MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In recent years, we've been hearing a lot about the public re-emergence of the Klan and other racist and far-right groups. Demonstrations by them and demonstrations against them have gotten ugly and violent - in Portland, Ore., in June, for example, and, of course, in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. But in Hillsborough, N.C., residents are trying something different.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're going to march for love. We're going to march for inclusion. We're going to fight for power, and we're going to march their hate right out of these streets.
MARTIN: That was a rally yesterday in Hillsborough, N.C., after the Klan distributed flyers Friday night. Members of the Loyal White Knights, one of the largest Klan groups, had passed out racist flyers that urged white America to wake up and save our land. People also came out in force last week when the Ku Klux Klan gathered there in front of a courthouse in Hillsboro waving Confederate and American flags and signs that read, help make America great again. Neighbors were activated by their local listserv and dropped what they were doing to make sure the Klan knew they were outnumbered, not welcome and surrounded. To tell us more about what's happening is Steven Petrow. He's a columnist for The Washington Post and USA Today, and he lives in Hillsborough.
Steven, welcome. It's nice to have you back on the program. Thanks for joining us.
STEVEN PETROW: Good to be here, and good to be speaking to you from Hillsborough, where it was quite a scene yesterday. I woke up. I live across from the old slave cemetery, and the police were out there. And I was wondering what they were doing. They were sniffing for bombs because that's where the rally was scheduled to start. And our public safety officers were very much on top of this, fortunately.
MARTIN: So let me just back up and say, when you wrote a piece about this, saying that when you originally read about the Klan members showing up at the courthouse, you noted that their rally was really no surprise to many of us. Why is that?
PETROW: Well, you know, it's been it's been a very strange time in these parts. And several years ago, the words confederate memorial were taken off of our local history museum, and that brought out one of the first rebel, Confederate flag-waving protests. And there were hundreds of them, and they were very upset about this. And I remember talking with some of them, and they were very clear this is about heritage, not hate - you know, a slogan that we hear. And then it was only several months later that at a local church, the rainbow flags, the gay pride flags, were torched. So this heritage, not hate - it's kind of really hard to put much belief behind that.
MARTIN: I want to focus more on your - the community's response because what I think I hear you saying is that the neighborhood or the people in the community just decided they just weren't going to accept this, and they started to get themselves sort of organized. Like, tell me about that.
PETROW: Yeah. No. It's been a very powerful response. So people were really sort of adamant about having no hate in Hillsborough. And during this time, various groups formed what they're calling a rapid-response text network to white supremacist threats. And so that had already been put in place when the KKK group appeared here in town last week. And you know how quickly you can send a text message. It was out, and people left work, got out of their cars, left their stores and were down there counterprotesting peacefully. One thing I really want to note is many of these counterprotesters, the locals, were trying to engage civilly the people from the Klan. And it's a powerful lesson still in the importance of authentic engagement.
MARTIN: So especially given that this is a small town - right? - this isn't exactly a huge metropolis where you've got a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands. So what is it that makes people come out? I mean, one of the things I noticed in your piece is - that you wrote about this - that, you know, the mayor said people just dropped what they were doing - you know, shopkeepers, parents, neighbors - they just stopped and went to the courthouse to stand and be present and just let Klan members know that they did not appreciate what they had to say. I mean, so they didn't fight with them. They didn't - you know, they didn't - they just stood there and said, we don't appreciate this. We don't want you here. What do you think makes people do that?
PETROW: You know, here I have, like, my dual hats on as a journalist and as a citizen of town, so they're a bit confused. And I'm going to speak more as a citizen here. We're very proud of this town, and we're very proud of the deep roots of tolerance that really characterizes Hillsborough and much of the triangle. And we feel that these outside influences really have no place here. And we want to be very clear that they are not welcome. This is about reclaiming real American family values of inclusion and tolerance and not separation and hatred. And that's why everybody is so activated here to be present and to show up.
MARTIN: Do you think that what's going on in Hillsborough or might offer some guideposts for people in other communities where this is happening? Or perhaps there's just the circumstances are unique enough. All of you know each other. You all have a lot of kind of neighborhood cohesion anyway because you're - you know, you're a small town, and everybody - but I guess I'm just wondering if there's some bigger lesson here about how - because obviously, what's gotten attention in recent years are these big - these massive, ugly outpourings. There's heavy police presence, and it's frightening. Is there some other message here you think that could be learned?
PETROW: I think that there are lessons to be learned from Hillsborough, and that is really to come together. You know, it's been almost sort of beautiful in the way that the town government, the citizens, the police officers have really worked together and set up this network. You know, that network is not hard to do. Anybody can do that in any place. And I hope these lessons will go out.
MARTIN: That is Steven Petrow, contributing columnist to The Washington Post. We're talking about his piece about his hometown, "The KKK Came To My Town, But Hate Has No Home Here."
Steven, thanks so much for talking to us.
PETROW: Sure, Michel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.