detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Tuesday, May 29, 2001


: . The Twilight of the Klan and the Birth of the National Alliance:

I live in the backwoods of a small town in Western MD, about twenty minutes away from the nearest ‘city,’ Hagerstown which is also the county seat. The house is surrounded by rolling farmland (amber waves of grain!) and cow pasture. A heavily wooded state park, which once housed a fortress to ward off marauding ‘Indians’ and an army barracks during the Revolutionary War is a 5-minute walk away. The mail-person follows a ‘rural route’ in her pick-up truck. Deer nibble on the fruits of our one apple tree in the fall. It’s pretty idyllic but darkly so, in the manner of many Southern (Western MD, located right below the Mason-Dixon line is still nominally part of ‘The South’) countryside scenes—beautiful but shadowed by a hidden menace.
I’ve always known that the Klan has been active in this area, even now, almost 4 decades after the Civil Rights Movement. There hasn’t been a cross-burning here in the last 10 years and no spectacular hate crime has occurred since the ‘60s but the Klan endures, quietly. Every so often, whenever they have the itch for free expression, they flaunt their White Pride in public then go underground again. 5 years ago, for example, the Klan, hooded robes and all, held a well-publicized rally in nearby Hancock. 2 years ago, high school students, also in Hancock, were caught distributing Klan pamphlets to their classmates. And every so often, I bump into Klan members myself, their arms heavily tattooed with swastikas but otherwise out of costume, disrobed. But I’ve never talked to self admitted White Supremacists myself except for a lapsed skinhead, a pig farmer named John (how evangelical, I told him), who eventually found Jesus and decided to preach the gospel in the Philippines, a place where the blaze His Light is sorely needed.
I have no grand illusions about this town. This is not a rainbow bright radical commune of anarchist cooks. Here conservative, church-going whites form an overwhelming majority. On the road bumper stickers flash all manner of right wing messages (and an occasional Confederate flag) courtesy of the usual suspects: from the Christian Coalition to the National Right to Life Committee to the Bush campaign. And in public spaces hate speech and hateful stares are a regular irritation. One shouldn’t complain of such slights however. There is nothing worse than being accused of being ‘too sensitive’ about one’s race, as I have been by a few white acquaintances.
Last week, the local paper delivered some good news: Klan less evident in Western MD. But that report was on page 3. The front page of the paper headlined the darker side of the Klan’s decline: As Klan fades, new group emerges. This new group is the neo-Nazi National Alliance, ('the single most dangerous organized hate group in the United States today,' according to the Anti-Defamation League), who made their presence known in this area via racist stickers plastered all over nearby York, PA. ‘Earth’s Most Endangered Species. The White Race. Help Preserve It’ one sticker proclaimed. The stickers were meant to show support for York’s incumbent mayor, Democrat (!) Charlie Robertson who ‘was one of nine men arrested in connection with the shooting of a black woman during a 1969 race riot.’ More later.

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