Over the past three decades I have monitored more than 100 Klan, neo-Nazi, Posse Comitatus, etc. rallies and marches.
By LEONARD ZESKIND
Special to The Star
The work led me from a Klan rally in Hannibal, Missouri in 1982 to a Posse Comitatus event at Lake Cheney, Kan. in 1983, to small towns in Georgia and the South, and even to Paris in 1988 to take pictures and notes at a French Front National May Day march. I have written a book, monographs and news articles about the white nationalist movement, and I was a contributing editor to the 1992 edition of When Hate Groups Come to Town, a 189-page manual on how to respond to white supremacists.
On Nov. 9, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) will hold a public rally in Kansas City, and a variety of responses will be offered. Some will argue that it is not necessary to respond; let them come to town and let them leave, they will say. Many will not leave, however, as they live within the circulation area of this newspaper. Not giving a response to these racists and anti-Semites effectively gives them an invitation to come back. And it gives a green light to the most awful forms of bigotry. In fact, a full-throated response from every corner of the community is an absolute necessity.
A “stop the fascists in their tracks” response, however, is both counter-productive and misguided. The neo-Nazis and Klansmen who will be in Kansas City have First Amendment rights. That does not mean you have to give up your First Amendment rights, but it does mean that they are likely to be protected behind police barriers and police themselves. Trying to push them off the streets, as some are wont to do, effectively turns into a battle with the police.
Besides the arrests, it also means that the message sent to the general public will not be about the racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry of the NSM. The message will be about two groups of people and the police fighting in the street. People will simply conclude that both the racists and the anti-racists are bullies.
A big, public, non-violent response is called for. The people of Kansas City must stand up and give an uncompromising “no” to the bigotry of the NSM and their friends. Whether it is inside a church, synagogue or mosque, or out on the streets, we must all take part. We must bring our children and grandchildren to a safe place where they can learn and take a stand themselves. We must make it absolutely certain that no one misunderstands the nature of the NSM. But we must not engage in street fighting to do that.
The NSM are now the largest of the neo-Nazis groups in the U.S., with members in the area and across both Kansas and Missouri. In 2005, the organization held their national convention in Kansas City at a now-defunct German restaurant on Wornall Road. They celebrated Hitler’s birthday at that event and stood around in Nazi uniforms chanting.
Today, the group is larger and stronger, and Kansas City must stand up and say no to bigotry.
Leonard Zeskind of Kansas City, author of “Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream,” is president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, www.IREHR.org.