PANAMA, NY – Contrary to a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there is not a KKK-affiliated group operating out of Chautauqua County.
That’s according to an official from the Town of Harmony, who contacted WRFA this week and took issue with a story WRFA ran on Feb. 22, regarding a report from SPLC that identified Panama, NY on its 2016 Hate Map as one of the headquarters for the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The town official, who said they’d prefer not to have their name included as part of this report, told WRFA community leaders are aware of just one individual in the area who’s claimed himself as being the so-called leader of a KKK-affiliated group, adding that they’ve been aware of this individual for the past few years.
However, the Harmony official takes issue with the SPLC’s claim that this individual is the actual head of any kind of KKK-affiliated group – organized or otherwise – adding that this so-called leader is simply someone who has access to the Internet and has made the claims online, but that doesn’t mean there is any substantive truth to them. As a result, he said the SPLC’s claim that a KKK-affiliated group is operating in Panama is flat-out false.
The town official went on to say the SPLC should have done proper due diligence in researching the matter, before placing the so-called group on the Hate Map, and that just because someone goes on the Internet and claims to be the head of a group or organization, doesn’t make it true.
The town official also expressed his disappointment with WRFA, saying we were irresponsible to report the story without first discussing the matter further with elected officials in the town of Harmony or village of Panama.
In our initial report, SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok told us, “The fact that it’s leader is headquartered in Panama doesn’t necessarily mean at all that he carries out any activities – street rallies or leafleting or anything like that there,” Potok explained. “We find as a general matter that very often leaders do not really engage in Klan activities in their hometown, basically because it would make life miserable for them. So in his case, I’m not sure where they’ve been active – other than they are a real group and they exist on the ground.”
The complete interview with Potok is also available on our website.
In researching the initial story, WRFA did locate on social media the individual identified by Potok as being the head of the local group, and did verify that he lived in the area and claimed to be the head of a KKK group. This individual also publicly posted content that was consistent with what would be affiliated with the KKK or other white supremacy groups and their sentiments. WRFA also spoke with one community official – who also didn’t want their name included in our initial story. That person said they wanted to assure the public that Panama and the surrounding area is tolerant and inclusive, and that because someone with alleged ties to a hate group is living in the area is in no way a reflection of the entire community.
The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 as an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. Since at least 1999, the organization has published an annual Hate Map, outlining the location of hate groups operating within the United States that have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. SPLC has been used as a media source for tracking and reporting on hate groups across the country, including such notable news sources as ABC News, Fox News, NPR, and the BBC.