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EDITORIAL: Rights and an invitation—a letter to the KKK

Editor’s note: In a letter to Loudoun law enforcement officials, the chief counsel for Knights Party, otherwise known as the Ku Klux Klan, defended the rights of the organization to distribute pejorative literature about blacks, Jews and Muslims in the county. Jason Robb, an attorney in Harrison, Arkansas and the son of Knights national director Thomas Robb, cited the protected rights of the Knights under the First Amendment. A response and an invitation, which have been emailed to Mr. Robb, follow:


Dear Mr. Robb,

Let me speak freely. I am the executive editor of The Loudoun Times-Mirror, based in Leesburg, Virginia. My job is to provide news and understanding to the citizens of Loudoun, a dynamic county of about 400,000 people not far from Washington, D.C.

We have not met, but I feel as if I know you. We became acquainted recently by your letter to law enforcement officials in Loudoun, which was shared with me. I appreciate you clearing up the mystery about the distribution of KKK literature in our county. The Times-Mirror published a story about your letter last week.

As an American editor, I share your passion for the First Amendment. However, I found your three-page screed defending the rights of the Knights Party a disservice to the simple intent of the 45 words of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is so much more than a convenient justification to be dragged out when someone feels that certain freedoms are denied them. Nor is it a license to defame or discriminate. There's a lot going on in those 45 words. It’s important to know when and how it applies to certain situations and, equally as important, when it doesn't.

Let me disabuse you of your confusion about Loudoun County. It has a venerable relationship with the First Amendment. Citizens of Loudoun embraced the four freedoms even before the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1789. James Madison, the father of the Constitution and architect of the Bill of Rights, lived nearby. The Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence were protected in our county seat, Leesburg, when the British set fire to Washington during the War of 1812.

Loudouners have honored the four freedoms that flow from First Amendment with dignity, and with their lives, for more than 200 years. The Times-Mirror has been published under local ownership since 1798. Today, many companies and citizens that serve and defend the nation call Loudoun their home. Public servants, including presidents, secretaries of state and military officers, have chosen to reside here.

Loudoun requires no sermon about the First Amendment from your law practice in Arkansas. While we may share the same rights as Americans, we should make our differences clear. In Loudoun, residents consider the message and tactics of the Ku Klux Klan to be disgusting, racist and vile. Those are the words of Phyllis Randall, the first black woman to be elected chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors.

We do, however, defend the KKK’s right to be disgusting, racist and vile as long as laws are not broken. That’s why law enforcement agencies in Loudoun and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are monitoring the KKK’s activities in the county at the request of residents and elected officials in the county.

First Amendment protections are well understood here. The concern is the KKK’s conduct in our county. In Loudoun, we defend the First Amendment rights of all Americans. Here we recognize that the First Amendment doesn’t excuse people for bigotry, defamation or uncivil behavior.

I suggest to you that your client’s activities in Loudoun stem from a fundamental lack of understanding about our community. Similarly, I seek to understand more about Harrison, Arkansas, which may inform your perspective on American life and rights.

I’ve read articles about how civic leaders in Harrison are battling your father, the national director of the Knights Party, for the town’s reputation. I’ve read your Twitter feed (fewer than 100 followers) espousing white nationalism. And I’ve seen photos of your father’s alt-right compound outside Harrison, which an international newspaper called “the most racist town in America.”

I mean no disrespect to Harrison, Mr. Robb, but suggest instead that we should find a way to document the differences in the places in which we live and work, the places that help define our differences as Americans.

So let me make a modest proposal: Visit Loudoun. Before the KKK dumps the next round of racist literature on our lawns under the cover of darkness, I invite you to learn more about our community. I’d be pleased to be your guide.

You identify yourself as “a Christian attorney who is a White nationalist that believes in the protection and preservation of his people.” So be it. I’ll take you to churches in Loudoun that are cornerstones of faith for many residents. You should, however, be aware that clergy from almost every place of of worship in the county signed a letter to the Times-Mirror condemning the KKK’s unwanted activities here. You can explain to ministers, rabbis and imams why the KKK slinks into the county during the dead of night to distribute unwanted, racist literature about its congregants.

To further enlighten your understanding of a place where your client has insulted and offended us, I’m suggesting other stops that will provide insights into the character of Loudouners. I’ll take you to the neighborhoods where residents were offended by the distribution of KKK literature. I’ll arrange conversations with civic leaders who publicly condemn racist activities by anonymous messengers of hate.

You should understand our landmarks and what they represent. I’ll take you to the Janelia Research Campus, where a diverse group scientists from around the world engage in neuroscience that’s unlocking the mysteries of the human brain. We’ll tour Data Center Alley in Ashburn, where 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic flows through Loudoun. And we’ll visit Oatlands and Morven Park, former plantations that have been re-established as historic centers for all members of a diverse community.

Then we’ll follow hallowed ground through the historic countryside of Virginia to Montpelier, where James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.

So come to Loudoun, Mr. Robb. Our airport, Dulles International, is a gateway for people around the world, people of all races and beliefs, to participate in the inclusive American experience.

In Loudoun County, you’ll meet people who don’t always agree with one another, but who passionately embrace civility, equality and the four freedoms of the First Amendment.

I await your response to my invitation.

Dale Peskin
Executive Editor
Loudoun Times-Mirror


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