Anonymity Online And The New KKK
Virginia and much of the South were once awash with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Membership in the 1920’s was estimated at 4 to 5 million or about 15% of the nation’s eligible population. My grandfather was a member and my cousin still has his white hooded robe. This was an organization that found its justification in Biblical interpretations and an assumption of righteousness.
And in the anonymity of darkness and those hoods, they struck out at those who were different, those for whom they held bias, intolerance, and discrimination.
With today’s new culture and technology, there are still those anonymous haters, who now float around the web, posting hate, ignorance, and wrapping their righteousness in the robes of their own type of Biblical interpretation, and spouting their own bias, intolerance, and discrimination – aloof to rational argument – certainly not open-minded, certainly not available to reason or Socratic debate. They ride popular extremism and are emboldened in their efforts often by passionate and unwavering leaders who see their mandate as coming to them directly from God.
This extremism has threads all through history and we especially see it today in the zealotry of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremism.
It also exists in a dampened form in America in the chilling but no less real rise of far right Christian fundamentalism that fails to accept or respect the bright line our democratic founders placed between church and state.
Our founders were not closeted – they had the courage and the integrity to stand in the bright light of day and put their names boldly at the bottom of our nation’s founding document – The Declaration of Independence. They stood in St. John’s Church here in Richmond and spoke eloquently and openly and with courage, of their insistence on liberty and equality and freedom. And they faced the penalty of being drawn and quartered and having all their property confiscated – but still they were never anonymous.
Beliefs – religious beliefs – are personal constructs that all hold in our realization that we don’t know the answers to the most philosophical of questions. Faith and belief are our attempts at satisfying the spiritual quest of the soul. But our nation was rationally founded -- and our law and government was to be rationally crafted based on fact and Socratic debate – and it was designed as the most eloquent experiment in human history -- to insure that government be checked – be balanced – and never allowed to override the will of the people.
Within this invention they also appreciated a potential fatal flaw – and that was the possibility of the tyranny of the majority, and they installed Bill of Rights to insure that even the majority could not transgress the most basic of human freedoms. And that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our founders lived in a time and place and we can appreciate the genius of the government they created – but even they saw the imperfections – especially the unresolved issue of slavery. And 600,000 were lost in war to resolve that issue. And it took the introduction of women’s suffrage in Congress over 50 times before it was finally adopted.
Our founders knew little about homosexuality – in fact it has only been in recent years that science and medicine has identified the approximate 3 ½ percent of homosexuals among us, and published the most professional, acknowledged, and peer reviewed conclusions -- that being gay or lesbian is a state of being and NOT a moral choice.
As Virginia voters go to the polls in November they will have the chance to confirm that they are the inheritors of our state’s noble tradition of liberty, equality, and freedom – or they can respond out of ignorance and homophobia, and amend our Bill of Rights for the first time in our history, and institutionalize discrimination in this most basic of documents. And if they do adopt this amendment it will be little different than leaving a burning cross on the front yard of each of Virginia’s 250,000 gay and lesbian citizens.