Friday, March 25, 2011

The Allen Central Confederate Boycott Hoax Exposed

In much of life we are content with a false comfort that there is a certain randomness to that which befalls us. We know that difficulties and disasters will come our way. We are prepared to accept a certain amount of such as simply fate or an act of God. The best example of this is that every time an accident or disaster occurs such as a plane crash, our first question is “was it terrorism”, and—for some reason—we feel a palpable sense of relief when confirmation arrives that it was not an intentional act, and though the loss of life remains unchanged by this news, we are more able to accept the event as a necessary trial of this mortal life.
   It is apparently part of our human nature, on the other hand, not to be content to simply accept a bad occurrence if it turns out to be the design and intent of men (or women).
   As Americans with Confederate ancestry, we are discovering more and more the intent of some to rob us of our heritage, and paint us and our ancestors as societal pariahs to be shunned and silenced. Attacks on Confederate symbols and heritage are not, primarily, due to any random shift or drift in society, but are calculated incursions by bigots with hate in their hearts towards us and our heritage. Let us take the Allen Central Confederate Boycott Hoax as our most recent example.
   Allen Central is a public high school in Floyd County, the town of Eastern, Kentucky (which yes, is in eastern Kentucky) with about 400 students. It was formed in 1972 from four small high schools (Garrett Devils, Martin Purple Flashes, Maytown Wildcats, and Wayland Wasps), and the students at the new Allen Central were given the chance to choose a new mascot. They chose the Confederate soldier, and have proudly been the Rebels ever since. While there are a number of high schools in Kentucky that are also Rebels, it is safe to say that none of them embraces Confederate heritage as an integral part of their school’s identity more than Allen Central. You are greeted by a Confederate soldier at the entrance to the school, the centerpiece of the cafeteria is a large Battle Flag, surrounded by pictures from athletic events, usually with Battle Flags prominent, a large Battle Flag is in the gym, and even the courtyard is laid out in a St. Andrew’s Cross. In all likelihood, Allen Central is the most Confederate public high school in the nation.

   Nestled into the mountains of eastern Kentucky, far from the Meccas of political correctness in Lexington, Frankfort and Louisville, Allen Central’s celebration of Confederate heritage has remained unmolested for more than three decades; but, four “missionaries” of political correctness recently have launched a coordinated attack to try to put Confederate heritage to an end at ACHS.
   The affair began in November 27th, 2006, when attorney and outgoing school board member Mickey McGuire made derogatory comments about Allen Central displaying the flag. The Floyd County Times ran an article on the McGuire’s denunciations on November 29th. McGuire, who was not seeking re-election, waited until his last meeting as a board member to say anything like this, and no other board members joined in supporting McGuire. McGuire’s parting shot was soon picked up by AP reporter Samira Jafari. Jafari is a journalist with a history of reporting on stories that appeal to the politically correct, including an editorial which was passed off as legitimate reporting on Alabama’s prison sentences being too harsh, and a story with a mildly positive spin on an utterly bizarre YMCA camp that makes children be “slaves” for a day, including being yelled at by an “overseer” until they cry, and then being forced to try and “escape”.
   On December 9th the Associated Press ran a slanted “expose’ ” by Jafari on Allen Central. This article had prejudicial angles in it such as “The black students who have encountered Allen Central's school spirit don't accept such views, though they do little to fight back,” which makes it sound like all black students who have played against Allen Central feel that way. In fact Jafari had only a quote from one black student, and the Floyd County Times was easily able to find black students who had played against Allen Central who felt quite differently.
   An Allen Central cheerleader who defended the school in Jafari’s article was ridiculed on national TV by MSNBC commentator Keith Olberman.
   Next enter Ned Pillersdorf, another Floyd County attorney and his version of “Glory Road”.

