The Other McCain

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No, the KKK Hasn’t Taken Over Arkansas (and Never Trust the SPLC Anyway)

Posted on | September 9, 2019 | 1 Comment

Picturesque downtown Harrison, Arkansas.

Harrison, Arkansas, is a prosperous little town in Boone County, adjacent to the Missouri border and just 30 miles from the resort of Branson. Located in the scenic Ozarks, Harrison wants to be known as the “Best Small Town in America.” Unfortunately, they have a public-relations problem involving a Klan kook, Wikipedia and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Let’s start with the Klan kook: Thom Robb calls himself the “national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” Robb lives about 10 miles from Harrison and his “Knights” receive mail at a post office box in Harrison, which gives the town a dot on the SPLC “hate map.”

This reflects a problem I’ve addressed at The American Spectator (“Another Dot on the ‘Hate Map’,” Feb. 22), where the SPLC targets entire communities as “hate” locations based on dubious claims, in order to create an exaggerated sense of menace for fund-raising purposes. By the standards of the SPLC, just about every Baptist church in America could be designated an “anti-LGBT hate group,” and if hate groups are everywhere, what’s the point of all those dots on the map?

How many “Knights” does Thom Robb command? If he wanted to organize a KKK rally, how many Klansmen would show up?

Like so many of the dots on the SPLC’s “hate map,” Robb is just one guy with a P.O. Box, and if his “Knights” are a serious threat to anyone, certainly the FBI should be able to handle them. Smearing an entire town of 13,000 people on the basis of their proximity to this one guy is irresponsible, and by engaging in such smear tactics, the SPLC is arguably creating hate where it would not otherwise exist.

So now, Wikipedia, where the entry for Harrison, Arkansas, includes this:

The predominantly white community is noted for its racial history, which includes two race riots in the early 20th century and an influx of white supremacist activity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. . . .
In the 1970s, Thom Robb, a national leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, moved to a neighboring town. In 1982, Kingdom Identity Ministries, an anti-gay Christian Identity outreach ministry identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was founded in Harrison.

Now, the history of race riots in Harrison in 1905 and 1909 is very real, but the information about “Kingdom Identity Ministries” is misleading, since the founder of that group, Mike Hallimore, doesn’t live in Harrison or even in Boone County, but instead lives 20 miles away near Jasper, which is in Newton County. As for being a “predominantly white community,” yes, Boone County is about 98% white, and the population is growing, from about 28,000 in 1990 to more than 37,000 now — a 32% increase in less than 30 years. So it would seem that being unintentionally notorious as a center of “white supremacist activity” hasn’t really hurt Harrison, and maybe it helped. Like, if you’re in a crime-plagued city like St. Louis or Little Rock and want to move somewhere safe to raise your kids, Harrison might be the place to go.

Notwithstanding the possibility that their “white supremacist” reputation is actually good publicity, folks in Harrison are upset about the way their community is represented by Wikipedia:

The Wikipedia page for Harrison is the first hit when “Harrison, Arkansas” is searched on Google.com.
Harrison’s Wikipedia entry had 9,360 page views from July 8 through Aug. 8, averaging 293 per day. . . .
Since the entry for “Harrison, Arkansas” first appeared on Wikipedia in 2002, the article has been edited more than two dozen times specifically regarding the terms “klan,” “KKK” and “race riots,” dating back to 2007. In most cases, one editor removed the reference, then another added it back in.
Harrison’s Wikipedia entry currently contains these two sentences: “Race riots by whites in 1905 and 1909 drove away black residents, establishing Harrison as a sundown town. Today (2019) it is known as a center of white supremacist activity, including the national headquarters of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Layne Ragsdale, public information officer for the Harrison Community Task Force on Race Relations, said the city has been trying to remove those sentences, but every time, they pop back up in the article.
“It was almost so fast it looked like it was a bot changing it back,” she said, referring to a computer program that performs tasks automatically. “We thought we could just go in and change it. But a few minutes after we changed it, they’d change it back.” . . .
Harrison’s race relations task force was formed in 2003 to promote diversity and respond to racial-bias accusations against the city.
Ragsdale said the task force has battled white supremacists on several fronts, most visibly alongside city streets.
When a billboard went up in Harrison in 2013 that read “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White,” the task force responded with a “Love Your Neighbor” billboard campaign.
The task force has served as a sort of quick-response crisis-communications team, but it has been unable to remove the disputed Wikipedia sentences.

 

Far be it from me to endorse hate, but as for that billboard, can we have a brief discussion of whether it is actually true? Because I think most Americans understand racism to be a bad thing, and avoid saying or doing anything that could fairly be labeled “racist.” But when you see someone call themselves “anti-racist,” isn’t that person usually a left-wing “social justice warrior” type? Doesn’t “anti-racist” advocacy involve a lot of guilt-trip stuff about 400 years of slavery, blah, blah, blah?

My willingness to raise such questions, and my skepticism toward “social justice” quite generally, goes a long way toward explaining why the SPLC has had me on their radar for the past 20 years. I simply refuse to accept that liberals have a monopoly on moral virtue, and thus hesitate to condemn others who stray beyond the limits of political correctness that liberals seek to impose on public discourse. From time to time, I might say something “offensive,” and would not wish to have my reputation destroyed because of it, so why should I help the SPLC and other self-appointed liberal Thought Police destroy the reputation of others?

Well, last month, the Associated Press ran this headline:

Arkansas, home to supremacist groups,
weighs hate crimes law

As you might have expected, the article included this:

Long before a mass shooting killed 22 people at a Walmart in Texas, the threat of white supremacy was well known in neighboring Arkansas, where extremist groups over the decades have made their home in the mountains and dense woods of the state’s remote rural areas. . . .
Such groups have long flourished in the Ozark Mountain region near the Missouri border where towns are small and scattered far apart and the population is overwhelmingly white.
The largest town, Harrison, population 13,000, was the site of riots in the early 1900s that drove out most of its black population. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, one of several Klan factions, and the white supremacist Kingdom Identity Ministries are based in the Harrison area. . . .
“Once they get a toehold people follow them in there,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, referring to the remote, wooded area. The group tracked 14 hate groups in Arkansas last year.

As far as I know, all these “hate groups” the SPLC claims are located in Arkansas are basically like Thom Robb and his KKK “Knights,” just one guy with a post-office box, yet the Associated Press uses this to depict the entirety of the Ozark region as “remote rural areas” where everybody is a Klan kook or some other kind of dangerous extremist.

And you know something? That might be good publicity for Harrison, in a way. Like I said, there are plenty of people living in or near big cities where drugs and crime are out of control, and the blessings of “diversity” are otherwise a nuisance, and probably some of those people read the Associated Press article about “remote rural areas” of Arkansas and think, “Hey, maybe I should consider moving to Harrison.”

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Harrison, Arkansas, were to experience an economic bonanza as a result of the SPLC and media smears? Affluent white folks start moving to town and then, unexpectedly, every hipster in the Midwest decides Boone County is a happening place, and next thing you know, downtown Harrison is full of bicycle-riding techies tapping away on their laptops in organic fair-trade coffee shops.

“Gentrification” in the Ozarks? Don’t laugh. It could happen, if the SPLC and the media keep giving Boone County so much free publicity.

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