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OPINION

Thompson: Bigots have clear choice for president

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

In eulogizing the lives of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the eight other black people gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof last year during a prayer meeting in the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Barack Obama linked the assassination to the long history in this country of violence carried out by hate groups.

“What is true in the South is true for America. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world,” Obama said.

Watching the 2016 presidential campaign, the cycle appears to be repeating itself.

In 2016, America has a major presidential candidate in Donald John Trump, the Republican front-runner whose nativist, racist, sexist and anti-immigrant rants perpetuated through his slogan “make America great again” has found comfort within the ranks of one of America’s most extreme supremacist groups — the Ku Klux Klan.

David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Klan, has expressed support for Trump on his radio program by telling his listeners that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.”

And Trump has toyed with the relationship, at one point telling CNN anchor Jake Tapper that he did not know Duke and refused to condemn the KKK. When called on his actions, Trump would later disown Duke and blame the earlier action on his inability to hear Tapper’s questions clearly because of a faulty earpiece.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center which documents activities of hate groups, called the Trump actions troubling.

“Although (Trump) is not responsible for who endorses him, he has in fact been reaching out to these (white supremacist groups),” Potok said. “Trump’s appeal to white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan is just barely coded. He has done a thousand steps dance with white supremacy.”

Since launching his campaign, Trump, who pledged to build a wall along the Mexican border and suggested he would ban Muslims from entering the United States, has attracted groups and individuals whose vision of America means taking the country back to the shameful past that still haunts this nation.

Another indicator, according to Potok, is the Trump campaign’s granting of media credentials to James Edwards, host of the radio program “The Political Cesspool” and an avowed white supremacist, to attend the candidate’s rallies.

Edwards boasted of his access to the Trump campaign, including an interview with the candidate’s son, Donald Trump Jr., during a rally in Memphis, Tennessee. “We’re watching history in the making,” Edwards told his audience. “Donald Trump will be the first Republican nominee that I have ever voted for.”

Meantime, on his website Edwards writes, “For blacks in the Americas, slavery is the greatest thing that ever happened to them.”

While coddling the white supremacists, the Trump campaign has repeatedly kicked out or had protesters and black student observers removed from rallies. On Feb. 29 during a rally at Valdosta (Ga.) State University, 30 black students were removed by local cops.

Potok said the level of coddling by Trump of bigots such as Edwards is a cause for concern.

“On his radio program he (Edwards) has had every leading Klansman from Holocaust deniers to racists,” Potok said. “What Trump is doing now is that he is appealing to the same constituents that the Ku Klux Klan has historically appealed to: white, working class people who are angry about the country and those who believe there is a white genocide.”

According to a 2011 Michigan Hates Crimes Conference hosted by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes, Michigan is among the leaders nationwide in the number of hate groups — ranging from the United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to the American Nazi Party — operating in the state.

The Anti-Defamation League in 2014 warned of the creation of a new group in Michigan called the Center for the Advancement of Occidental Culture that promotes “traditionalism” and fights “discrimination and harassment directed at European-Americans.”

Beyond flirting with and legitimizing white supremacist leaders, Trump also has found support among conservative hardliners like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who endorsed him Feb. 29. Kobach authored the infamous “papers please” law in Arizona that profiles drivers and requires local police to ask those drivers for their immigration documents.

Another supporter is Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona who calls Trump a “great patriot” for his mass deportation plan. Arpaio, you may remember, was thrust into the national spotlight earlier for pushing the “papers please” law.

America’s richness is wrapped in its ethnic diversity. Candidates running for the highest office in the land should celebrate that diversity, not tear it.

Let’s also remember that under a President Trump the memory of the nine killed at Mother Emanuel church by a white supremacist will be bastardized because the hate groups will feel emboldened and vindicated that they have someone in the White House who either entertains or sympathizes with their racist bigotry.

“The elders of the GOP are a day late and a dollar short. His nomination is obviously going to be incredibly destructive to the Republican Party,” Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9 FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.