When the Ku Klux Klan showed up in Anaheim on Saturday for a rally that turned violent even before it got started, a question on many lips might have been: The KKK still exists?
Yes it does, such as it is -- a ragtag bunch of misfits so woefully out of tune with the times that its only hope of gaining any attention is by provoking conflict. That’s what happened after a small clutch of Klan members announced last week that they were coming to Anaheim for an anti-immigration rally in Pearson Park on Saturday and giving a heads-up to the police department that there might be a counter-protest to greet them.
And -- surprise! -- there was. The Klansmen had barely exited the SUV in which they arrived when they were reportedly attacked by the protesters, three of whom were stabbed by Klan members who said they were acting in self-defense. (Klan members of yore might be embarrassed to see their movement reduced to such a degree that it has to wind up on the receiving end of some 2x4s to get any notoriety.)
It’s unfortunate that the counter-protesters, who outnumbered the Klansmen many times, only served to legitimize the group by physically attacking it. One can imagine that if everyone had ignored this “rally,” the Klansmen (and women) would have exercised their 1st Amendment right to spout hate, gotten bored with the lack of outraged response, then left with nothing to show for their deliberate attempt to stir up trouble.
But then, the Klan provokes people just by venturing out in public. Though the KKK today may seem more of a joke than a source of fear, not too long ago it terrorized African Americans with impunity. The very name, not to mention the iconic robes and peaked hoods, conjures up lynchings and burning crosses. Klansmen got away with their crimes then because the group was politically powerful in America, including in Anaheim. The scars feel fresh still as the nation struggles with its legacies of discrimination and segregation.
Anaheim police were criticized for not showing a strong presence before the melee erupted in the park. And police officials will certainly need to answer questions about why they didn’t step in sooner, before the brawl turned bloody. They knew that the KKK attracts violence like honey draws bears. Like it or not, Klan members have a right to assemble and to speak their minds like any other American. They have the right, as well, to police protection, much as it may gall taxpayers.
Meanwhile, we all have the right to ignore the antics of a fringe hate group. The next time the Klan comes to town, hopefully the rest of us will use that right. Nothing dampens a movement quite like disinterest.