Dear Editor,

“It’s a country road. It’s not in anybody’s particular neighborhood. It should not have bothered anybody. I realize that that may be offensive to some people, but it’s not a crime,” stated the Vilas County sheriff in a report on NBC Channel 12 News. 

That road is fewer than 5 miles from my “neighborhood.” Given the history of violence and murder of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), it should bother everyone. Every member of my family and my friends find it appalling and that’s more than “some people.”

The man who wears that KKK sheet knows it is a terrorist uniform and he likely supports white supremacy, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia and transphobia. The sheriff must know this. It represents the endorsement of the lynching of well over 4,000 people, overwhelmingly African American, from 1865 until the 1960s.

In my 78th summer in Eagle River as a part-time resident, I want to point out several things. First, in just three weeks in May, we have spent a minimum of $50 and up to $700 at local businesses on hardware, lumber, grocery, gas, restaurants and more. Our economic impact is measurable. And my three adult children, stepchildren, their spouses and my six grandchildren, my five nieces, nephews and their children and, at our invitation, 10 of my former colleagues and other guests all spend significant time and money in this community.

They all now know and are appalled by this citizen’s behavior and the sheriff’s inadequate response. We consider the image and substance of this incident deeply disturbing and wonder where the city and county leadership and the news editors stand on this.

The sheriff clearly fails to understand the threat that the behavior presents to the members of this wider community. I will cite just a few of the observations from friends and family. 

My nephew, 65, a summer visitor for more than 40 years wrote “Almost said unbelievable, but not anymore. I have always known that the KKK was meeting in secret, but I cannot fathom why anyone would wear the regalia in public at this time . . . now we have the most overt racism I can ever remember.”

A 45-year-old colleague of African American descent, currently a university dean, wrote “Wow, this is indeed interesting. Amazing what constitutes a ‘threat’ to white America (and law enforcement) these days and what garners an aggressive (and lethal) response. KKK outfit OK; selling loose cigarettes, jogging, less so.”

My sister-in-law and her spouse who love the Eagle River area and who were for decades firefighters wrote “I would be afraid if I saw this and I am white . . . as gay women, we should be afraid!” 

Another 50-year-old African American friend, a 15-year visitor, observed sarcastically “I wish I could say I was surprised. At least he was wearing a mask!” 

My wife’s uncle from New York, another North Woods fan, wrote “What could motivate a person to appear in public dressed like the KKK other than, at best, thinking racism is harmless or at worst, thinking it is something to be proud of?”

My eldest granddaughter, a visitor for 29 years, thought the sheriff’s comment was “horrifying.”

I am the eldest of this group of more than 50 of us who visit every summer from 15 states and Canada who are all Americans of Asian, African, European and Hispanic descent, whose sexual orientation are gay, lesbian, heterosexual, non-heterosexual and transgender. 

We thought we were welcome in the Eagle River community, but wonder what the leadership and citizens of the community will say now.

James R. Parker

La Crosse and Eagle River

Editor’s note: In a press release issued to this newspaper June 16, Sheriff Joe Fath said the sheriff's office does not condone this behavior or actions, saying “The KKK beliefs run contrary to Vilas County law enforcement’s mission, values and beliefs. We thank those that have come forward and informed us of the situation so that we may deal with it in a manner that continues to develop strong community partnerships.”