The recent distribution of Ku Klux Klan fliers in Freeport and Augusta has fueled outspoken and justifiable community revulsion, but hate isn’t always so obvious. As Mainers and as Americans, we should also be on the lookout for words and actions that try to rationalize bigotry in less high-profile ways.

The Klan fliers, which turned up early last week, announced the formation of a Klan neighborhood watch and urged people to call an 800 number touted as the group’s “24 Hour Klanline.” The communities quickly pushed back. In Freeport, about 200 residents turned out for a rally to denounce the fliers; in Augusta, fliers stating “NO KKK FOR ME!” and “ALL ARE WELCOME HERE!” were taped to utility poles.

But while the Klan seems like an outlier, it’s actually just one end of a continuum. The Press Herald reported that callers to the 800 number on the KKK flier hear a recorded message describing the group as “a movement of white people for the highest standards of western, Christian civilization.” Other white extremists have presented their poison in similar pseudo-historical wrappings, invoking the medieval Crusades by using the Christian war cry “Deus vult” (“God wills it”) as an insult to Muslims.

Although they’re peddling a message justifying the exclusion of minorities, none of these groups sees itself as a white supremacist organization. Klansmen like to call themselves “white separatists,” the Associated Press reported last fall. Don Black, who operates the popular hate forum Stormfront, prefers “white nationalist,” according to the same AP report.

It’s not about racial bigotry, these hate groups say. Likewise, President Donald Trump says his temporary immigration ban targeting seven Muslim-majority nations “is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

The credibility of this defense is nonexistent. From 9/11 on, nobody in the U.S. has died in a terrorist attack committed by an immigrant from any of the seven targeted countries. The executive order that declared the ban specifically exempts refugees who are members of minority religions — which would include Christians in majority-Muslim nations. And Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani has gone on record that the executive order was crafted as a legal means to implement the “Muslim ban” that the president promised during his campaign. Ultimately, it’s not the Ku Klux Klan we need to fear. It’s the people who, in their hearts, disagree with the Klan’s style but have no problem with the substance of the group’s hateful message. Politely phrased and carefully worded prejudice is just as damaging as the in-your-face kind — and neither should go unchallenged.

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