The Glory Road Fantasy
   In the recent movie, “Glory Road”, about the first NCAA basketball team with an all-black starting line-up to win a championship, a scene depicted Kentucky Wildcat fans taunting African-American players with Confederate flags. However, even though the movie was supposed to be based on real events, the flag-waving incident never occurred. When confronted about the deception, the movie producers simply said it made for a better story.
   Ned Pillersdorf was the source for the next Associated Press story by Jafari on December 24th – which was carried nationally and internationally – about a small high school basketball team that was going to boycott a game against Allen Central High (ironically, scheduled on Robert E. Lee’s 200th birthday, January 19th), because of Allen Central’s use of the Confederate Battle Flag, and its fans taunting an African-American player in last year’s game with Confederate flags.
   Was this really life imitating fictionalized art? Pillersdorf, a transplanted New Yorker who has decided to live in Floyd County and who is volunteer basketball coach for the tiny private David school that was supposed to boycott Allen Central for the flag waving, claimed it was. Pillersdorf specifically claimed that Allen Central fans at last year’s game had taunted an African-American player on his team with Confederate flags when he shot free throws, and that his players had voted to boycott this year’s game. For some reason, Pillersdorf hadn’t complained about anything last year, and he had waited until after the Associated Press ran an article about Allen Central’s Confederate mascot to announce a boycott by his school.
   It turns out, though, that Pillersdorf’s flag-taunting incident was just as fictional as the one in “Glory Road”. The problems for Pillersdorf began when David school officials held a press conference to announce that there
was no boycott, and that Pillersdorf hadn’t gone through channels to ask for one. This means that Jafari, the AP reporter who worked with Pillersdorf to create the faux boycott story, didn’t corroborate it with school officials, a basic requirement of journalism, before sending the inflammatory piece over the wires.
Jafari running an uncorroborated story was really the lynchpin, as various versions of the Confederate boycott article reverberated through the media for days and even weeks. The Lost Cause contacted Jafari to ask her why she ran such an inflammatory story without corroboration. Jafari declined to comment.
   It got worse for Pillersdorf, though, when the Allen Central athletics director pulled the records from last year’s game, and the records showed that the player in question hadn’t shot any free throws in that game. That problem for Pillersdorf’s story was nothing, though, compared to when his own players spoke. They revealed to the Floyd County Times that they had not wanted to boycott the game with Allen Central, that they had not taken a “boycott” vote, and even supported Allen Central’s use of Confederate symbols.
Finally, the African-American player in question in the flag-taunting story drove the ultimate stake into the heart of Pillersdorf’s fabrications when he flatly stated that the incident never happened.
   Eventually the two school principals decided to postpone the game, with all the emotions that Pillersdorf and the media had created over the fictional flag taunting, and the Floyd County superintendent wanting there to be no flags at the game if it did happen.

   It’s bad enough that a movie would pass off such a fabricated event as taunting players as real, but Ned Pillersdorf pretending that such a thing happened in real life wasn’t just coming up with a “better story” to make some sort of personal statement of his dislike for Southern heritage; it was very disruptive to the community, and on January 27th, the SCV issued a press release demanding apologies from Pillersdorf and the Associated Press, and demanding that the AP run a story correcting its bogus “boycott” article. With the damage the AP article caused, and its wide distribution, a correction would be a minimal response, but even after the hoax was revealed and reported on by the Floyd County Times, and even obliquely covered in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the AP has declined to run a correction.
   During all this, local reaction against Pillersdorf and McGuire ran strong, with websites and ad hoc committees quickly formed to fight the apparent attempt to change Allen Central’s flag and mascot. One of the most active citizens locally was Ronnie Parsons, who worked with the SCV to coordinate an effective counter-campaign, including a large ad paid for by the SCV featuring Parsons in the Floyd County Times. The SCV also ran a “Thank You” ad in the school paper at Allen Central.

