What I Learned from my First KKK Counter-Protest

Posted on: September 7, 2018, by :

By Jeff Turner

I hate to admit it, but I was actually a bit disappointed with the Klan “rally” in Madison, Indiana, the counter protest that is. I guess I was expecting there to be a bigger turnout, on the Klan’s “side of the fence” that is. The truth is, the Klan nowadays is a joke, probably won’t exist in a couple generations. Only thirteen of them actually  showed up for the “Kookout,” while over three hundred counter protestors from a variety of different groups/affiliations, including the American-Indiana Movement (AIM), Central Indiana Democratic Socialists of America, and Antifa, as well as ordinary Hoosiers who were there to stand against the bigotry being espoused by the “Ku Klux Kretins.”

But what disturbed me the most were the actions of certain counter protestors. The KKK’s “Kookout” was a recruitment drive of sorts I was told. It was a fairly pathetic one if that was the case. I only talked to one person who actually came there to hear what the Klan had to say, a guy who had what looked like a small Confederate Flag tattooed to his shoulder. I only saw one person actually go over to “join” the Klan at their “Kookout” (according to a Kentucky Courier-Journal article, eight total did this), which is still pretty abysmal.

And while the Klan was spouting off some very hateful and vitriolic rhetoric, the counter protestors, some of them, were matching it, and egging them on. In regards to the vitriolic back and forth verbal barbs exchanged by the thirteen white supremacists at the “Kookout” and counter protestors, Tony Davis, an activist from Indianapolis had this to say: “It’s reasonable, (there is) a lot of emotion, but we have to look past the emotion. (There) needs to be ways of communicating with those we disagree with.”

And he’s right. Because if this is what the left, “The Resistance,” is all about, Trump is going to win reelection in 2020. For one, the counter protest was not that well-coordinated. Half the counter protestors were engaged in a nasty war of words with the Klan while the other half were conducting a peaceful rally, where various speakers spoke of the need for tolerance and unity, to reject the message of the KKK and other white supremacist groups. However when one Hanover College Student started reading from the late Arizona Senator John McCain’s final statement, Antifa affiliated activists and others started shouting “Fuck John McCain,” which did seem to visibly disturb some of those who were attending the rally as observers rather than participants. I can understand why groups like AIM wouldn’t particularly care for John McCain, but they weren’t the ones I observed chanting this, and considering the man had just recently died, it was in rather poor taste.

I saw counter protestors approach random Madison residents who were merely observing out of curiosity and demand to know if they were with the KKK. This seemed to visibly alarm some of them. And then there was the one protestor standing all on his own, Will, protesting the Klan while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat to show that not all Trump supporters were racist. At least that was his stated intent. This drew jeers from certain counter protestors, one young woman (I believe she was with AIM) saying that Will was on “the wrong side of the fence.” You have to admit though that someone who shows up at a KKK counter protest attended by Antifa and other activist groups wearing a MAGA hat is either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. The latter is what most on the left tend to think of Trump supporters, but Will didn’t strike me as an idiot. Davis and some other counter protestors however attempted to engage with this young man, in a civil manner fortunately. I don’t know if they swayed him at all with any of their counter arguments, which were well-founded and logical. But Will does have a very good point. Not all Trump supporters are racists. They may be supporting a man who courts racists and comes off as a racist himself, but treating all Trump supporters as racists will only serve to solidify their support for Mr. Trump at best, and at worst drive them into the arms of the alt-right. As I said before, the Klan is a dying breed. It’s the “alt-right” that people need to pay attention to.

Will called the Klan members and sympathizers at the “Kookout” “racist people who don’t belong in (the) modern day world because they can’t see past skin color,” a sentiment I’m sure was shared by virtually everyone present at the counter protest. The only difference in this instance is that Will is a vocal Trump supporter. It’s easy to lump all Trump supporters into the “basket of deplorables” label Hillary Clinton used to describe them as during the 2016 Presidential campaign (she said half of them were actually). But denigrating voting Americans is not an especially wise tactic, and probably hurt more than it helped Clinton. And it doesn’t help in this instance either. If the Resistance wants to really ensure that Trump does not get elected to a second term, ostracizing people like Will is not the way to do it. Like Davis said, there has to be some way of communicating with those we disagree with, and not in the manner some of the counter protestors were doing with the Klan.

Don’t get me wrong. No one in any of these white supremacist movements is truly a “good person” or “good people,” so long as they cling to their ignorant, closed-minded bigotry and hate. But do counter protests actually do any good or have the intended effect?

“I haven’t seen this much hate since I was a child,” said Kelly Macy, who also attended the counter protest, in regards to racism in the hyper-partisan, highly polarized Age of Trump. In regards to whether the rally, the counter protest, would have the intended effect of dissuading people from joining such organizations, or from supporting a commander-in-chief who they view as an ally, she said “Verdict’s out on that. I just don’t know. They’re (white supremacists) starting to come out in greater numbers.” She was relieved that so few of them showed up at the “Kookout,” as I’m sure most who attended the counter protest were. “I honestly think it’s better to ignore them. But it’s a different time now. We need to confront this, make them see how ridiculous they are.”
An interesting way to view the situations. A lot of interesting, sometimes remarkably different, views were expressed. But what is the right way to address the problem? In all honesty, it’s all about empathy, which is key to starting a dialogue with people with whom we disagree. But how can it be possible to empathize with people who refuse to empathize with you solely because of your race, religion, or sexual orientation? The solution really isn’t to empathize with the hard core white supremacists, rather the ones who may well be sympathetic to the message, or sympathetic to the message of a man utilizing racism to exacerbate the divisions that currently exist within the U.S.  Trump has utilized a “divide and conquer” strategy, fueling the flames of hate and bigotry in the U.S., flames that never truly died. A large part of the problem, it would seem, is that people ignored these hate groups and people sympathetic to their message.

It’s not the Klan that worries me so much as the “alt-right.” My fear is that counter protests like the one I saw Saturday September 1st, were they to get really nasty, could lead to certain Trump supporters, people like Will, who don’t really consider themselves racists, going over and joining up with them, put off by the vitriol they see on the left, and getting sucked in by the likes of Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer. It’s entirely possible. Unless certain parts of the Resistance change tactics. Instead of lumping all Trump supporters into the “Basket of Deplorables” (and yes, some are), or yelling that a guy in a MAGA hat protesting the Klan should be “on the other side of the fence,” maybe try engaging with them in a civil manner, try to find common ground and work from there. People at the counter protest, a minority, were doing just that when they saw Will standing by himself at the rally, not sure if it had the intended effect. We need to address the highly polarized state of the nation, and the electorate. Even if more liberals and progressives in key swing states do get out to vote, that does nothing to heal the partisan divide. Reaching across the aisle, reaching out to the other side, may seem futile, but showing empathy and compassion for those we disagree with makes us better people.

I am not advocating this approach for the hardcore white supremacists who are too far gone to be reasoned with, but rather those who could potentially be attracted to candidates running for office whose behavior and policies seem to reflect that white, nationalistic mindset.

The Resistance needs to show that we’re better than this, not get brought down to the level of those who espouse hatred and bigotry. Otherwise, we’re no better. And if that’s the case, then Donald J. Trump is what we deserve.

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