A controversial “pro-majority” group gathers today in Jena, La., to protest both the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and last September’s rally that brought thousands of African-Americans to the small town in solidarity with six arrested black teens now famous as the Jena Six.
A group of black and white Jena residents, including three parents of the Jena Six, is sponsoring a counter protest to drown out the white-supremacist voice with a message that says, “No to nooses.”
Monday’s “Jena Justice Day” is sponsored by the Nationalist Movement, a Mississippi-based organization with a history of MLK Day protests. Organizers first said marchers would be armed, because they believed the town’s policy banning firearms in parades violated their Second Amendment rights. They later said supporters would not bring guns as long as it was clear it was by choice.
The group also sued the town after refusing to post a $10,000 bond or liability insurance. The Nationalist Movement argued it burdened their constitutional right to free speech. After two status conferences with a federal judge, Jena’s mayor acknowledged the ordinance did not pass First Amendment muster.
Announced speakers at the anti-MLK rally include James L. Hart, who ran for Congress in west Tennessee in 2004 as a Republican campaigning door-to-door with the slogan, “Whites Have Rights.”
Now running as a write-in candidate for the Tennessee Legislature, Hart has called for stopping all immigration from Mexico and promised if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives he would ask the FBI to investigate whether the “Mexican invasion of California and Texas” is an act of war. If so he pledged to ask Congress to declare war on Mexico.
Hart advocates “eugenics,” a theory that intermarriage between “favored” and “less favored” races puts America at risk by lowering average IQs.
Hart told the Shreveport Times he planned to talk about how the Jena Six case was distorted by the media.
“The media would have us believe the Jena Six are like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” he said. “But, in reality, they are like O.J. (Simpson). They’re just typical black criminals who have been allowed to go free by a corrupt court system.”
Also featured is Larry Darby, who two years ago drew 44 percent of the vote as runner up in the Democratic primary for Alabama’s Attorney General.
A practicing attorney from Montgomery, Darby created controversy during his campaign by claiming there is no evidence of a mass extermination Jews during World War II. Estimating no more than 140,000 Jews died in Europe during the war, and most of them from typhus, Darby described the commonly cited figure of 6 million Jewish deaths part of a “Holocaust industry.”
Darby was founder of the Atheist Law Center but now says he no longer categorically denies the existence of God. He calls himself a “Christian in a sense that Jesus of Nazareth would approve.”
The January 21st Committee, the group formed to oppose the Nationalist parade, called on people to come to Jena to “politically drown out” their message by bringing whistles, noisemakers, instruments and bells.
“White supremacists plan to march in Jena on Martin Luther King Day in 2008,” the committee said in a written call to action. “On Martin Luther King Day of all days, the one day that is supposed to be about the struggle of black people, they are coming to march with nooses. This is a call to people everywhere, on Monday, Jan. 21, get to Jena.”
Jena officials asked both the Nationalists and their opponents to stay away from today’s planned rallies.
“To anyone who is considering coming to Jena on Jan. 21 either to support the Nationalist Movement rally or to oppose it, we say, ‘Please don’t,'” said a statement released by LaSalle Parish Sheriff Carl Smith, Sheriff-elect Scott Franklin, Mayor Murphy McMillin, Jena Police Chief Paul Smith and LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters.
“The healing process is under way here,” the statement said. “Causing more strife only hurts us all.”
The Nationalist “Jena Justice Day” protests an incident in December 2006 at Jena High School. Six black teens allegedly beat a white student after a series of racially charged incidents that included white students hanging nooses from a tree at the school.
No white students were charged, but the black students were initially charged with attempted murder. Those charges were later reduced.
An estimated 20,000 people marched in Jena Sept. 20, protesting perceived inequities in America’s justice system against African-Americans.
Backlash to that event included numerous copycat hangings of nooses, prompting some to conclude nooses have replaced white hoods and burning crosses as symbols of racial hate.
“Racism remains a deep flaw in the American character,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Groups such as the Nationalist Movement are raw reminders of racial extremism, but less overt expressions and covert forms of racism are just as morally wrong and they worm their ways into almost every facet of our social life.”
“The rate of incarceration of African-American males, payday lending, predatory bankers with sub-prime mortgages, anti-public school ideologies, anti-immigration rhetoric and anti-taxation attitudes often have the seed of racism in them,” Parham said. “Yet too many of us deceive ourselves about our own racism when we see the obvious racism of the Nationalist Movement.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.