The Circus Comes to Town
   On December 18th, Louis Coleman, a media-hungry “civil rights” nudnick from Louisville suddenly showed up in Floyd County, to hold a “private” meeting and hold hands with superintendent Paul Fanning, urging Fanning to get rid of Allen Centrals’ flag. Interestingly enough, this “private” meeting was attended by Samira Jafari, who promptly ran a sizeable story on it again over the AP wires, complete with hateful quotes from Coleman—”this community is in the past” and “these symbols have been eliminated.” etc. The article did admit that the school had been flooded with messages of support for the flag, but somehow failed to check with the SCV for a counter comment, despite efforts by the SCV to get the media to carry its responses. Telling all about Louis Coleman would be a whole article in itself, but he is a master of quick publicity (he has friends in the media, obviously Jafari among them), and is a master of squeezing money from businesses and local governments, apparently for them to prove their support of his agenda, and perhaps to avoid being on the receiving end of one of his many protests and quick-strike media blitzes (a la’ Jesse Jackson), according to an expose’ on Coleman by Louisville TV station WLKY.
   The real point, though, is that Jafari either invited Coleman to Floyd County, or Coleman set up the media coverage with Jafari. Either way, when combined with the “boycott” story to come a few days later where Jafari worked with Pillersdorf, a pattern begins to emerge. Jafari was “creating” news by working with the likes of Coleman and Pillersdorf, rather than being a journalist, all the while ignoring calls from the SCV to make corrections.

The First Meeting
   Superintendent Fanning’s response to the “controversy” was to say that McGuire’s suggestion would be open for discussion at the next school board meeting. To add to the confusion, though, there were two “next” meetings, one on the 17th of January and one on the 22nd. Apparently the first meeting usually is for the purposes of setting the agenda at the second. Mickey McGuire, no longer a member of the board, wasn’t at either meeting to hear the reactions to his earlier anti-Southern comments.
   The consensus of those working the case for the SCV, which included division staff, members from the two Floyd County SCV camps, SCV Chief of Heritage Defense Darryl Starnes and SCV national heritage defense committee member Billy Bearden along with Ronnie Parsons and the local group of concerned citizens, was that a full turnout for both meetings was essential, prepared to stare down Coleman if necessary.
A rumor began circulating that the school board would turn the matter over to the School Based Decision Making Council at Allen Central (which turned out to be true). In anticipation, the School Council met before the school board meetings, and unanimously voted to keep the flag in anticipation. The SBDMC would not meet again until late February, where this decision could truly be made offical (to the satisfaction of the superintendent).
   At the school board meeting on the 17th, over 100 turned out, all in favor of keeping the flag at Allen Central. The Kentucky Division’s “I Support Confederate History Month” stickers were passed out, with virtually all present wearing one. First to speak on the matter was Sam Hatcher, commander of the Col. Andrew Jackson May camp, who eloquently defended Confederate heritage and Allen Central. Afterwards, Hatcher was interviewed by WYMT television, and the Herald-Leader. Typically, the Herald-Leader didn’t use any of Hatcher’s or the SCV’s statements. Ultimately, the school board declared that any mascot issue belonged to the School Council and referred it to them (fully aware that the SBDMC had already voted to keep the flag and soldier).
   This school board meeting was probably the first news-worthy event in the entire scenario—it showed a community speaking clearly to its elected officials in support of Confederate heritage despite a media barrage against them. McGuire’s unsupported comments, the slanted article on Allen Central, the Coleman PR-seeking private meeting, the Pillersdorf boycott hoax were all “created” news of a sort - much ado about nothing. So, with this strong public reaction certainly the media—and especially the Associated Press and Jafari—had an obligation to report this community outpouring at the board meeting. However, after all the previous anti-Confederate stories on the AP, this apparently wasn’t worthy of mention.
   Instead, the next day—the 18th—the media picked up on a story that the game would happen, but that the Superintendent was going to ban Allen Central—as a school, but not any individuals— from having any Battle Flags at the game, so after ignoring the story of the overwhelming support at the school board meeting, the Associated Press went with the flag ban story instead, and the Herald-Leader expanded it into a full feature. The AP quoted superintendent Fanning as saying school displays of the flag would be banned to defuse the situation (while admitting individuals couldn’t be stopped). If Fanning truly thought this, he needed a quick education, because all he did was give the media more fodder to keep pouring fuel on the fire, and it’s doubtful he had any real authority to make such a proclamation. Besides, the “school displays” of the Flag are permanently attached—as in painted on the walls. Even if the school, say the cheerleaders, weren’t going to wave a particular flag per se, the Flag would still be everywhere.
   Fortunately for all concerned, the two school principals involved had more sense, and rather than play a game with a “ban” (which would have been the beginning of a terrible slippery slope for Allen Central), they agreed to postpone the game. This decision was carried again by the Associated Press, but with the angle that the “flag flap” controversy had caused the game to be postponed, rather than being truthful that biased and inaccurate media reporting—specifically the Associated Press—was responsible for the schools having to delay the game.

