By: Wendy Giman
New KKK tactic: If your newspaper won’t take their ad, they may
take your paper and include the ad themselves
The Ku Klux Klan of western Pennsyl-vania is removing free newspapers from their racks, wrapping them with white supremacist literature and then delivering those altered publications to homes in at least two counties near Pittsburgh.
And it appears that the newspaper owners’ only legal recourse is to press charges for theft of services.
The KKK calls the practice of commandeering, repackaging and distributing newspapers “night riding” ? the same term used in previous decades to describe the Klan members’ more violent forays into the countryside to burn crosses or otherwise terrorize targeted individuals and groups.
At least two free papers in Butler and Mercer counties have experienced newspaper night riding incidents. The Klan, which plans to hold a rally on March 28 in Butler County, is using the practice to publicize that event. Similar incidents have occurred sporadically throughout the region since the beginning of the year.
A Klan spokeswoman readily admits the group is responsible for the campaign of free newspaper diversion.
Klan explains actions
“We use the papers for weight to wrap our literature around,” said Kathy, whose phone number is on the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan flier recently distributed with copies of the Tri-County News in Slippery Rock, about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Kathy, who would not give her last name to a reporter, denies that the KKK fliers are ever inserted into the papers. “We don’t open the paper and insert the flier. We don’t want the publication to be linked with our name,” she said. But readers in areas around Pittsburgh reported that they found KKK literature either wrapped around the exterior or inserted in the interior of the newspaper.
Kathy, who said she has been a KKK member for 18 months, has received numerous complaints about the practice. “I’m not the Grand Dragon, and I don’t want to hear people complain. And I’m the one answering the phone.”
Rich Wilhelm, general manager of the 23,000-circulation Tri-County News learned what the Klan was doing when a reader called and asked, “Why are you putting this in your paper?”
“I wanted it stopped,” Wilhelm said. He said when he called the KKK phone number, the woman who identified herself as Kathy “asked me how much it would be to advertise. I told her, ‘I’m not interested in your advertising. You have already damaged me enough.’ “
Tri-County’s editor agreed. “That could have damaged us beyond repair,” said K.C. Agonstino. To tell readers that the paper had no relationship with the Klan, she published a letter detailing the incidents and threatening to take legal action if it happened again. The letter warned: “Individual(s) responsible for delivery of this paper containing unauthorized, unsolicited and unpaid advertisements/flyers are guilty of theft of services and will be prosecuted.”
Other advertisers’ reaction
The KKK flier was sharing insert space in the Tri-County News with two major drug stores and a large regional grocery chain. So far, Wilhelm said, advertisers have not reacted to the incident, but he’s concerned that some could. “It’s hard to say,” Wilhelm said, adding that advertisers don’t necessarily give a reason if they pull out.
What legal recourse did Wilhelm have? He spoke to the Grove City Police, who in turn spoke to a suspect and were given a promise that the practice wouldn’t continue. Wilhelm ultimately decided not to press charges. When it first happened, he contacted the television station to ask if it had heard about the KKK activities. He regrets that action now.
“We’re trying not to play it up. It keeps their name out in front,” he said. “We don’t want to give them too much publicity.”
That’s also the approach the Town Flyer is taking. The 4,000-circulation shopper publication, run out of Dan and Kathy Makuta’s home, was also used recently for night riding distribution by the KKK.
‘have More rights than we do’
“They have more rights than we do,” Kathy Makuta said of the KKK. When a reader called about the KKK flier in the paper, the Makutas contacted Marty Fleischer, chief of police for West Deer Township in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located. In his 25 years on the force, Fleischer said he doesn’t remember anything like this. “That’s why I consulted every Tom, Dick and Harry. It’s never happened before.”
Postal laws not violated
Fleischer contacted the U.S. Postal Inspector and said he was told that “these people have a right to do this.” The KKK literature was being dropped on lawns or placed in plastic newspaper tubes rather than in mailboxes, and so, according to the sheriff, the action doesn’t violate postal laws. The only legal issue, he said, appears to be theft of service, since the inserts, a form of advertising, were not paid for.
The sheriff had a suspect, but the Makutas chose not to press charges. And in the Common-wealth of Pennsylvania, according to Fleischer, “If you have no victim, you have no crime.”
The Pittsburgh-area newspaper night riding incidents are only the latest in a string of recent controversies sparked by the Klan’s use of
mainstream marketing techniques to conduct regional recruitment drives and generate publicity. Last March, in Allegheny County, the KKK held a public rally but was denied a request for a permit to burn a cross outside the county courthouse. In a running public debate that generated significant print and broadcast coverage, the Klan squared off against the Pittsburgh Coalition to Counter Hate Groups, which had launched a “Not in Our Town” drive to block other Klan rallies in western Pennsylvania.
That same month, the Klan placed a recruitment ad in the Grand Rapids Press ? an event that ultimately caused the publisher of the Michigan daily to explain the incident as a mistake that would not be repeated.
In August of 1997, the 14,475-circulation daily Sanford Herald of North Carolina became embroiled in a public argument with the Klan after the organization used the newspaper’s roadside tubes to distribute its recruitment fliers. As in the Pittsburgh area, officials there said they were unable to take action because mailboxes weren’t used.
Last December, the Klan filed suit against KWMU, a St. Louis radio station owned by the University of Missouri, after the station refused to run a Klan radio ad.
Last month, the Klan placed recruitment fliers under the windshield wipers of cars in the Plymouth Meeting Shopping Mall, a few miles north of Philadelphia. At the same time, 50 miles to the northwest in Boyertown, Penn., Klan members holding an American flag passed out literature to sidewalk passersby. A Klan spokesman told reporters there that “we’re not here to make enemies, we’re here to make friends.”
And just two weeks ago, the Chicago suburb
of Cicero, Ill., said it would distribute Klan literature to local residents in return for the Klan’s agreement to drop plans for a public march
and rally. The unusual pact between the town
and the KKK was reached after a Cook County
circuit judge ordered the town board to issue
a rally permit requested by the Klan, and the Cicero Police Department estimated that it would cost more than $140,000 to provide necessary security measures. Town officials characterized the distribution of KKK literature as a money-saving measure.
?(Klan recruitment flier and one of the Pennsylvania papers purloined as a distribution vehicle) [Photo & Caption]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 21,1998) [Caption]