From The Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa —
Residents in southeast Iowa have been complaining about Ku Klux Klan recruiting fliers stuffed beneath their mailboxes, but a county sheriff said the person behind the content is protected by free speech.
Sheriff Dan Tedrow said his office has received about 20 complaints from at least three communities in Van Buren County since March 29, The Des Moines Register reported.
Frank Ancona, of Park Hills, Mo., said he’s responsible for the fliers, which are being distributed to attract new members to the Traditionalist American Knights, a modern strain of the Ku Klux Klan. The 47-year-old said he’s been imperial wizard of the group for five years.
“I swore that if I got in my position I was going to change things, and since I’ve been Imperial Wizard, I’ve really pushed recruiting hard,” he said.
State Rep. Curt Hansen, D-Fairfield, noted a local paper’s coverage of the group, and expressed his concern with lawmakers Tuesday.
“I’m appalled that some sort of hate organization is trying to work its way into Iowa,” he said. “This is not a good thing for our community.”
David Cunningham, a sociology professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., said there are several examples throughout history of the group rebranding itself to show a “softer, more civic side.”
“It’s almost like an onion, where you have these layers,” he said, and some Klan leaders “try to sell the outer layers that are really palatable and public.”
Ancona told the newspaper that his constitutional rights allow him to share his beliefs.
“We’ve got the right to say it, and we’ve got the right to win people over to our way of thinking,” he said.
Tedrow, the Van Buren County sheriff, said the fliers are protected free speech under the First Amendment. Mark Kende, constitutional law professor at Drake University Law School, agreed.
“The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that even racist hate speech is protected by the First Amendment,” Kende said. “The only time it is not allowed is when the speech is an incitement to commit a crime or do public harm.”
The group’s website said it “is a white, patriotic Christian organization that bases its roots back to the Ku Klux Klan of the early 20th century.” The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates the group’s total nationwide numbers at 4,000.