In early March I wrote how the Southern Poverty Law Center had exaggerated regarding the alleged presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Rhode Island as part of SPLC’s report on a “surge” of hate groups.
Specifically, I pointed out that SPLC claimed the Ku Klux Klan was active in North Providence. Being from Rhode Island, and never having heard of any such group or any Klan activity at all, I expressed doubt about the accuracy of SPLC’s accusation, The Klan In Rhode Island? SPLC Exaggerates Again.
In response to that post, several readers from Rhode Island confirmed that they too had not heard of any Klan activity. One reader even contacted SPLC for proof, but never received a response.
As far as I or anyone else was able to determine, other than a single reference to such a Klan group in North Providence on a website, and a supposed P.O. Box, there was no evidence of such group in Rhode Island, much less any public activity by such group.
The Providence Journal, which interviewed me on the subject, writes today that the police in North Providence investigated the Klan, and also could find no evidence of such a group in North Providence (emphasis mine):
According to the [SPLC] report, the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has a post office box in North Providence.
North Providence Police Capt. Paul Ricci said he investigated the Klan group a year ago, “but it didn’t lead anywhere.” The police looked for a Klansman supposedly named Cole Thornton, until they discovered Thornton was the name of the gunslinger played by John Wayne in the film, “El Dorado.”
“We’ve had no contact with the Klan,” he said.
I doubt this will move SPLC to retract its accusation about the Klan presence in Rhode Island. Indeed, as reported by the ProJo, Mark Potok of SPLC is sticking by the allegations of Klan activity in Rhode Island:
“We’ve been doing this for a very long time,” he said. “And we do it very carefully.”
As I made clear in my original post, and reiterated to the Projo, the exaggeration by SPLC is harmful in the fight against hate groups, akin to the tale of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. As quoted in the Projo today:
But critics say the report exaggerates the threat of hate groups in places like Rhode Island.
“They may do thorough research on some groups, but on others they take the easy route,” and rely on questionable sources like web sites, said William A. Jacobson, a Barrington resident and law professor at the Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y.
“They say there are three hate groups in Rhode Island, but as far as I can tell, they don’t exist,” he said. “I don’t dispute there are hate groups out there. But we have no way of knowing which ones are dangerous –– and which ones are pixels on a web site.”
Striking the supposed North Providence Klan group from the SPLC list merely because it did not actually operate would mean that the number of hate groups was dropping, and that would not make for good headlines or help drum up contributions.