In advance of the white supremacist rally in Kalamazoo on Saturday, the media, law enforcement officials, and others called for people to ignore the presence of organized racists in Kalamazoo. The Gazette reported the Kalamazoo Police Department’s call for people to ignore the protest, while at the same time editorialized that people should ignore the rally. The Gazette applauded the fact that many in Kalamazoo ignored the rally in an August 5, 2007 editorial, praising “the fact that, when hate rolled into town on Saturday, most people chose to ignore it.”
However, the calls to ignore the white supremacist rally failed to take into account the fact that the rally is part of an increase in overall activity of white supremacists in Michigan over the past two years. On Saturday alone, there were three separate events held by organized racists in Michigan. There was the aforementioned rally organized by the New Jersey-based racist Hal Turner, a conference organized by the Council of Conservative Citizens, and a picnic organized by the Michigan unit of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM). The Kalamazoo rally received some limited attention in the mainstream and independent press, but the other two events were completely ignored. The Council of Conservative Citizens picnic, held in Lansing, featured two prominent racist speakers, the Canadian Paul Fromm and Wayne Lutton, a member of the national Council of Conservative Citizens board of advisors and an editor at Social Contract Press, a racist publishing house located in Michigan. Moreover, the NSM picnic was the fourth annual “white unity” event held by the group in Cadillac, Michigan. It is also important to remember that the rally on Saturday–while organized by an out-of-town racist–featured two Michigan residents as speakers, the Christian Identity pastor James Wickstrom and Ku Klux Klan member Randy Gray.
While three events on one day should be indication enough that organized racists are to be taken seriously in Michigan, it fits into an overall pattern of activity in the state. Over the past two years, the National Socialist Movement has held a national rally in Lansing and a national conference in Grand Rapids, the Council of Conservative Citizens have held several events, as has the European American Association. Michigan has also seen organized racists attempt to influence the political process, with the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Ku Klux Klan campaigning in support of the ban on affirmative action that passed in November of 2006. In Grand Rapids, there has also been an increase in racist graffiti, with at least two “waves” of graffiti attributed to “White Aryan Resistance” and the Nazi Low Riders. Media Mouse’s own research has been backed by findings of the Southern Poverty Law Center (http://www.splcenter.org) who has documented as many as 25 “hate groups” operating in Michigan.
However, far from simply being reflective of “fringe” activity in Michigan, the presence of organized racist groups in Michigan has direct consequences for groups targeted by the organized racist movement, including people of color, gays, immigrants, women, and other oppressed groups. Michigan ranks third in the United States for hate crimes, with a 640 reported hate crimes placing the state just behind California and New Jersey. Economic problems and segregation are often cited as motivating factors of hate crimes in the state, as are the presence of organized racist groups.
Racist groups must be challenged publicly in order to prevent them from gaining a foothold in communities. Many of these groups are able to have success in taking what are in many cases legitimate fears such as concern over economic uncertainty and direct them in racist directions, for example targeting immigrants rather than focusing on neoliberal trade policies. Racists are emboldened in areas where they are allowed to organized unopposed, when they are challenged they often back off entirely or are forced to resort to “underground” tactics such as graffiti or random literature drops. It is not enough to “ignore” organized racists while hoping that they simply go away.
Media coverage of these rallies often fails to challenge these movements, at best treating them as inconsequential “fringe” rallies that cannot be taken seriously and at worst providing racists a vehicle through which they can spread their message. In the coverage of Kalamazoo the rally, both techniques were seen, with the Gazette failing to look at exactly what the individuals and groups supporting the rally were seeking–essentially the genocide of people of color. In the post-rally coverage, the focus was primarily on whether or not the protests were “peaceful,” although white supremacists were given an almost equal amount of time as anti-racists to articulate their views. WZZM 13 allowed white supremacists to talk on camera unchallenged, as did WOOD TV 8. Similarly, the Kalamazoo Gazette’s article focused primarily on security concerns, giving space to neo-Nazi leader Bill White and rally organizer Hal Turner. None of the media coverage looked at the larger context of organized white supremacy in Michigan.