The Second Meeting
   The second, “full” meeting of the school board occurred on January 22nd and had many similarities to the first: over a hundred showed up to support the flag in case the issue came up and in case Louis Coleman showed up. Coleman didn’t show (it’s not really his style to face a hostile crowd), but he did leave copies of a letter from his “Justice Resource Center” - filled with factual and grammatical errors, even getting the name of the school district wrong—explaining to the good folks in Floyd County why they were bigots for having a Confederate high school. The superintendent made copies of the Coleman letter available, but the crowd had no interest in it. Sam Hatcher again eloquently spoke on behalf of the SCV, joined by local citizens like Ronnie Parsons. The superintendent addressed the issue by explaining the matter had already beenreferred back to the SBDMC, and was not being considered by the board.
   This second meeting was the media’s chance to atone somewhat for their mishandling of things by at least reporting the final outcome. We are still waiting for that to happen, though. The AP ran a total of 5 biased and inaccurate stories on Allen Central before the second meeting, but couldn’t bother to even report the outcome of the “controversy” they created.

More Coleman
   Louis Coleman’s antics weren’t done just with his little collaboration with the AP. On January 9th he also picketed (probably for just long enough to speak to a reporter he arranged beforehand to be there) in front of the Kentucky Department of Education building in Frankfort, complaining about Allen Central (and all other “Rebel” schools in Kentucky), and demanded to be placed on the agenda of the state school board’s next meeting (February 7th). Coleman had previously spoken to the state school board several years prior and as a response the state board sent letters to all school systems recommending they study the issue of insensitive mascots. The truth is, though, that under KERA (the Kentucky Education Reform Act) the state school board has no power over local schools’ mascots. In response to Coleman’s request, Kentucky Division Commander Tom Hiter also formally requested to be on the agenda to counter Colemen. The reply from the board was that since the board had no authority to address the question, it would not take sides, and would not allow either Coleman or Hiter to speak. It seems a little late to pretend to be neutral after sending the politically correct “offensive mascots” letter to schools earlier, though.

