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Chapter Eleven: Two Events in 2001


On Saturday, August 22, 2001, members of the Ku Klux Klan and a neo-Nazi organization held a public rally on the steps of the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul. A newspaper article reports that “46 bigoted men and women (and, tragically, a few children)” stood up there “in robes, jack boots and Nazi skinhead regalia, sporting confederate flags, and red swastika arm bands paying homage to Hitler with raised arm salutes.” On the other side of a barricade manned by 100 state troopers, with an additional 200 St. Paul police officers in full riot gear standing nearby, were approximately 1,200 anti-Klan protesters. The two sides carried on their respective demonstrations for about an hour. Both the DFL and Republican state parties held anti-Klan rallies at other locations on the same afternoon. An organization called “Can the Klan” rallied on the State Capitol steps an hour before the Klan demonstration. The Minneapolis YWCA had a similar event the night before. In total, an estimated 3,000 persons turned out at these separate events to protest a rally staged by fewer than 50 Klan members.

What the Klansmen said at this rally was not reported. The newspaper described the event as follows: “The spectacle of the sick and buffoonish Klan in the new millennium is enough to make any sane human seethe. It was sadly ironic to observe many (among the anti-Klan protesters) filling with the very anger and hatred they had gathered to affront ... For some this boiling energy teemed over into physical action. A handful of Klan backers were taunted and spit upon before being escorted into the Capitol as the flock behind them became increasingly menacing. A group of six alleged KKK supporters (two men, two women, and two young girls), dressed in strip mall normalcy, were escorted onto a side street by a ranting swarm of protesters - intimidating and threatening them. Anti-Klan protesters hurled golf ball-sized chunks of concrete at the group.” A photograph accompanying the newspaper article showed a sign with the message: “Pray to heal the haters’ brokenness.”

This event paralleled one that took place in April, 1998, when an out-of-town group called the National Socialist Movement tried to meet in a Minneapolis suburban motel. Attorney General Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III and others belonging to “Minnesota’s Compact against Hate” denounced the meeting. The manager of Golden Valley Inn where the meeting was scheduled to be held canceled the Nazi group’s reservation and refunded their deposit. Eleven members of this group instead rallied in front of the federal court house in St. Paul. Twice as many persons gathered to confront them. A newspaper story reported that when the neo-Nazis gave the fascist salute and yelled “Sieg heil”, “they were drowned out by the protesters, many of whom threw rocks at the neo-Nazis. Others spit on them, still others grabbed the Nazi flags.”

This was too much for David Gross, a Jewish man from Golden Valley, who wrote a commentary piece for the Star Tribune complaining of the “intolerant” attitudes of the Nazi haters. “I saw him (Skip Humphrey) lash out with hate-filled language, all the while blaming the other guy who hadn’t said anything yet, for what he might possibly say. This is crazy, oxymoronic double-speak: ‘I hate hate-mongers; I have zero tolerance of intolerance.’ ... Can you say,’prior restraint’?” It would have been better, Gross suggested, if tolerance-loving Minnesotans had simply ignored the neo-Nazis.

There was a curious sequel to the August 22nd rally. Two young men from Inver Grove Heights, Jarod L. Sparks and Michael J. Pigg, were among the 46 persons who joined the Klan demonstrators - by Sparks’ account, for ten minutes or so. It was their first involvement with this group. After they returned home, an observer saw Pigg push a racially mixed 4-year-old boy off his bicycle and heard him use a racial slur. Sparks was accused of doing similar things. Pigg spent three months in jail after the witness complained and Inver Grove Heights police arrested him. He was then sentenced to an additional three months of home monitoring, ordered to watch a film, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and then discuss it with a member of the Red Wing Human Rights Commission. Sparks was sentenced to one and a half years in prison. Instead of that, the judge allowed him to serve five months in jail, followed by five years of probation. He also had to do thirty days of community service, take chemical-dependency treatment, and read five books including “Roots”, “Black Like Me”, and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The interesting thing about Sparks is that he had been engaged to the victim’s mother, Carrie Summitt, for more than a year. She told the judge “that her son misses Sparks and asks about him daily. ‘He loves Jarod and misses him,’ she said. ‘Jarod has done more for him than his own father. He has been a good influence on Nick. I think what happened that day was because of alcohol.’”

