because the stage was lined with circular shields that had swastikas and other symbols on them, but actually only a few people showed up to gawk and I don’t recall any protesters.

I think the participants must have been deeply disappointed.

The keynote speaker gave a talk about how there were no blacks or other minorities on Noah’s Ark, which proves that only white folks like him were children of God.

I guess he didn’t realize that, even if the biblical story was meant to be taken as a historical event, as many believe, Noah would then likely have been a native of what we now call Iraq, or thereabouts. Not exactly the heart of the Deutsches Reich.

Logic, it seems, is not the strong suit of the KKK or other supremacist groups.

The speech was followed by a “white power” cheer complete with Hitler salutes, which was unfortunately led by the little boy in the Klan costume.

His daddy held the microphone for him, as the kid appeared to be no more than four or five years old. Poor thing. I guess he’d be a little over 30 by now. I hope he’s seen better days.

After the cheer, the motley bunch picked up its stuff up and headed away while sitting in the back of a couple of pickup trucks headed for a local farmer’s orchard. That night they had a private cross burning at the orchard.

I guess the next day the orchard was once again filled with migrant farmworkers, an occupation that in California’s Central Valley is dominated by people of Mexican heritage.

What would that farmer do without them?

Again, logic, it seems, is not the strong suit of the KKK.

While I don’t believe the Klan these days is worth much thought, it is important to remember the group’s violent, criminal past so that the Ku Klux Klan never again develops the kind of political power it displayed during the Reconstruction, Jim Crow or Civil Rights eras.

The group’s history is one of murder – hate misdirected especially against innocent African Americans.

So, ultimately, I guess it kind of bugs me to see the image of the Klan being used so casually these days.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or dherrera@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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