Rebranding may be the buzzword for the decade, but here's a twist you didn't expect: The Ku Klux Klan is now inviting black Americans, gays and Jewish people to join.
Yep, that's not a misprint, folks.
No word on how that recruiting is going, but I'm going out on a limb here to say the line isn't going to be a long one any time soon.
The "new Klan" - an offshoot based in Montana, says it doesn't discriminate based on religion, race or sexual orientation. And bears, we are to assume, no longer relieve themselves in the woods.
"The KKK is for a strong America," John Abarr of the Rocky Mountain Knights told The Great Falls Tribune. He said he has been "evolving" away from his white supremacy roots and is willing to be more inclusive, but with the pointy hoods and white bathrobes, of course.
This may be the biggest reversal in the history of failing brands. What could be next, fashion week runway robe shows or perhaps the color schemes of favorite NASCAR racers? Cross burnings conducted via Skype and Twitter? Sponsorship of hip hop festivals?
To join the new Klan, we're told, you merely have to hate the "new world order," which, according to Abarr, the U.S. government is forcing upon us. One would suppose that means immigrants, unless they are actually protesting the solar system. Who knows these days. The national Klan leadership isn't buying any of this make-nice stuff, of course, and wants to stop Abarr from besmirching their bad name.
Storm Lake had its own brush with KKK philosophy, some of you may recall, in 2007, after this newspaper learned that an Indiana branch of the Klan that calls itself the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was plotting a large rally to be held on the courthouse lawn in Storm Lake.
The plan made quite a ruckus for a while, until a local klansman "Grand Dragon," a guy from Alta who liked to be known as "J.J. Klan," got himself arrested on outstanding warrants and decided to resign from the KKK. Things kind of fell apart from there. Maybe they didn't have gas money, I don't know.
So, instead of 2,000 fellas in white robes on the courthouse lawn on the appointed day, seven years ago this week, a diverse group of about 60 local people gathered up for A Day of Peace with prayers, speakers and songs. They named the spot "The Place of Justice."
There is now a lovely Christmas tree growing on it, which somehow strikes me as appropriate.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the branch of the Klan that once was looking to get a foothold in Storm Lake. They apparently still exist, with the same "Grand Wizard" that I spoke to back then in outing the plan. Things don't look to be very rebranded for them, at least not judging from the burning cross photo on their homepage, though these days, the group is apparently looking to repackage itself as a religious organization and its Wizard is now going by "Reverend." Things don't seem to be hopping, as their last "news flash" of a rally was dated April, 2010 and nothing had been updated since then on their webpage.
One news report says a rally by the group several years ago drew only 35 people, while a counter protest had 200. The report refers to the group as "comical" in its foibles, saying that at one event, they served a roast hog to visiting Klansmen who do believe that whites cannot eat pork. It cited a rally where, when police sought to escort the KKK to their vehicles to leave, the Klan had forgotten where it parked. It told of a leader who decided to check out a shield he had been given, firing a shot at it which ricocheted and blasted out his own front teeth. They set up a giant swastika to burn, and it collapsed before they could get it going. When they tried to raise a cross to burn, they had build it wrong and they couldn't get it to stand, the report claimed.
Perhaps not the best recruiting moments, but it would be a mistake to write off groups as harmless goofballs when there is still racial and religious hatred in the world, which can easily be ignited into violence, division and perhaps worse. A member of this very KKK group was arrested in a cold-blooded murder. The outcry over the president's action on behalf of immigrants no doubt could fuel the fire for some hate groups.
The Klan never did come to Storm Lake. They stopped posting flyers around town, and I haven't heard of them since. It's just as well. I'd rather have a Christmas tree than the headlines that would have brought.
My brief experiences into the minds of the KKK were enough that I'm not fooled by any "new Klan" propaganda. Hate is still hate, and we still don't need it.