What's the best way to confront those who preach hate?
Don't take the bait. Unfortunately, that lesson is difficult for some to grasp. Hate groups live to inflame; they thrive on goading well-intentioned people into lashing out against them.
Haters, bigots, racists - they're all about recruiting the like-minded and simple-minded, and they're experts at orchestrating situations that cast them as martyrs.
We've all seen it: hooded, robed Ku Klux Klanners defiantly standing on a courthouse lawn spewing hate. Invariably it's those who protest the haters who betray the most outward signs of hostility, and the Klan revels in the resulting media images, particularly if the anti-Klan protesters happen to be minorities or other Klan targets.
They take the bait, and the Klan becomes sympathetic victim, at least to some.
A similar act of antagonism recently occurred in Grand Traverse County. In mid-February, local resident Bill Wiesner moved his obsessive anti-homosexuality act from cable access television to the street.
This time, the sign-toting Wiesner set up near Cherry Knoll Elementary in East Bay Township during school hours. His sign read: "Truth Academy About Homosexuality," and it referenced a video series that dovetails his views.
Some parents of Cherry Knoll students didn't take kindly to Wiesner's message, finding it inappropriate for their children. One parent approached Wiesner, grabbed his sign, and Wiesner's vehemently anti-gay fellow traveler Paul Nepote just happened to be there to snap photos of a brutal attack that wasn't.
Wiesner and Nepote are old hands at spouting bigotry, then loudly denying it. They launched a gay-bashing tirade against Traverse City Area Public Schools last year when the district prepared to adopt anti-bullying rules, and it's clear they targeted Cherry Knoll children and their parents to press their pointless point.
When the parent grabbed the sign, Wiesner and Nepote howled like someone had just shot the Kaiser. They demanded justice and fired off emails to the media and their supporters that trumpeted their victimization.
County prosecutors took a look and initially issued an assault charge against the parent, though they recently dropped it after deciding in part the evidence was too thin to gain a conviction.
Wiesner claims he's merely trying to foster debate, not antagonize nor foment hate.
To be sure, his free speech and assembly rights must be respected and upheld; but his approach is inflammatory and flawed, and he won't shake the hatemonger label until he embraces a less caustic campaign strategy.
Those who don't agree with Wiesner and his ilk should take a pass when confronted with hate bait. The far better approach: support TCAPS' stand-up school board, or take to the election booth to reject discriminatory ballot language, as Traverse City voters did last fall.