It predictably created a firestorm because I dared to criticize the Star, one of my law firm – Lathrop & Gage’s – clients:
July 27, 1998
ATTENTION: Rich Hood
The Kansas City Star
Dear Mr. Hood:
I was very disturbed by the tone of The Kansas City Star‘s article about the American Heritage Festival and Expo held in Carthage, Missouri the weekend of July 17-19.
The Star’s writer, Judy Thomas, quoted an out-of-state source who described the event, sight unseen, before it had even occurred, as a gathering of “white separatists.”
In the admittedly brief time I was at the festival, I saw absolutely no indication that those that were in attendance were white separatists, racists, neo-Nazis, or members of any other hate group. I did see many people wearing T-shirts honoring American POW’s and MIA’s and bearing the names of U.S. Navy vessels on which the wearers served. In fact, the crowd seemed to be comprised to a large degree of veterans and their families, which should not be surprising for an event celebrating American patriotism.
I also believe, since the event had been promoted as an Ozark folk festival, that many people were simply there for the music, the food and the entertainment. It is difficult, after all, to read too many political implications into greased pig and goat roping contests.
To the extent the gathering had a political theme, as reflected by the various speakers, it was a concern about the encroachment on individual rights by what is perceived as a corrupt and repressive government. Most of the opinions expressed fell squarely within the tradition of American populism, a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of the republic and which found expression in such disparate events as the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790’s and the Grange Movement of the 1880’s.
While I do not consider myself to be an heir to that tradition (to put it mildly), it is a long and honorable one. There were certainly nothing like appeals to racial hatred, calls for violence or anything outside the bounds of acceptable civil discourse in any of the speeches or remarks made at the festival.
While the points of view presented ranged from the laudable (the Gulf War Veterans Association, dedicated to finding a cure for the illness known as “Gulf War Syndrome”) to the ludicrous (Bo Gritz burning the U.N. flag in protest over the supposed loss of American sovereignty), I see nothing improper or sinister about being present at a public forum where those views were expressed. I certainly do not believe that my presence at events of the Black Panther Party or the S.D.S. in the 1970’s signaled my agreement with those group’s beliefs.
After all, a free society rests on a vigorous and open debate of public issues. however controversial, a notion which should not be foreign to you as part of a free press.
The Star‘s article rests ultimately on the dubious premise that because two exhibitor’s booths at the festival offered for sale offensive literature, the racist or anti-Semitic sentiments contained in those publications reflect the beliefs of the almost 3,000 people who attended the festival.
I strongly disavow such sentiments and repudiate the beliefs that gave rise to them. However, I also find The Star‘s account of the festival, which falsely implied that such beliefs were an important, if not dominant, element at the event, to be only marginally less offensive.
Very truly yours,
Dwight D. Sutherland, Jr.