More Nonsense
   The nonsense wasn’t over yet, though. As a follow-up to all this, the SCV arranged for H. K. Edgerton, a noted black Confederate activist who, among many other things, has marched 1,600 miles across the South carrying a battle flag for Southern heritage, to speak at Allen Central on February 9th. It would be a perfect educational opportunity during Black History Month. However, a few days beforehand, Superintendent Fanning ordered that he not be allowed to speak at the school. Having had enough of the nonsense, Division Cmdr. Hiter called for a press conference/protest to be held across from the Lexington Herald-Leader building in Lexington’s Thoroughbred park on the 9th, and have Edgerton speak there.
   The SCV sent press notices to all area media, especially the Associated Press and A. P. writer Jafari who was behind most of the biased, erroneous and inflammatory reporting. Jafari sent back an apparently automated response saying she would be out of the office until May.
   Thursday night, February 8th, Allen Central and David finally played their basketball game, but Superintendent Fanning prohibited the press and public from attending, an apparently unprecedented event in Kentucky high school athletics (there have been instances where flu outbreaks have caused athletic events to be played behind closed doors, but nothing like this). Fanning claimed he wanted the situation to go away quietly, which brings into question his intelligence, since his over-the-top banning actions again drew the immediate attention of the media and the SCV. The Associated Press ran yet another story on Allen Central, this one taking the angle that the flag “controversy” (not the taunting hoax) caused the superintendent to ban the press and public. The byline on this A. P. story was the same as the others: Samira Jafari, the reporter supposedly “out of the office until May” who was refusing to answer questions about her role.
   The SCV news conference the next day was held under beautiful but cold skies on the high ground of Thoroughbred Park. Three TV stations and the Herald-Leader did send reporters. They got an earful from Cmdr. Hiter and Edgerton, focusing on the flag taunting hoax and denial of Edgerton’s speaking appearance. The TV stations provided brief coverage, but didn’t get beyond the typical “Confederate flag causes controversy” sound bite. One of the stations even managed to cover it without mentioning or showing Edgerton. The Herald-Leader and Associated Press did briefly cover it, but were still more fascinated with the closed-doors basketball game than anything else. They briefly visited the issue of Pillersdorf’s faux flag-taunting, but treated it more like a disagreement than a hoax. Then Channel 36 (ABC affiliate) put together a 4-night hatchet-job on Edgerton and the SCV, ignoring again the real story of the Pillersdorf fabrication and media culpability.

Even More Nonsense
   Finally, on that same Friday, the state school board issued its earlier “offensive mascots” letter to school systems again, telling the media it was in response to the Allen Central “controversy”. This action came after directly telling Cmdr. Hiter that the board was neutral. So now we have even the state school board dealing in actions that fall short of truthful.

The Result
As we were going to press on Monday, February 25th, the School Based Council met again in the afternoon and voted to let the students decide whether to keep the flag. The positive outcome of this student vote is somewhat easy to predict. It’s also predictable that proper media coverage of this decision won’t happen, though.

What Now?
The victory in Floyd County—and it was a victory, no matter the biased media coverage—was coordinated by a winning combination of local citizens, local SCV camps, division and national. All worked together and all contributed. There was a big difference in addition, though; in this case the school—especially the principal “Sis” Hall—was with us, and the school board was with us (even if the superintendent wavered to very bad effect). This was a fight on good ground; but we’ve always known Floyd County was good Confederate territory, from the days of the 5th Kentucky Infantry drilling in the fields by the May house in Prestonsburg.
The antagonists of this hoax will probably take a breather for the moment; Jafari still isn’t responding to questions about her role, Pillersdorf now wishes it would all go away, McGuire hasn’t been involved since his hate-filled comments in November, and Coleman may temporarily run out of ways to get some media face time. However, these four were able to orchestrate a tempest in a tea cup that took a large-scale mobilization of local and SCV resources to counter. Even though they lost, they enjoyed a lot of attention for little effort; they (and more like them) will be tempted to try similar things in the future.
   The SCV’s job is not over. We have several areas to address. First, the controversy has generated interest locally in the SCV despite the fact the media (other than the Floyd County Times) refused to carry SCV press releases and statements, and this is a recruiting opportunity. Second, the SCV needs to insure that those responsible for this hoax are held accountable. The Associated Press perpetrated a lie and refused to speak to it, correct it, and discipline the reporter responsible. Pillersdorf fabricated events. McGuire did harm to the school system he was elected to serve. These parties need to be reminded as much as possible when appropriate of their responsibility for the entire affair, and others tempted to try the same need to see that there will be strong and long-lasting resistance to such perpetrations. Finally, the SCV needs to recognize that we don’t have many public schools where Confederate heritage is celebrated, certainly not to the degree at Allen Central. Even the other schools with “Rebel” mascots in Kentucky are skittish to some degree. Allen Central needs to be adopted, both by our division and the national organization, as a public service project. The staff and students need to know that the SCV will be there to help, not only in a scrap like this, but also when they need some money for academics or sports, or to provide living history demonstrations and other Confederate-related education. The SCV needs to be involved with Allen Central, a public high school that celebrates and fights for Confederate heritage like no other.

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