There are certain avenues of civic service that are closed to you if you’re the KKK, if only for the headlines. Neighborhood cleanup. Voter registration, as one of the people in my chat today pointed out. Lawn care.
There is just too much history.
But now a Georgia chapter of the KKK wants to adopt a stretch of highway.
“We just want to clean up the doggone road,” someone identified as Harley Hanson, the Exalted Cyclops, was quoted as saying.
“We’re not a hate group,” member April Chambers told CNN.
Really? You are the KKK! What did you think the club was for when you joined? People who really liked K’s? Coneheaded ghosts? People with oddly shaped heads who were really, really bothered that you have to stop wearing white after Labor Day? I think a picture of the KKK appears in the dictionary next to the phrase “hate group.”
In every article about the group’s road-adopting efforts, you see members quoted as saying, “We’re not racists” and “We’re not doing it for publicity. We’re doing it to keep the roadside beautiful.”
You know, there are other groups for that. Join a — book club, for Pete’s sake. The KKK is one of the few clubs where you can safely assume that if someone is a card-carrying member, he is probably — well, not un-racist.
Look, a lot of otherwise venerable organizations went through rough patches at one point or another. But the Ku Klux Klan is just one long rough patch. It started horrible, and it can never be anything other than horrible, given its fundamental premise and decades of history. But I guess those who don’t learn their history are doomed to join their local KKK chapters and insist that this is not a racist thing to do.
Few organizations are so upfront about how embarrassing it can be to be a member. The traditional attire of the Kiwanis Club is not a giant, unflattering hood that you can’t wear after Labor Day and that obscures your identity entirely. When a news crew tries to interview you and you beg to be referred to only as Imperial Wizard, this is not exactly a sign that you are brimming with pride.
“Everybody has a past they want to forget about,” insists the Imperial Wizard, bristling at suggestions that the KKK is a terrorist group.
And nothing says, “Ah yes, I want to forget the past, and I'm not a racist” like “I’m joining the KKK.”
Still, it is not difficult to be a little chary when the KKK comes in and announces its wants to clean up the highway. “Please, don’t,” you say. “Please, don’t do that.”
It was bad enough when the group protested the Westboro Baptist Church. That was a real tangle. “But — ” everyone sputtered. The Bill of Rights chased itself around into a circle until it got dizzy and fell over.
I am picturing a community constantly rattled by the efforts of the KKK to rehabilitate itself as a “civic organization.”
“Why are KKK members congregating out there?” everyone murmurs.
“They’re planting a peace garden.” “The KKK is here; it has some energy-saving light bulbs.” “The KKK is coming by to make certain there isn't asbestos.” “The KKK wants to know if you need someone to come check on your cat while you’re away.” “The KKK has a free SAT prep course.” “The KKK is reading us Jimmy Carter’s poetry.”
“Can’t they just pick another name, for the love of Pete?”
Still, I’m with the Supreme Court on this one.
In 2005, after the KKK and the ACLU had joined forces to make the case that the group could adopt a stretch of a Missouri highway if it really wanted to, the court ruled that you can’t stop a group’s highway adoption on the grounds that you disagree with its beliefs.
Then Missouri renamed the highway Rosa Parks Highway.
If you happen to have a terrible ideology but you want to make the roadside nicer for everyone, have at it.
There’s no distinctly klannish way of picking up garbage. Then again, if they really want to make the roadside nicer, a simpler step might be to leave the KKK.