The Star Tribune followed the saga of these youthful “racists” with keen interest. Pigg’s mug shot, expressing bewilderment and confusion, revealed a blue-eyed teenager with shaven head and one eye slightly out of focus. The story’s “hook” was the enlightened sentence that the Dakota County judge handed down to redirect his mind from racial hate to redemption. David Harris, a retired surgeon of the Jewish faith, was the man from the Human Rights Commission court-ordered to have discussions with Pigg on socially sensitive topics.

The newspaper article declared: “Harris and Pigg’s lives could hardly be more different. Harris, 67, lives in historic Red Wing in an old brick house filled with books and music ... An upright piano holds sheet music by Chopin; Harris’ wife of 45 years, Nancy, played beautiful classical piano until afflicted with arthritis. Their library contains an extensive collection of books about race, prejudice, and social justice... Pigg, who declined to participate in this story, was 20 and living in South St. Paul when he met Harris. He worked at the stockyards, where he made about $6.50 an hour. Pigg’s musical tastes leaned toward heavy metal bands. He didn’t like books, because his reading skills were weak. He didn’t have many friends.” Nevertheless, because of Harris’ patience, Pigg was beginning to open up his hate-filled heart and accept racial healing.

Less than three weeks after the Ku Klux Klan rally at the Minnesota state capitol, the nation experienced another hateful incident on that dark day known as “September 11th.” At 8:46 a.m. a Boeing 767 jetliner, which had departed from Boston’s Logan airport bound for Los Angeles as American Airlines Flight 11, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing all persons aboard. Seventeen minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., a second commercial airplane from Boston, associated with United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the World Trade Center’s south tower, with similar loss of life. The north tower stood for 102 minutes, and the south tower for 56 minutes, before crumpling from the weight of collapsed upper floors and crashing to the ground.

If that were not enough, terrorists hijacked a third jetliner associated with American Airlines Flight 77, which had taken off from Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., bound for Los Angeles. They redirected the plane back to Washington, where it crashed into the Pentagon killing 190 persons in that building. A fourth aircraft, associated with United Airlines Flight 93, which had left Newark at 8:01 a.m., was hijacked over Ohio and redirected toward Washington and, possibly, the White House. Due to courageous intervention by passengers and crew, the hijacked plane never reached that destination but crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The combined death toll from the four hijackings was initially estimated to be 5,000. The latest estimate of casualties in the World Trade Center attacks is 2,792.

Intelligence and police officials learned that these four hijackings were the work of Islamic terrorists associated with the Al-Qaeda network headed by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was the son of a wealthy businessman from Saudi Arabia who had turned against the U.S. Government when it used Saudi air fields as bases during the Persian Gulf war. Nineteen persons, mainly young men from Saudi Arabia, took part in the hijackings. They commandeered the aircraft wielding knives and box cutters brought through airport security.

Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian who had spent the previous night in a motel in Portland, Maine, was one of the ringleaders. Atta’s luggage, which did not make it onto the flight, included handwritten documents in Arabic that included both spiritual encouragement and practical advice for carrying out terrorist attacks. Before embarking upon their perilous mission, the terrorists “should ask God for guidance ... Continue to pray through this night. Continue to recite the Koran ... Keep a very open heart of what you are to face. You will be entering paradise.” Most of these men had entered the United States legally for the purpose of taking commercial -flight courses. Another man, Zacarias Moussaoui, suspected of intending to be the 20th hijacker, was arrested on August 16, 2002, at the Pan-Am flight school in Eagan, Minnesota, when he expressed interest in piloting a large commercial airplane without learning how to take off or land.

