Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Racist" Flier Distribution In Spartanburg, South Carolina May Be In Response To The NAACP's Renewed Push Against Confederate Battle Flag

On July 16th, 2008, the Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal reports that racially charged fliers have made their way to residents wrapped around copies of the Herald-Journal and the Greenville News. The fliers have no connection to either newspaper. Some of the recipients do not have subscriptions. In several of the incidents, someone has wrapped an orange double-sided paper around a portion of a paper from 2007 and placed the roll in the yard.

Herald-Journal Circulation Director Ken Smith said the person responsible for the fliers might be capitalizing on the window of time between the paper's delivery and the resident's retrieval.

No group has claimed credit for the segregationist fliers. One side lists statistical "facts" about rates of sexually transmitted diseases among black people. The other side quotes biblical scriptures as commands against interracial marriage. Each side has spelling and grammatical errors. [Ed. Note: Please, please, please spell-check fliers before publication and distribution, people. We have enough negative stereotypes against us as it is.]

And of course, Mark Potok, the gay Jew in charge of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, was poised to insert his spin. He said this type of activity gained a foothold in California in the late 1990s. The SPLC's website says it provides tolerance education programs, has won legal battles against white supremacists and tracks activity of hate groups. As of 2007, the SPLC listed 888 active chapters of hate groups across the country and 45 in South Carolina. Potok claims group's ideology is what the SPLC uses when deciding if an organization is a hate group. [Ed. Note: This is true; if a group is pro-white, the SPLC automatically characterizes it as a hate group.]

Potok said he had heard about instances involving "community shoppers" and "alternative newspapers." He said someone would take a stack of the free publications from a rack, bag a copy with a flier and lay them in yards.

A man and a woman in the Oak Forest subdivision filed complaints with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office Sunday morning. Residents of the Thornhill subdivision have also received the fliers. Those responsible for the fliers might be placing them in the newspaper tubes before the carriers arrive. There is no local law against placing something in one of the newspaper tubes. [Ed. Note: That doesn't mean there are no laws against it in other locations; prospective distributors should take the time to check local laws.]

Potok said he has not heard of a similar case being prosecuted. That could change if the fliers are ever placed in a mailbox, however. "You won't see them put material in a mailbox, because that would be a federal crime," Potok said.

The timing of this flier distribution is good, because the NAACP has just announced their intent to renew their campaign against the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina. Even though South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford intends to ignore the issue and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have apparently backed down from their previous pledge to have a statewide "flag-raising" in response, it's appropriate to provide a public response to the NAACP's action to prevent the further misrepresentation and demonization of this legitimate and honorable symbol of Southern cultural heritage.

Commentary: Be advised that some publishers will take exception to wrapping your fliers around their newspapers because they'll feel you're misrepresenting their product. Litigation has occurred in the past. One newspaper, the Rhinoceros Times, actually sued a white activist organization over this practice. So be aware of the risks involved before you take any action.

As a matter of fact, this question was directly addressed during a discussion of an article published September 2007 in the Kansas City Pitch. Their managing editor posted this (comment #24):

To set the record straight, nobody has the right to put anything into a copy of the Pitch. Free speech is saying or writing whatever you want after you pick up a copy of the paper. Free speech rights don’t cover, for instance, going into a bookstore or library and writing your thoughts inside the cover of a book you don’t own. Likewise, putting a flier into the Pitch damages its value, because the paper’s reputation is harmed when some readers assume we received payment for these fliers. -- Eric Barton, Pitch Managing Editor

The purpose of bringing this up is not to deter this type of activism, but to ensure those engaging in it understand and account for the risks in advance. Knowledge is power.

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