Friday, September 23, 2016

Bayh and the KKK

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 10:49 AM

click to enlarge statecapitolindiana.jpg

The contempt some politicians have for the intelligence of the voters is just breathtaking.

Consider a press release the Indiana Republican Party issued recently. The release castigated the Democratic candidate for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat, former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, for “allowing” the Ku Klux Klan to hold a rally at the Statehouse.

“When given the chance to show courage as Indiana’s governor and stand up to a hate group that has had a history of domestic terrorism, Evan Bayh took the easy way out to protect his political career. This is another in a long list of examples of Evan Bayh doing what’s best for him, and not what’s best for Hoosiers,” the Indiana Republican Party’s executive director, David Buskill, said in the release.


Keep in mind that the Indiana GOP released this diatribe at the same time that the national Republican Party and its standard-bearer, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, are thumping Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton every hour on the hour for saying half of The Donald’s supporters belonged in “the basket of deplorables.”

Included in that basket were racists.

Such as those who belong to the KKK.

Keep in mind also that current Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – who is also the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee – has refused to call members of the KKK and other racists “deplorable.” Pence said that would be indulging in name-calling.

Apparently in the strange atmosphere of this year’s election, it’s wrong to call racism “deplorable” but it’s all right to try to deny racists their constitutional rights.

Some background: I covered Bayh when he was governor. I also covered the KKK rally at the Statehouse.

Bayh and his team didn’t welcome the Klan to the Statehouse. They tried with increasing desperation to try to find a way to deny the KKK the right to rally.

In doing so, they only made the situation worse. The Bayh administration’s attempts to get around the constitution gave the Klan a lot of free publicity.

As a result, what otherwise would have been a relatively small event turned into a huge gathering that drew every crank and crazy in the rust belt and the upper south to the Statehouse steps.

Near the end of the rally, some of the Klan followers turned their rage toward a small group of protestors and newspaper photographers and tried to beat them up. The police battled to restore order. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt – or killed.

Buskill said in the GOP release that other states had tried litigation to deny the Klan the right to rally. That is true.

What the release failed to mention is that those lawsuits did not succeed. If the Bayh administration had gone to court to try to deny those KKK members their First Amendment rights to assemble and to petition government, Indiana would have been throwing good money after bad. The state would have lost the case and then been forced to pay the Klan’s legal fees.

The First Amendment, you see, doesn’t have an asterisk. It doesn’t say that some citizens have the right to assemble and petition government and others — regardless of how noxious their beliefs may be — do not.

(I know a little bit about that. For six years, I was the executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. During that time, we filed several suits defending the Klan’s right to rally and march. We won them all.)

My purpose isn’t to argue on behalf of Evan Bayh or, goodness knows, the KKK. Nor is it really to chide the GOP.

I understand that we are nearing the end of a contentious campaign season in which the stakes are high. Partisans on both sides of the divide are willing to say and do almost anything to win.

I just would point out that one of the measures of our devotion to the freedom that is the bedrock of the American experiment is our willingness to defend the rights of those with whom we disagree.

Or even whose views we, yes, deplore.

To suggest otherwise doesn’t just insult one’s political opponents. It insults the voters.

And it insults the idea of America itself.


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John Krull

John Krull

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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