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In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Actionby Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy
Synopses & Reviews
Freedom of Speech:
Missouri Knights of the
Ku Klux Klan v.
""Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech."
Q: Are black genes as good as white genes?
A: Not when it comes to intelligence. Not when it comes to building society. The blacks are very emotional people and they don't reason. This is why for thousands of years the blacks had nothing in Africa except the mud hut. They're eating their brothers. They live worse than the caveman did.
These are the words of Dennis Mahon, a former hydraulic mechanic for Trans World Airlines, and Imperial Dragon of the Missouri Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Mahon ignited a national controversy in August 1987, when he and Exalted Cyclops J. Allan Moran requested air time on Kansas City's public access cable television channel in an exercise of their First Amendment right to free speech. Channel 20, the public access channel, was available to all on a first-come, first-serve basis, free of any editorial control from the cable company. Mahon and Moran planned to air weekly episodes of "Race and Reason," a program produced by Tom Metzger, former Klansman and present leader of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR). "Race and Reason" had been on cable television for five years, reaching over fifty cities nationwide.
But in Kansas City, a community attempting to address problematic race relations, local leaders and the cable company did not simply accept the claim to a First Amendment right. In their judgment, racist diatribes were more than people should have to endure, particularly in their own homes, on their own televisions, and on a public access channel they paid a monthly fee tosupport. Some black ministers and politicians found it hard to believe that the First Amendment, which had protected them and their leaders throughout the civil rights movement, would now require them to be exposed to Klan propaganda.
Mahon and his fellow Klansmen marched in full Klan regalia to the cable company, American Cablevision, to present their formal request. At first the request was denied because company regulations required that programming on channel 20 be produced locally. The Klan was undeterred. Instead of airing "Race and Reason," it agreed to produce a local show. The program would be called "Klansas City Kable." Its host would be Imperial Dragon Dennis Mahon. American Cablevision then said its regulations required that at least six Klan members receive training in video production. The Klan was happy to oblige.
According to Mahon, a majority of "Klansas City Kable" shows would deal with racial issues. Other episodes would expose government and corporate bureaucracy. "Our show is based on the white working class," he says. "We are going to expose the filthy rich for what they are and most of them are white." There were also plans to interview black nationalists and black separatists, "who do not believe in racial interaction." According to Mahon, "They are just like Klansmen except they're black. Basically we get along with those men very, very well. In fact, we're all for them getting self-determination back in Africa."
But in Kansas City, the cable company studio is located in a neighborhood that is 95 percent black. American Cablevision was concerned that violence would occur. It was also afraid that many viewers would cancel their subscriptions. The;sight of Klansmen marching to the studio in their robes was disturbing to many residents. And the idea of them marching into his living room on public access TV was intolerable to Reverend Emanuel Cleaver, pastor of the Saint James-Paseo United Methodist Church and a member of the Kansas City Council.
Reverend Cleaver grew up in Waxahachie, Texas. At the time, in the early 1960s, many communities in the South were still completely segregated and black social life centered around the church. in 1964, when he was fifteen, Cleaver led his first civil rights march to desegregate three downtown movie theaters, though it was not until he had graduated from college that Cleaver saw a movie in his own home town. In 1968, he moved to Kansas City, where he received his master of divinity degree, became a pastor, a board member of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a national vice-president of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and in 1979, a member of the city council. One year later his family was awakened by the sound of shattering glass. A Molotov cocktail had been thrown through one of their windows, and outside a cross burned on their lawn. Though the FBI investigated the incident, no one was ever charged.
As in many big cities in the 1980s, race relations in Kansas City remained tense. The Kansas City School District is among the most segregated in the country. According to Cleaver, there have been racially motivated cross burnings and graffiti, black homeowners have been run out of white neighborhoods, and after a period of relative dormancy, the Ku Klux Klan has been trying for a comeback in the area.
According to Dennis Mahon, its principal state organizer, the Klan has become more sophisticated in its recruiting techniques. It now exploits a full range of media options in an exercise of its First Amendment rights. The Klan's newsletter is mailed to about five hundred recipients, each of whom is responsible for photocopying and distributing ten copies. Call-in telephone numbers with answering machines deliver the Klan's "racialist" message and seek contributions. Klan members appear on radio talk shows and, more important, are beginning to use television to spread their views and recruit new members.
Reverend Cleaver, however, did not see "Klansas City Kable" as an exercise in free speech. "My problem is that I never saw this as a First Amendment issue. I saw this as a terrorist organization attempting to use the airwaves to create an atmosphere where terror could thrive. I felt that they were trying to plant the seeds
We The People
The Bill of Rights defines and defends the freedoms we enjoy as Americans — from the right to bear arms to the right to a civil jury. Using the dramatic true stories of people whose lives have been deeply affected by such issues as the death penalty and the right to privacy, attorneys Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy reveal how the majestic principles of the Bill of Rights have taken shape in the lives of ordinary people, as well as the historic and legal significance of each amendment. In doing so, they shed brilliant new light on this visionary document, which remains as vital and as controversial today as it was when a great nation was newly born.
Includes bibliographical references (p.-416) and index.
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