Hate must be exposed and denounced. Help news organizations achieve balance and depth. Do not debate hate-group members in conflict-driven forums. Instead, speak up in ways that draw attention away from hate, toward unity.
Goodness has a First Amendment right, too. We urge you to denounce hate groups and hate crimes and to spread the truth about hate’s threat to a pluralistic society. An informed and unified community is the best defense against hate.
You can spread tolerance through church bulletins, door-to-door fliers, websites, local cable TV bulletin boards, letters to the editor and print advertisements. Hate shrivels under strong light. Beneath their neo-Nazi exteriors, hate purveyors are cowards, surprisingly subject to public pressure and ostracism.
>> When the 20-year-old “national leader” of the Aryan Nations in Canada was exposed by the Prince George Citizen, he resigned and closed his website. “I don’t want to have this plastered all over the place,” he said.
>> Floyd Cochran, a former recruiter for the Aryan Nations, recalls the night he and founder Richard Butler traveled to tiny Sandpoint, Idaho, to intimidate a human relations meeting. When they found 300 people, they were intimidated themselves. “I didn’t go back to Sandpoint because of the turnout,” Cochran said.
Dealing with Media
Some tips for an effective media campaign:
>> News outlets cover hate crimes and groups. Don’t kill the messenger. Consider hate news a wake-up call, revealing tension in the community. Attack the problem. Reporters will then cover you, too.
>> Name a press contact for your group. This keeps the message consistent and allows the press to quickly seek comment or reaction to events. Invite the press to all your meetings.
>> The media like news hooks and catchy phrases, such as “Hate Free Zone.” Propose human-interest stories, such as the impact of hate on individuals. Use signs, balloons or other props that will be attractive to media photographers.
>> Educate reporters, editors and publishers about hate groups, their symbols and their effect on victims and communities. Put them in touch with hate experts like the Southern Poverty Law Center. Urge editorial stands against hate.
>> Criticize the press when it falls short. Remind editors that it is not fair to focus on 20 Klansmen when 300 people attend a peace rally.
>> Do not debate white supremacists or other hate-group members on conflict-driven talk shows or public forums. Your presence lends them legitimacy and publicity, they use code words to cover their hate beliefs, and they misinterpret history and Bible verses in a manner that is difficult to counter under time constraints.
A Tale of Two Towns
When the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Sharpsburg, Md., just nine Klan supporters showed up, “marching” two blocks, behind a police barrier, then leaving on the same rented Trailways bus they drove in on.
Meanwhile, many others — more than 30 times the number of Klansmen marching up Hall Street — spoke up in much louder and more effective ways.
About 40 area groups and businesses planned several alternative events in Sharpsburg and neighboring Keedysville — all this from a combined population of fewer than 1,400 people.
About 60 people attended a morning interfaith service. More than 100 turned out for an outdoor concert that afternoon, near Sharpsburg. More than 40 young people, ages 10 to 20, gathered at a local pizzeria. And more than 100 others attended a celebration of diversity in Keedysville.
“The Klan has a First Amendment right to free speech, but I also have the right to say that’s not what I believe in, that’s not what my community stands for,” said Amanda Reed of Sharpsburg, who helped organize the alternative events.
Others also spoke out against the Klan. A local Waffle House used its letter-board sign to send a message: “Teach love not war.” A red Ford Explorer carried another sign: “Hate is not welcome here.” And everywhere people wore specially made T-shirts that said, “We believe in love, not hate in Washington County.”
The gatherings earned local and regional press coverage that provided a balance to the hate message of the Klan.
While the single day was a success, many residents said long-term change — change that would never allow the Klan to feel welcome in either town again — is the ultimate goal.
As organizer Jerry Randell, explained: “If things keep happening after this day, that’s how we’ll know we’re successful.”
A Message for the Media:
Share this with media contacts you know, or simply photocopy it and mail it to an editor, anchor, columnist or reporter:
A newsroom that covers race issues thoroughly and regularly sets an agenda for the community. Nuanced and thoughtful coverage — rather than shallow, knee-jerk stories or images — deepens our community’s discussion and understanding of race.
Consider the following:
>> The masked, mysterious Klansman, like his burning cross, is an emotional image loaded with historical associations. Don’t let this cliché control the story. Include a serious look at the Klan’s numbers and influence, its involvement in hate crimes, and the hypocrisy of its pseudo-Christian message.
>> Don’t allow hate groups to masquerade as white-pride civic groups. In their literature and on their websites, they denigrate certain scapegoats, typically people of color and Jews. Gather comments from local police, state human rights commissions, the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League.
>> Klan and other white supremacist rallies represent the outer margin of American society. No meaningful dialogue on race can occur when it is framed by such extremes. Seek deeper, more thoughtful coverage of issues of race and other -isms.
As a final thought, we ask you to:
Take hate crimes seriously and report them prominently. Consider an annual “race report card.” Give reporters time to cover the Klan and other hate groups in depth, beyond an annual parade. Cover the impact of hate on victims and other members of target groups. Become an activist against hate, just as you are against crime. Sponsor a forum or other community journalism event tied to these issues. And don’t miss the “good news” as ordinary people struggle with homegrown ways to promote tolerance.
You are part of our community, and you must be part of our fight against hate.