The news: Last week CNN asked the question we've all been secretly wondering about: "Can the KKK rebrand?"
Actually that might've been the last question on people's minds, considering an ex-Klan member had shot and killed three people at two Jewish community centers in Kansas a few days earlier. Gawker was ruthless toward the conglomerate, calling the piece "a landmark expression of idiocy." CNN has since changed its headline — slightly — but the article's mere existence still teeters into the realm of poor taste.
The framing is also unfortunate because the story raises interesting points. Maybe enlisting "marketing experts" and "brand gurus" was going too far, but anyone who's followed the cases of Frazier Glenn Cross or last month's White Man March can tell you there's a disquieting pattern in how white supremacists are talking about themselves these days.
This quote from Frank Ancona, Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, captures it best: "What [Cross] just did set back everything I've been trying to do for years," he told CNN. "I believe in racial separation, but it doesn't have to be violent. People in the Klan are professional people, business people, working types. We are a legitimate organization."
Wow. Some may find it encouraging that Klan reps want to shed their image as the gay-bashing, black-hating, lynch-happy anti-Semites we've all known for years. Even people like KKK Grand Wizard Johnny Lee Clary are admitting the Kansas shooter was unhinged: "I wanted nothing to do with him," he told the Huffington Post. "I knew he was a loose cannon."
So the question arises: Should we rest easy knowing there's a kinder, gentler Klan out there? I'll answer that with another question: Are you fucking crazy?
Consider the modern-day white supremacist movement as a whole. Just last week the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report linking nearly 100 murders in the past five years to "active users of the leading racist website Stormfront," founded by former Klan leader Don Black. Not only does this imply the existence of an effective centralized network where would-be hate killers can circle-jerk each other into a racist frenzy, it documents an uptick in their activities. Since President Obama was sworn into office in 2009, SPLC claims Stormfront-related murders have "[accelerated] rapidly."
Rise of white supremacist hate groups in America. Image Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center
What does this mean for the KKK? For starters, many people don't realize how wide that organization's reach still is. PolicyMic's Laura Dimon recently compiled a list of cities where they're known to operate, and the murderous actions of people like Frazier Cross speak for themselves. At the same time, the Klan is arguably molding itself into a palatable "mainstream" alternative to more fringe-dwelling white supremacists. Its members are "business people," after all, and they're open to the possibility that large-scale murder isn't the only route to unchallenged "white power."
But then you look closer. When Clary distanced himself from the Kansas shooter, he added a telling addendum to his statement: "I knew good and well if I continued to be around somebody like [Cross], I was going to end up dead" (italics added). No mention whatsoever of the people besides him who might be killed or have been killed during such hate-fuelled massacres. You know, like the 53-year-old woman, 14-year-old boy and his 69-year-old grandfather whom Cross murdered.
And while White Man March founder Kyle Hunt is busy decrying the United States' "diversity agenda" and bemoaning the specter of "white genocide," he manages to let slip that Adolf Hitler was "head and shoulders above any of the so-called leaders of today," despite a legacy tainted by "deceitful Holocaust propaganda and kosher Hollywood movies."
In short, the core messages and endgame of white supremacy, Klan-related or otherwise, are the same wherever you turn: If you're not white, you're not right. And while some adherents may not use guns, you can bet they'll shed few tears if someone else does.
That's why we should still worry about them. And that's why, no matter how much their rhetoric purports to shift toward mainstream viability, we must never forget the hateful, violent and insidious nature of their ambitions.