The reaction to these events was curious. People were, of course, worried about terroristic attacks taking place on our soil. They generally supported President Bush’s strong military response. At the same time, political and opinion leaders in Minnesota and elsewhere went to great lengths to disassociate these attacks from persons of Middle Eastern descent, the Islamic community, or the religion of Islam. Numerous public events took place to discourage anti-Muslim prejudice.

For example, a forum sponsored by Twin Cities public television and the Star Tribune focused on the dangers of racially profiling persons from the Middle East. Minneapolis city officials and civic leaders, together with representatives of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths, held a two-hour discussion of “the economic, security and spiritual effects of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.” An email campaign, which began in Washington, D.C., urged non-Islamic women to cover their heads with scarves on Monday, October 8th, to show solidarity with their Islamic sisters who might be distressed by an anti-Muslim backlash. Even this gesture proposed by the “Scarves for Solidarity” campaign brought criticisms that for non-Muslim women to wear scarves might be interpreted as being disrespectful to the Islamic community.

While observing this reaction, I thought of the Ku Klux Klan rally that had taken place three weeks earlier in St. Paul and of the fierce response this had aroused. Why was it that 46 individuals standing peacefully on the steps of the state capitol to express their social and political views could inspire thousands of Twin Cities residents to demonstrate in sometimes violent opposition while the same types of people showed only understanding and compassion for religious beliefs that inspired extremist elements to kill thousands of innocent persons in the September 11th hijackings? Why was the Ku Klux Klan so offensive to Minnesotans? This was, after all, a movement which peaked in the 1920s, never had much influence in Minnesota, and is today so reviled that it could hardly represent a threat to the American way of life.

True, its members express hateful views about some groups but so do Muslim fanatics from which the hijackers sprang. The latter groups, embodied in the Al-Qaeda network and other terrorist organizations, have both the will and present-day capacity to harm large numbers of people. They are an imminent threat to public safety. Is the Ku Klux Klan, though presently peaceful, reviled because of its violent past? Islamic terrorists in one day - September 11, 2001 - may well have killed more innocent people than Klan members did in their entire history.

I have some theories about why the Klan is more hated. First, the Ku Klux Klan is a group exhibiting selective animosity against certain groups of people. In its early 20th Century reincarnation, it was primarily an anti-Catholic organization. In the popular folklore, however, it has become an organization bent on lynching black people and expressing anti-Semitic views. Jews and blacks have, therefore, an intense desire to make sure that the Ku Klux Klan is repudiated by non-Jewish white Americans. To this observation, I would add that the Ku Klux Klan has a problem associated with its visual appearance. The burning-cross image evokes both antagonism from non-Christian groups and the primal fear of fire. For Klan members to hide their personal identities at public rallies by covering their faces with a hood suggests that these people are cowards who are ashamed of what they are doing. In the hands of Hollywood, this combination of attributes adds up to evil incarnate.

A second reason for the monolithic anti-Klan sentiment is that the Klan and its sympathizers represent a minuscule portion of the population. They represent a demographic element which is shrinking in relative importance. In contrast, the Islamic faith is one of the fastest growing religions in America. Persons of this faith comprise an increasing part of the U.S. population. The disparate reactions to Ku Klux Klan and Al-Qaeda violence may have less to do with the violence itself than with the nature of liberal politics: Liberals do not want to get on the wrong side of groups whose numbers are growing. It may be that Islamic immigrants, in coalition with other minority groups, may become our future majority population.

On the other hand, the Ku Klux Klan, though potentially violent, represents such a small group of people that it can be attacked with impunity. It’s always fun to kick someone with a reputation of being menacing and powerful who is, in fact, is quite weak. You’re guaranteed to be a winner. In this context, Islamic violence is not really such a problem. Let’s face it: Liberals are titillated by violence. They were when African Americans rioted in the ‘60s and they are today. So long as the Islamic religion has a good side, a peaceful and compassionate side, that part can be overlooked.

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