Abominable snowman Frosty the racist?: When a 'snow Klansman' turns up, you don't wait quietly for it to melt.

January 23, 1996

NONE OF US really knows why Gene Newport, an Annapolis Ku Klux Klan member, built a Klansman snow figure in his front yard recently. The most frightening possibility, of course, is that he maliciously intended to intimidate blacks and all the other ethnic and religious groups the KKK despises.

It's quite plausible, however, that Mr. Newport's thought process wasn't that sophisticated. Being a self-described "creative person," he didn't want to build an ordinary snowman. So, in his quest for alternatives, he apparently gravitated toward a figure that is an integral part of his daily life. He called his Klan-snowman innocent and not a big deal, and perhaps in his misguided world it wasn't.

To the rest of us -- who know the white robes and hoods symbolize a destructive hatred and not mere pride in the Caucasian heritage, as Mr. Newport and his ilk like to pretend -- the snowman was worth getting upset about. Whether or not it was meant to intimidate, it did. Blacks shuddered when they saw it. Blacks and whites felt it embarrassed and discredited their neighborhood. In fact, it discredited no one but the man who put it up. The Klansman is a potent symbol, whether made of snow, or flesh and blood. It has power to drive people out, divide and frighten -- indeed, the Klan's founders intended it to do so. Like the swastika, its meaning is unambiguously ominous. Mr. Newport's neighbors were not overreacting when, while recognizing his right of expression, they demanded that the snowman come down.

Sometimes, when the Klan rears its head, it is tempting to ignore it, thus cheating its members of fame, a forum for their horrid views and the satisfaction of provoking us. But denouncing such groups damages them far more and makes the damage they do far less than merely turning our backs. Silence, after all, implies consent. Had the people of Fairfax Road chosen not to dignify Mr. Newport's snowman with a response, had they failed to pillory this manifestation of his credo aloud and in print, they may have sent him a friendlier message than intended. As it is, the Klan snatched a moment of notoriety, but it was banished quickly to the fringes where it belongs. Like that abominable snowman, its mindset fares poorly when the climate is unfavorable.

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