Jeff Jardine

Jardine: Trump, the KKK and how his reticence to refute should matter to us

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a rally at Radford University in Radford, Va., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a rally at Radford University in Radford, Va., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) AP

Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed he knew nothing about David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who publicly endorsed him.

Trump makes moment-to-moment adjustments when it comes to facts, history and his memory as needed. A refresher: He refused to run as a Reform Party candidate in 2000, quoted as saying, “So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. (Pat) Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. (Lenora) Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep."

But hey, the brain clouds when there’s an opportunity to snag votes, delegates and possibly the nomination. He certainly did nothing to distance himself from Duke when his staff had security guards expel African American students from his campaign rally on their Georgia college campus.

Throughout the campaign, Trump has tapped into the white hate/anger movement that began to rise when Barack Obama was elected, but had for the most part subsided – according to The Washington Post and no doubt other newspapers he claims he’ll sue into oblivion if he becomes president. That threatened shredding of the First Amendment is mind-boggling, but so is Trump.

He’s claimed he would like to punch certain people in the face (translated: he’d like to have his goons punch someone in the face for him, or maybe have a couple of them hold him to make sure the punchee doesn’t punch back). He said he would target jihadists’ families, build walls to stop immigration and any other shock-value sound bite that gets him free airtime on the ratings-addicted networks.

He’s a bully, a blusterer. That he’s leading in the race for the Republican nomination and won seven states on Super Tuesday after the Duke debacle should, if nothing else, boost the value of Maalox stock.

Why address this in a local column? Because by not immediately and without even a blink refusing Duke’s endorsement along with denouncing the Klan and white supremacy groups in general, Trump gives the tacit approval that encourages them to recruit. We’ve been down that road here before and don’t need to go there again.

The Valley endured a Klan presence that lasted nearly two decades before it finally dissipated, at least in group form. From the late 1970s into the mid-1990s, the local chapter burned crosses including one on the lawn of a local African American family and wrote racist messages on the homes or fences of others. They harassed African American families in Ceres and Riverbank, and disparaged Mexicans, Jews, foreigners and gays to anyone that would listen.

Stanislaus County supervisors did in 1980 what Trump did not do when asked on Monday: They denounced the Klan and all racist groups.

The Bee’s archives include dozens of stories about the local Klan and its leader, Bill Albers, who split away from the Louisiana-based national organization to start his own, The American Knights of the Klan, because the grand wizard wouldn’t make him the state’s grand marmaduke or whatever they call it. They tried to distribute Klan handouts at Davis, Downey, Ceres and Riverbank high schools, and wore robes and hoods through downtown Modesto. They held meetings and events in Keyes, Ceres, Salida and other Valley communities. Two Klansmen, according to the files, in the 1980s were members of Kirby Hensley’s Universal Life Church, which today offers free ordination certificates online.

KKK rallies up and down the Valley cost communities untold taxpayer dollars from increased police presence, in some cases summoning officers from neighboring cities and counties. Authorities often found themselves having to protect the goading racists from the civil rights advocates who came to challenge them. Albers’ own niece joined a 1981 rally at King-Kennedy opposing the Klan, posing for a photograph and telling The Bee, “I want my uncle to see where I was today.”

“I remember driving down Shaw Avenue when I went to Fresno State,” said Darius Crosby, pastor at Greater Glory Community Church in Modesto. Crosby spent his early years in Monroe, La., in the Deep South. He found a Klan march here disturbing.

“The Klan was marching, and I can remember saying to myself, ‘Where am I?’ ” he said. “It sent a chill down my spine. It brought back the stories of the 1950s and 1960s. It was a wake-up call.”

Years later, after becoming a minister, Crosby said he once received a call from a Bee reporter asking him to comment about a flag burning that night by Klan members.

“I said, ‘Tell ’em to be careful. You don’t want to play with fire,’ ” Crosby said.

And Trump, Crosby said, indeed is playing with fire by not instantly refusing support from white supremacists. In fact, he’s only encouraging them to ramp up their recruiting, and Crosby suspects that will prove costly in the general election.

“You’re not going to wash off the dirt by taking a mud bath,” Crosby said.

Organized, publicity-seeking white supremacist activity petered out here by the mid-1990s. Modesto averages about four identified hate crimes a year, none attributed to the KKK. But The Daily Beast on Wednesday published a survey by Abodo, an online apartment-finding site, that tracked the most prejudiced tweets (per 100,000) from June 2014 through December 2015. Modesto ranked third among U.S. cities for anti-Latino tweets and seventh in the nation for the most anti-gay tweets on its Most Prejudiced Places in America list.

Racism, in group or individual form, certainly needs no booster shot here or anywhere else, and certainly not by someone running to run the most powerful nation on Earth.

Perhaps Trump’s memory needs refreshing from what he said when the KKK guy, Duke, lost the Louisiana gubernatorial election in 1991 but dominated the state’s white vote.

From “I hate seeing what it represents,” Trump said, referring to what he called the “anger vote.”

Unless, of course, the anger vote serves his purpose.