A 2013 report which studied how racial animus affected the presidential elections of Barack Obama revealed some startling information about northeastern Pennsylvania (or as locals call it “NEPA”). The statistics compiled by a top data scientist showed that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton media market ranked 16th out of 196 nationwide for frequency of users searching the n-word online.
The report was highlighted in local media on May 1, 2015 and was featured on the front page of the Citizens Voice with what should have been a bold wake up call: NEPA is really racist.
This shouldn’t be a big surprise to Pennsylvania natives. PA is the birthplace of Keystone United, one of the largest and most active single-state racist skinhead crews in the country. The group formerly known as the Keystone State Skinheads or KSS was founded in 2001 in Harrisburg, just a short drive south of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area.
NEPA has a long history of hate groups so it was not shocking when locals learned that the KKK was recruiting in the area. On August 26, 2015 the Citizens Voice ran a full page cover announcing recent distribution of ziplock bags containing flyers aimed to recruit the local population to join the East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire.
The cover and coverage caused local outrage and community groups accused the newspaper of advertising for the KKK’s recruitment efforts in NEPA.
The Citizens Voice interviewed imperial wizard, Tom Larson and their article included entire paragraphs quoting him spouting white nationalist, anti-immigration and islamaphobic rhetoric.
The article also interviewed Larry Singleton, president of the Wilkes-Barre chapter of the NAACP, members of the local crime watch and some residents who found the flyers on their properties, however the KKK representative, Tom Larson’s voice was given prominence overall.
“We have had members up there for years, and they’re looking to grow. Our whole organization is starting to grow with all the things going on in this country,” Larson said. “People are tired of seeing our neighborhoods run down and different sections of town like you’re in Mexico or Saudi Arabia. We’re proud of our race and we’re proud of our country. We want to keep our cultures. We’re not going to change our cultures for immigrants coming in.”
The KKK cover & article prompted such indignation from the public that Dave Janoski, managing editor of the paper, met with a group of community leaders to discuss the paper’s coverage and then published another article on September 4, clarifying that that the Citizens Voice “coverage and cover were in no way intended to promote the KKK recruitment effort.” To Janoski’s credit his editorial states that the meeting with community leaders reminded him “of the sensitivities editors should consider when writing on topics of race and tolerance.”
Great! Lesson learned right? Nope.
The competing NEPA paper, The Times Leader, decided to one-up the Citizens Voice by giving KKK recruitment efforts front page real estate on the October 18 Sunday paper along with an article published online October 17 that included in depth interviews of local klan members.
“Joe Mulligan gathered with about a dozen friends for a cook- out last weekend in Mountain Top. After the cookout, the friends dressed in their robes and hoods to light on fire a 24-foot high cross fashioned from a few chopped trees wrapped in kerosene-soaked burlap.”
The article starts with the lede: “Members say group isn’t a racist organization” and launches into a description of a cozy, family-style backyard BBQ in preparation for a cross-burning ceremony in Mountain Top, PA on October 10.
The Times Leader goes on to whitewash the klan as nonviolent, Christian-folk who just want to create a haven for their not-at-all racist, fraternal brotherhood. The Times Leader article gives high visibility to imperial wizard, Tom Larson along with several other members of the local KKK. Larson claims the group members are “just regular Americans” and says they would like to get enough members to do something like cleaning up a park.
NEPA residents were understandably outraged at what appeared to be local media helping to rebrand the KKK with a friendly new face. Some protests were held denouncing the klan recruitment efforts and local churches published a full page ad in the Citizens Voice expressing their disgust at the existence of hate groups in their communities. Pastors of churches in the Mountain Top area signed a letter denouncing the KKK and rightfully calling out their cross burning activities as a symbol of terror.
“As pastors of churches in and around Mountain Top, we are at once grieved and dismayed to read recent local news of Ku Klux Klan recruiting in our county and a cross burning in our own Mountain Top community. Grieved, because this anti-Christian and un-American organization claims to represent Jesus our Lord and the values of our nation. Dismayed, because we are concerned that local media coverage of these events only serves to publicize the Klan’s message of fear and hatred. As leaders of the religious community in Mountain Top, from Catholic, Protestant, and Independent churches, we stand together against the Klan’s efforts in our entire region and are committed to welcome and celebrate our African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Jewish, Arab, and Asian neighbors and friends.
The Klan brands itself as a peaceful Christian organization protecting and promoting Caucasian culture and heritage and claims that the burning cross represents nothing other than the light of Christ. This is nonsense; symbols have meaning rooted in the history of their use, and the burning cross is today what it has always been, a symbol of terror used to intimidate nonwhites into subjugation. The Klan’s methods and language clearly demonstrate their fear, hatred, and embrace of violence. In an October 18 Times Leader article, their Imperial Wizard claims the organization is nonviolent, but ominously adds, “If someone interferes, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.” One local member says, “We’re called the Invisible Empire because nobody knows who we are. We could be your neighbor.” This language is both violent and threatening; the Klan and other hate groups, in spite of claiming to be Christian, only demonstrate the potential of Scripture to be abused by evil. As followers of Jesus, we categorically reject the hatred, fear, and violence of the Klan as sinful, evil and anti-Christian.”
After both the Citizen Voice and Times Leader gave platforms to the klan, the KKK’s driveway surprise campaign spread to new neighborhoods in NEPA and authorities say they really can’t do much about it. Perhaps local media reports announcing the KKK recruitment efforts have paid off in their favor.
Around 100 people held a candlelit vigil on November 1, 2015 to stand together against Ku Klux Klan and racism in the Wyoming Valley. Members of Keystone United attended the gathering but stood without candles at the rear of the vigil.
Both the Citizens Voice and the Times Leader gave a platform for KSS member and local GOP committee member Steve Smith to voice his opinion on the gathering. Smith linked both articles the following day on Stormfront.
Smith comments further down the Stormfront thread that he thinks the KKK is not “productive pro-white activism” and local klansmen should contact him.
“If the local Wilkes-Barre chapter of the East Coast Knights truly wanted to be involved in productive pro-White activism, they would have contacted me in the first place. We need to reach the public as normal White men and women and not perpetrate Ziomedia stereotypes. I know what needs to be done and I think my record speaks for itself.”- Steve Smith
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey (D) sent a letter to the US Department of Justice in September when the driveway surprises first started to appear in Wilkes-Barre.
“Our laws and Constitution generally protect people’s right to assemble and speak as they please, even if that speech contains ideas repugnant to the American values of civility and equality. The East Coast Knights are entitled to those protections. Yet, as tragedies like the recent shooting in South Carolina illustrate, intolerance can lead to violence,” Casey wrote.
Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik responded to the Senator in a letter dated January 6, 2016 advising that “federal authorities have no power to monitor recruitment activities of KKK affiliates.” The Citizens Voice reported on January 14 that Kadzik said the department’s civil rights division can investigate and prosecute racially motivated crimes. Any time the Department of Justice receives allegations of racially motivated violence that might violate federal law, the division “thoroughly” investigates and, if warranted, “vigorously” prosecutes. However, monitoring recruitment efforts is not within its power to take action against, Kadzik said.