A check for tolerance

Published 2:44 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

A letter arrived the other day with a return address on the envelope from John Grisham.

Now why is John Grisham, a noted author, sending me a letter addressed to my home, I thought.

Grisham is well known for his long list of best-selling books, The Appeal, The Chamber, The Summons, just to name a few.

Email newsletter signup

It’s probably a solicitation for money, with this noted best-selling author lending his name to a worthy cause, I thought.

Yep. That’s what it was.

If you have read any of his books, or researched his background, you would know that most of his books take place in the South, many in Mississippi. Grisham himself headquarters in Oxford, Miss., growing up on a small southern cotton farm.

Ergo, the appeal was to help raise legal funds for Alabama lawyer Morris Dees, who has a long legal and historical battle waging against white supremacist hate groups. Dees doesn’t charge for his work, therefore, Grisham, a lawyer, wants to help.

Dees is founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, dubbed the single most effective organization in fighting hate groups in the courtroom and teaching tolerance and acceptance in the classroom. Just last year, Grisham writes, Dees won a $2.5 million verdict against the leader of the Imperial Klans of America (IKA) and one of his lieutenants for the brutal beating of a teenager in Kentucky. Just days before, Dees took the IKA to court, federal agents arrested a member of an IKA splinter group for plotting to assassinate President Obama.

In 1981, members of the Knights of the KKK cruised Galveston Bay looking for Vietnamese-American fishermen. Armed and trained in guerilla tactics, they terrorized the fishermen by burning their boats and threatening their lives. A lawsuit from Dees halted this campaign of terror and shut down paramilitary training camps, Grisham reports.

In another example, members of the United Klans of America abducted, murdered and hung the body of a 19-year-old black man from a tree. An historic $7 million verdict in Mobile, Ala., marked the end of the United Klans, the same group that had beaten Freedom Riders and blown up the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls in Birmingham, Ala.

A $1 million judgment held the white supremacist group, Church of the Creator, accountable for the murder of a black Gulf War veteran. The “Church” mission asks its followers to “purify” the white race, eliminating “mud races,” and Jews from the earth. Leaders encouraged followers to show loyalty by committing acts to bring about a Racial Holy War.

A $6.2 million jury verdict forced Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler to give up the organization’s 20-acre compound that had served for decades as the home of violent white supremacists. The compound was seized and destroyed after the verdict.

In his cover letter, Grisham writes, since the year 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by more than 50 percent. The backlash against Obama’s election in certain quarters and the tough economic times creates a perfect storm for their continued growth, he says.

If you look over the material that came with this solicitation, it makes one ponder about terrorism. Since 9/11, creation of Homeland Security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our efforts have been against extremist Islam and the Taliban in fighting terrorism. Yet terrorism of a different kind has been ongoing in our own back yards for years.

Most of us try to live our lives in peace and harmony, getting along with our neighbors, being involved in community events and betterment. Yet while we do these things, an undercurrent of criminal activity rots our foundations of fairness and decency. Our American values of fairness, freedom and justice spurs independent action that can be counterproductive. We have a constitution that guarantees unalienable rights, interpreted by some people that allows them to run roughshod over the rest of us.

Our country is a nation of diversified peoples, cultures, ideas, races and religious beliefs. Tolerance sometimes becomes difficult and frustrating. Yet tolerance must endure.

Sorry, Mr. Grisham, I never send money from mail solicitations.

Aw, what the heck. This is different

The check is in the mail.