A private — and likely first — meeting between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ku Klux Klan in a small Casper hotel meeting room on Saturday night grabbed the world’s attention.
The Star-Tribune exclusively broke the story of the meeting Monday, telling the tale of how leaders of the Casper branch of the NAACP arranged a meeting with John Abarr, an organizer in Great Falls, Mont., for the United Klans of America.
By Tuesday, various blogs and article aggregation sites had picked up the story, with larger and more mainstream media outlets doing their own versions of the story about the meeting by Wednesday.
Media reaction to the meeting varied widely. Some media outlets painted the meeting as a historic but awkward encounter — believed to be a first.
Others presented it as a useless publicity stunt, including James Braxton Peterson, the director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, in a column for MSNBC’s The Grio.
“The meeting itself produced little more than the spate of national and local news reports that covered it,” he wrote.
“I think it’s outrageous and counterproductive,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, to The Associated Press, referring to the meeting. “It gives legitimacy to the Klan as an organization you can talk to.”
But Jimmie Simmons, Casper branch president of the NAACP, justified the meeting to The Associated Press.
“It’s about opening dialogue with a group that claims they’re trying to reform themselves from violence,” he said. “They’re trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they’re just changing the packaging.”
Many who commented on the meeting via the white nationalist message board Stormfront were outraged the meeting took place. Some, using message board-quality grammar and punctuation, denounced the KKK organizer for accepting the NAACP’s invitation.
“Who is this guy how did they even let him in a klan group much less make him leader? Was he just sitting at home one day and he just made all this stuff up? because he obviously doesn’t know the first thing about being a Klansman,” wrote one commenter. Others were less kind.
But United Klans of America’s leader, Imperial Wizard Bradley Jenkins, told WTVR in Richmond, Va., he’s willing to have such a meeting take place again.
“I will sit down with the NAACP or anyone and discuss,” Jenkins said. “I’m not trying to push my issues on anyone.”