Ku Klux Clowns in East Tennessee

Ku Klux Clowns E1349098403898

I started my Tennessee sabbatical with a story about 3 peace activists who recently shut down the Y12 bomb plant here in Oak Ridge with a stunning protest, armed only with a bible and flowers.  I figure I’ll end my sabbatical with another great story of East Tennessee mischief.

This is the story of one of my favorite flash-mob actions, which happened right here in Knoxville.  And this year marks its 5-year anniversary.

It all happened on May 26, 2007.

Word had begun to spread that a group of white supremacists, including members of the KKK, were converging here in Knoxville, TN, holding a rally in a park downtown.  It was in the news and papers.  Many locals were pretty upset by the public display of racism and hatred.  Even though many of the folks connected to the hate-group were coming from other states, they had obtained a permit to gather and publicly proclaim their hate-filled message of White Power.

But they had no idea what was coming.

A group of locals had decided neither to cower away in fear nor to fight fire with fire…. Instead they decided to meet hatred with humor.  They began to organize a counter-protest — but not your typical counter-protest.  They showed up with an army of clowns, with stilts and unicycles and red-noses… and they far-outnumbered the white supremacists.

In fact they stole the show.

The clowns seemed to have slightly missed the message of “white power”.  They began yelling, “White Flour!  White Flour!”  Pulling out bags of flour and throwing it all over each other, they created a hysterical cloud of dust.  Needless to say, the spectacle quickly hijacked all the attention of the media and bystanders – it may have even distracted some of the haters themselves.  They were hard to ignore.

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Before long one of the clowns pointed out that they had messed up the message, which was not “white flour” but “white flowers”.  So they dusted themselves off and were conveniently met by a mob of new clowns that had tons of white flowers.  Enthusiastically they ran through the streets giving them away to everyone they met and spreading the flower power through the downtown streets… all the while chanting in unison the revised war cry:   “White Flowers!  White Flowers!  White Flowers!”  I think even a couple of the white supremacists received a flower from a clown with a smile.

But it wasn’t long before someone again pointed out the err of their ways.  They still had the message wrong.  “Ohhhhhhh,” said one of the clowns, “how silly of us – we’ve got it now… WIFE POWER.”  A mob of clowns decked out in wedding dresses came out of nowhere, wisked some of the men from the crowd into their arms and led everyone in a new cheer… “Wife Power!”  Wife power it was.

And on they went.  I think they went on to have a “tight shower”  with a 10-foot clown on stilts spraying a smushed-together crowd with a showerhead… maybe they even handed out some “white sours” or  built a big “white tower”… and so it goes.

It was a beautiful day.  The white supremacist group was so outmatched, upstaged, and overwhelmed that they called it quits a couple of hours early.  But the clowns marched on, their charade snowballing into a full-on street parade marching down the city streets with police escorts smiling by their side, proclaiming a contagious message of love and laughter.

It’s a true story.  There’s even a children’s book inspired by the whole fiasco.

The event is a great reminder that we need imagination as we confront evil, so that we do not mirror the hatred we seek to end.  And, even as we fight serious injustices, we need humor– as old Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance… then it ain’t my revolution.”

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The clowns remind us that mean people can be resisted without being emulated and neutralized without being destroyed.  Before long, we might even see that some of our enemies have become our friends.  After all, it takes a lot of energy to hate, but love sets all of us free – both the hated and the haters.

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About the Author

Shane Claiborne

Shane ClaiborneShane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way, a radical faith community in Philadelphia. His most recent book, Executing Grace was released in June.View all posts by Shane Claiborne →

  • Una_Blogger

    This is news! Nice work.

  • keith

    Shane, How many articles have you cited or written making fun of or condemning the actual self incriminating remarks from Black Panthers?? When they stand on the corners and yell “kill those crackers, kill their babies etc” ???? Or they rally and intimidate people over a verdict? Or they PUBLICALLY put a bounty on a man???????? How many? I will await your response before I indulge in removing your liberal cloak and expose what I suspect is really at the core of articles like this. Im not condoning the KKK but lets hear your answer??

    • Seraph4377

      You’re not condoning the KKK, but you get very upset and try to change the subject after you read an article about them being mocked out of town. Could you please expose what is at the core of that, sir?

