Experts: Obama plot detracts from race progress
“Certainly these men have some frightening weapons and some very frightening plans,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who studies the white supremacy movement. “But with the part about wearing top hats … it gets a bit hard to take them seriously.”
The Rev. James Lawson, an 80-year-old Freedom Rider who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement and is now a visiting distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University, said he was not surprised by this latest threat to Obama.
He said he has had conversations with fellow blacks at various places, not just the South, since Obama’s candidacy began nearly two years and they have been afraid for Obama’s life.
“In the black community, there’s been all over the country anticipation of his being in harm’s way,” Lawson said. “That is a reflection of the fact that, by and large, the black community still experiences racism when it comes to access to jobs, in unemployment levels, in housing discrimination and predatory lending in housing.”
The alleged plot highlights tensions that both blacks and whites say exist in Helena-West Helena, a predominantly black east Arkansas city that has struggled economically.
Mayor James Valley said he doesn’t believe Schlesselman’s alleged involvement in the plot indicated any organized effort by white supremacists in the city, but said there has been at least a political tension among blacks and whites.
“The white community controls the finances and the black community here controls the ballot box, so that’s where you’re going to see it,” said Valley, who is black.
One Helena-West Helena resident, Larry Johnston, said he was not surprised that white supremacists had been plotting to kill Obama. Johnston, who is white, said he voted for Republican John McCain during early voting and that he didn’t believe the country is ready for a black president.
“You look at all your big cities that have black mayors and you have trouble,” said Johnston, 58. “That’s what I’m afraid of with Obama.”
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