In what has become a far too regular occurrence, Ku Klux Klan recruitment flyers, weighed down by birdseed, made another appearance in Fauquier and Prince William counties.
The flyers were left in individual bags and tossed in residential areas. A similar distribution occurred last November.
Area law enforcement agencies are looking into it, and some are wary of saying too much as it serves the very purpose desired by those who distributed the flyers: Notoriety.
This is a position we certainly can appreciate. And, to be clear, one we are not calling into question. It is not a new argument, and one that has been made by members of the community in the past.
On one hand, as a news organization, we are uniquely qualified to understand the power we have to give free publicity to hate groups. But, on the other, always, is the public’s right to know.
And, like so many things, it was the public who drew our attention to the flyers. By Sunday morning, we were flooded with messages: “What is this?” “Why is this happening?” “Who is doing something about it?”
Readers come to a newspaper to answer those time-honored questions: Who, what, where, when, why and how. And it is the duty of any news organization to answer them. We are a source of information in the community.
Downplaying the problem to prevent bad actors from getting the attention they crave may seem the polite, moral, or right thing to do. But it has yet to stop this kind of thing from happening. On the contrary, gestures of intolerance seem to be happening with alarming regularity.
No doubt, some groups feel emboldened by public events over the last year. They no longer seem content to remain in the shadows. Groups like the one behind the current flyers prey on fear.
So, it really isn’t a difficult decision. We will report. Gather information. Find out what happened and where the leaflets appeared. We’ll ask what our public servants are doing to address the situation, or what can be done to address the situation. We’ll deliver that information to our readers.
We simply can’t censor the news because it is unpalatable. We’d be derelict. We do our job, we post a story online and put it in print. Then it is up to the community to decide what to do with that information.
Some may choose to ignore it for the very reasons discussed here. It is our hope, however, that our communities inform themselves, educate others and take action to say, “We don’t want this here.”