      • keith

        I will be more than happy too. It is a disgust with liberals that want to point out all the racist acts of whites but never attempt to criticize the black community in any shape form or fashion. It is the disgusting motivation behind NBC’s intentional editing of a clip from the Travon Martin Case to try and make it racist(a lie and now may be criminally liable), It is the blatant and irresponsible video of ABC in the police station stating there was no damage to Zimmermans head. It is the gargage spewed by liberal media that was totally inaccurate just to make a situation racist. It is the total avoidance of anything printed or said about the “death threats” made by the Black Panthers. It is the avoidance of condemnation of a bounty put on Zimmermans head.It is the shameful lack of reporting on Spike Lees dispicable tweet of Zimmermans parents address and they had to move for fear of their life. It is the blatant dismissal of the charge of voter intimidation of two black thugs who were adorned with bily clubs outside of the voting precinct by a BLACK DOJ who is as prejudiced as they come. He is a radical racist from the past and still is. It is the avoidance of Obama to address the Black Panthers because they are BLACK. But most of all it is people who write articles, news articles or books about injustice and hatred that never address it from all perspectives. I asked a simple question……How many artices has he written that confront, expose, or condemn racism or hate from the black community??? It is really a simple question that I am a waiting an answer to yet you want to do exactly what I am pointing out. Go ahead make my case for me. 😉

        • keith

          Just as I suspected…..weeks go by and *crickets*…….

        • Timeaside

          He doesn’t need to write about the Black Panthers, or any other hate groups, there are plenty of writers writing about that. It is ludicrous and lacks critical thinking skills to demand that one author cover all events, all groups. Shane is talking about one specific group fighting hate, it’s a good and reasonable article.
          I’d try and reason with you, but I suspect from your writing that you are just a Republican robot and I can’t write in binary.

      • keith

        Another example of the left leaning, pompas stump sitters who post on here is the absence of articles condemning the REAL “hate” of Jews by Arabs. The absence of posting or writing about idiots in the middle east who say the Holocaust never existed or that they want to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth….but hey you guys are fair and balanced Bahahahahahahaha whatever. I have challenged many of these so called authors to tow the line regarding Israel and to date, unless I have missed it (If so I would love to read it) this site has not defended Israel at all. This is another example of “off subject” rage about liberals only wanting to cherry pick your issues.

        • Timeaside

          Seriously? Now because he hasn’t written about Israel?!? I’m angry because he hasn’t written about hats! Darn those hats, darn them to heck I say, etc.
          He can’t possibly cover all the issues that are your pet agendas, even if he wanted to jump through your lunatic hoops.
          Critical thinking, it’s worth learning.

      • keith

        Oh I forgot….How about any comments about the Black Youth Thugs that ‘flash mobbed’ Walmart in FL and other places…Stealing, looting and rioting just because they had to leave a birthday party and had nowhere to go???????? But that ‘flash mob’ doesnt bother liberals because its ‘black’ people who are ‘off limits’ to criticism but must be endeared and coddled and given the excuse of inequalities for their behaviour. The one thing Ive noticed is that many white people have a ‘guilt’ complex for really no reason. They make such a fuss over blacks but yet condemn their own at every turn…..Must be really close to cutting yourself at night…..Either way its obvious and not healthy. If you want to have credibility then sling the mud at all hateful actions and quit ignoring the other side.

    • Traci

      “Anti-racist is code word for anti-white” right? LOL

      Tell us all about “White geNOcode” next, that’s funny stuff.

      Poor lil white boy, getting persecuted again.

  • aaron

    stupid masses who dont look in to the future always outmach the others.

  • Who cares? Give them attention and they will never stop. completely ignore them and they will get mad that no one gives two shits. Have them go to the Hunger Games and fight the Black Panthers. There, two hate groups and a grand battle.

  • I think Mark Twain said it best, though he put the words in the mouth of an angel named Satan (an unfallen nephew, or so he claims, of *the* Satan), in the bleakest and most bitter of his stories:
    “Your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug,—push it a little—crowd it a little—weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”

  • Timeaside

    I LOVE this story. A clever response to hate, worth celebrating. Thanks for sharing it.

  • I. E.

    Great article Shane. We need more love and laughter in the world!

  • What a bunch of degenerates and faggots! Men wearing tutus and women kissing each other. How revolting! Meanwhile the assembled White Nationalists across the street were trying to bring attention that the savage murders of Channon Christian & Chris Newsome was a part of White genocide in this world. Maybe Shane

    • Pennywise

      Yet here you are, attracted to an article about men wearing tutus and women kissing each other.

      Come on, Dale. You’ve got something to admit, don’t you.

      • The clown above is an obvious troll and commie. There is a solution to that.:

      • You’re a sick clown. Do you like wearing women’s clothes too, boy?

      • Yeah, I’ll admit to something.: You’re a clownish commie troll, right?

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