Early Saturday afternoon violence erupted at Pearson Park in Anaheim, California as antiracist protesters clashed with members of the Ku Klux Klan. In the end three protesters were stabbed—one was left in critical condition after a Klan member speared him with an American flag—and seven antiracists were arrested. Initially they were held on minor charges, but by Saturday night the charges were upgraded to felony assault and elder abuse. All people concerned about racism and the rising tide of white nationalism sweeping the country should support the immediate release and dropping of charges against these seven individuals.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) notes in their annual report “The Year in Hate and Extremism,” the open racism of the Republican presidential race has mainstreamed much of the rhetoric of the far right granting legitimacy to hate groups previously considered beyond the pale. Donald Trump’s recent refusal to disavowal the Klan’s endorsement of his campaign represents a new low in a campaign cycle that is already wallowing in the gutter. This breakthrough was cultivated by forty years of Southern Strategy politics in elections—initiated by Richard Nixon and the Republican Party and adopted by Democrats under Bill Clinton—that reinvigorated a white nationalist base that had been briefly crippled by the Civil Rights Movement. As a result in the last year alone there has been a 14% growth in the number of hate groups nationally and the number of Ku Klux Klan chapters has more than doubled from 72 in 2014 to 190 by the end of last year according to the SPLC. It is exactly this growth in hate that protesters sought to confront in Anaheim on Saturday.
Police spokesmen have already begun to preach that even though the Klan’s message is “reprehensible,” it is “protected by the first amendment.” This is of course more than a little disingenuous and self-serving. Disingenuous in that the Klan is not just any political group, but an armed terrorist organization that has killed thousands of people. While ISIS, a similar terrorist organization, has killed far fewer Americans than the Klan it is difficult to imagine that the Anaheim police department would be so quick in vocally protecting the first amendment rights of ISIS marchers. The Klan is not simply spreading a political message, they are spreading fear and encouraging racist violence. Nobody should have to put up with racist terrorism in their city.
It is self-serving for the Anaheim police to put up the first amendment smokescreen because the police and Klan have a long and deeply intertwined relationship with one another. A raid on a Klan office in Inglewood, California in 1924 revealed that “roughly 10 per cent of the public officials and police” in California were Klansmen including the chief of police in Los Angeles. In Anaheim four out of five city council members were in the Klan.
This connection between police and the white nationalist movement did not die off over time. In 1989 Donald Jackson, a black LAPD officer, was thrown through a plate glass window by white Long Beach PD officers after he complained about KKK and neo-nazi literature being distributed within the department. Two years later Brenda Grinston, a black woman who quit the LAPD in 1985, wrote in the LA Times, “I experienced more terror and racism from the police brotherhood and administration than I ever did from suspects on the street. The racism was built into the department’s system.” More recently white supremacist gangs like the Lynnwood Vikings and the Jump Out Boys have been exposed operating freely within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department where they brutalized minority communities and “considered officer involved shootings to be a badge of honor.”
The truth is that the “boys in blue” share a lot of politics, and membership, with the “boys in white.” This is why it should come as no surprise that a group of San Francisco police officers habitually “referred to minorities as ‘savages,’ used the N-word to refer to African Americans and suggested they be spayed like animals, and used an epithet for homosexuals” according to the LA Times. Or that texts between police officers in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida revealed “frequent use of the N-word” and “officers using derogatory terms for Hispanics, gays, and co-workers.” Or that police in New York City could use Facebook to refer to attendees at a West Indian Day Parade as “savages” and “animals,” suggesting that they should “drop a bomb and wipe them [black parade participants] all out.” It is also why police and prosecutors in Anaheim quickly released five Klan members, who undeniably stabbed three people, while escalating charges against anti-Klan protesters.
As part of this reciprocal relationship the Klan has been steadfast in its support of police violence. In 1993 the Klan held rallies in Simi Valley, California under the slogan “Support the Police” at the courthouse where LAPD officers were being tried for their savage assault on Rodney King. More recently the Klan raised money for officer Darren Wilson’s legal defense after he gunned down Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Herein lies the secret of racist violence in America. It operates in a constant feedback loop where the racism and violence of the police encourages the racism and violence of organizations like the Klan. Both organizations are critical in propping up a system of gross inequality of wealth, housing, education, and opportunity. Racist violence, both official and unofficial, terrorizes the greater population, fragmenting the have-nots for the benefit of the haves.
While liberals will be quick to criticize those in Anaheim for rejecting non-violent resistance in their opposition, the historical record shows that groups like the Klan have always dictated the means by which they must be opposed. Only force of arms could separate the South from its vile institution of slavery. As Reconstruction was allowed to fail southern blacks were forced to take up arms against marauding white racists, frequently fighting them off with the same rifles they had used against Confederate troops.
Long lost in our sanitized narrative of the Civil Rights Movement are the stories of men like Robert Williams who as the head of his local NAACP encouraged the black community of Monroe, North Carolina to take up arms against the Klan in the late 1940s. It didn’t win him a Nobel Peace Prize, but it did curb white nationalist violence in Monroe, North Carolina. Inspired by Williams, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale later formed the Black Panther Party—taking up arms to defend Oakland from racist policing. Whatever your feelings of violence as a tactic is, its historical necessity is undeniable.
Our political system has stoked the fire of white nationalism, the police have legitimized racist violence, and now the genie is out of the bottle. Those in Anaheim are doing their part to resist what has become a wave of racist violence across the country. Whether or not you agree with their tactics, their goal of making the KKK extinct is worthy of your support—and in this world who has tears to shed for the Klan anyway? As always in these situations, there will soon be calls made for supporting the legal defense of those arrested both financially and politically (update: a FundRazr site has been set up here and I have been told that a local Unitarian Church is setting up a legal aid fund since two of those arrested were Unitarians). At this moment it appears that police and prosecutors are trying to railroad these antiracist fighters for ruining the Klan’s weekend. We need to support those arrested in Anaheim to ensure that this does not happen.