Alabama State Representative Will Dismukes attended a celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader in the Confederate Army and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Officials have called for the Republican lawmaker to step down from office, which Dismukes has refused to do.
Alabama was the site of key events during the American civil rights movement, including the historic march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet it’s not the first time America has seen open political affiliation of with the Klan, nor does it necessarily matter what political party they belong to.
Former Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, who served as a West Virginian Senator from 1959 until his death in 2010, was a former organizer and member of the Klan. Hillary Clinton called him her mentor; former President Obama gave a eulogy at Byrd’s funeral.
However, it is important to note that beliefs have consequences, and they don’t stop at the threshold of political office. Neither can we expect politicians with those beliefs to be purged of them once they’ve secured power.
Ultimately, the responsibility toward change rests with us, the electorate.
The story of Dismukes emerges near the eight-year year anniversary of the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin by neo-Nazis, which left seven people dead. Included in that attack was former police officer Satwant Singh Kaleka. Searching for answers, his son, Pardeep Kaleka, reached out to Arno Michaelis, former neo-Nazi and one of the original founders of a violent white supremacist group that at one point included the Sikh temple killer as its members.
Kaleka and Michaelis now work together fighting hate through Serve2Unite.
Speaking with the HuffPost, Michaelis noted, “You’re never going to hate white supremacy out of existence. Ever.” For Michaelis, the path forward is forgiveness.
Clarion Project spoke with Michaelis about what it takes to move away from hate. Our ongoing trainings and conversations on countering extremism are a testament to where solutions are formed. To counter extremism, we need input from former extremists, parents and others on the first line of defense in the community.
Our politicians are not always going to be the answer, as we’ve clearly seen in the cases of Alabama State Rep Dismukes and U.S. Senator Byrd.