The KKK Wants My Hometown
A small town in rural Kentucky will always be considered home to me. It has been decades since I’ve claimed an address there, but something about that town stays close to my heart. I remember churches being the center of the community and I knew every student in school. Neighbors cooked for those in need and drivers pulled off the road to let funeral processions pass. Countless memories fill my mind of a happy and safe place.
When I left, my mind stopped time, encasing the town in memories of my youth. In reality, the life I left behind is no longer there. My parents passed years ago. Their country store where I played and worked burned to the ground. Empty storefronts haunt the once busy town square. Even the courthouse left for a modern building on the edge of town. The tobacco farm land is empty and the financial stability it brought has long been spent. Life is different.
Last week, a childhood friend texted me the news that the KKK had come to town. My friend’s mother had found a KKK recruitment flier tied to a pouch of birdseed that someone had tossed into front yards throughout town.
I stumbled through the week trying to process her news. Why was the KKK in my hometown? MY hometown! What could they want with us? I’m not sure what hit me harder, the news of the KKK inhabiting my town or the realization that I was no longer a part of the place I call home.
It’s hard for outsiders to understand the ties that bind together small towns across America. Towns are guided by generations of family traditions and are slow to change. Towns like mine are vulnerable. In the last decade, towns have seen many of their youth flock to the city for jobs and opportunities. Those left are watching their town disappear. Life is harder. Jobs are scarce and so are opportunities. Like so many others, I abandoned my town to chase my own dreams, forgetting about those I left behind.
America’s towns are living with a new status quo. An older generation is left behind to navigate a new modern world struggling to provide guidance for the next generation who stayed for an old way of life. Towns are looking for someone to save them. A savior, a hero, a leader who will channel their sorrow into a better quality of life. Opportunity is ripe to fan frustration into hatred. There is no better time for the rise of hate groups in my town and towns across the country.
In 2016 the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that the number of hate groups increased for the second year in a row. Today the U.S. is home to 917 identified hate groups with 23 claiming Kentucky as their home. On a map, three identified hate groups form a triangle above my hometown. Their names, The Fellowship of God’s Covenant People, Kinsman Redeemer Ministries and the League of the South, are as foreign to me as a terrorist group across the ocean.
The Fellowship of God’s Covenant People and Kinsman Redeemer Ministries are categorized as Christian identity groups. According to SPLC “Christian Identity is a unique anti-Semitic and racist theology that rose to a position of commanding influence on the racist right in the 1980s. Christian in name only, the movement’s relationship with evangelicals and fundamentalists has generally been hostile due to the latter’s belief that the return of Jews to Israel is essential to the fulfillment of end-time prophecy.”
The League of the South is “a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by European Americans. The league believes the godly’ nation it wants to form should be run by an Anglo-Celtic (read: white) elite.”
Further reading lead me to the American Renaissance/New Century Foundation, an identified hate group located in my Virginia suburb. According to SPLC, 39 hate groups are located in Virginia, seven of them close to my house.
I have always known hate groups existed, but I felt that acknowledgment gave them greater power. I, like so many others, have been silent for too long. This mistake has allowed hate groups to grow stronger. A life with blinders on has allowed hate groups to invade our communities, jeopardizing our life and the future of our children.
The divisiveness of our country today further emboldens hate groups to act. Since the election, the SPLC has documented 1,094 hate incidents. California has seen the largest number, but Virginia ranks 11th and Kentucky ranks 24th. This is a warning for all communities and a rally cry for us to take a stand.
Hate is a disease that is passed from generation to generation. Our increased mobility has allowed hate to spread. Hate is around your corner and it is looking for your community. The KKK has come to town. How will you speak up, stand up, and meet this new reality?
To learn more about identified hate groups in your community, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center.