Eternal Vigilance Isn't Enough
There's a famous Internet rule known as "Godwin's Law," known by all who post regularly on web forums. Simply stated, Godwin's Law stipulates that the productive phase of any Internet discussion - on any subject - comes to an end as soon as one of the participants makes a comparison to Hitler or Nazi Germany.
The logic is that nothing in history is truly comparable to the pure, unmitigated evil that was Nazism, and that making comparisons to that dreadful movement trivializes a discussion and hastens its descent into mudslinging and name-calling.
It's a good rule, because as we all know, there's no way humanity - and especially Americans - could ever descend to such depths again, though Darfur seriously challenges that idea. So Godwin's Law helps keep exchanges honest and within reasonable bounds of civility.
But a new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) raises questions about exactly how farfetched the notion is that America might plumb the swamp of racial and ethnic hatred that characterized Nazism. The report, released this week, is extremely disturbing. It reveals that after a low ebb in the late 1990's, membership in the Ku Klux Klan soared between 2000 and 2005 by a factor of 63 percent. Even more alarmingly, the Klan is increasingly allying itself with neo-Nazi extremist groups, notably the National Socialist Movement (NSM).
And the Klan has spawned many splinter hate groups as well across the nation, such as the Empire Knights in Florida. Other extremist groups, such as the Christian Identity movement, are also thriving.
The Klan group Imperial Klans of America, based in Kentucky, isn't even trying to conceal its embrace of neo-Nazi groups anymore. According to the ADL report, its leader announced last March that it would accept "Odinists, National Socialists, Skinheads, Nazis, Defenders, Confederates, [and] other White Racialists" into its ranks.
Think these extremist groups are strictly a red-state phenomenon? Think again. There was a hate group based in Sharpsburg known as the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan that disbanded only very recently - last November, to be precise - and only because its leader, one Gordon Young, decided to hook up with the NSM instead. Mr. Young was arrested in January of this year and charged with seven criminal counts related to child molestation. And the World Knights rally in Gettysburg last September attracted a significant contingent of NSM members.
Hate groups have historically relied on the scapegoating of unpopular "outsiders" to recruit members - blacks, Catholics, Hispanics, gays, Irish, Middle Easterners, and southern Europeans have all at one time or another been the target of choice for these organizations.
This time it's immigrants - as our economy continues to struggle. The rosy government reports of a "strong" economy apply only to the investor class; a large percentage of working people are having a hard time. Immigrants make for a visible and convenient focus of blame.
While our immigration policy - not to mention NAFTA - could certainly use an overhaul, to say the least, these hate groups rely on simplistic, visceral "solutions" to the issue that serve to divert people from the real causes of their economic problems. And it is these simple, easy-to-digest "solutions" that attract desperate people looking for an easy, powerless target to blame for their misfortunes.
The threat that these groups provide to American society and to American values cannot be understated. After all, Nazism itself was a fringe movement in Germany for several years, and millions of Germans were in denial about its influence until one morning they woke up and found themselves ruled by Hitler.
These new-and-improved hate groups, besides employing incendiary rhetoric and fanning the flames of intolerance and eliminationism, have organizational tools at their disposal - the Internet, talk radio, etc. - that their predecessors could only dream of. As Albert Speer said, if the Nazis had had television they would have been unstoppable. These groups need to be taken seriously, before they infiltrate our legitimate institutions - if they haven't been doing so already.
All of the elected leaders of Frederick County - whatever their party affiliation - should take a firm stand and do everything within their power to marginalize these hate groups. This is why "hate crimes" are a legitimate category.
The ADL report is a wakeup call; we can no longer afford to remain blissfully oblivious to this problem. The Ku Klux Klan and its splinter groups are deeply un-American, and need to be treated as the serious threats to civil society that they are.
Condemning the ideology and tactics of these organizations does not imply an endorsement of illegal immigration, or an unwillingness to act upon it. If our leaders lead, the public will follow and not give in to the temptations these groups provide.
Let's keep Godwin's Law relevant. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.