The University of Mississippi will host the first 2008 presidential debate Friday. Moderated by Jim Lehrer, the debate will focus on foreign policy and national security issues.
Besides the thousands of journalists on the scene, some students at UM have been given the chance to witness the debate through various lotteries and competitions.
Throughout the week, students and university organizations have sponsored an incredible number of events, including panel discussions, speech and debate competitions, debate watching parties, etc. Various groups will present their points of view, such as those opposing genocide and AIDS, but one group stands out.
According to articles and editorials in The Daily Mississippian, UM's student newspaper, the Ku Klux Klan will have a presence on campus as well, but if the group has its way, no one will know it's there.
The "emperor" of the "Mississippi White Knights" wrote in a statement to the newspaper: "The Mississippi White Knights will have officers and Klansmen on hand for the presidential debate on September 26, 2008. Our people will be in Oxford and on the campus 'invisible.' That means our people won't be in regalia or demonstrating. So, I guess you'll just have to guess which of the people present are Klansmen."
We can't help but ask: What's their point?
Groups are free to demonstrate on debate day in the band practice field, an area designated by the U.S. Secret Service. As journalists, we believe strongly in free speech even for those groups whose points of view we find terribly distasteful and offensive, but how can one make a statement by remaining "invisible?"
As far as we can tell, the Klan is trying to continue its practice of intimidation and scare tactics, but it looks as though the message is lost on students there.
The Daily Mississippian editorial board said it well in its view: "An open letter to the KKK." The students expressed their disdain for the Klan's message and motives.
"Your desire to remain "invisible" is nothing more than a cowardly, desperate and ultimately ineffective scare tactic," the board wrote. "Come debate day, whether we are talking with a Klansman will never cross our minds. Frankly, we don't care. You aren't hiding because you want to scare us; you're hiding because you are scared of us."
America's and the world's eyes will be focused on the campus, the issues of the debate - but not on the Klan.