• August 1, 2014

Whose Views Are Too Extreme for the Classroom?

A religious-studies instructor at Missouri State University who invited a former Ku Klux Klan leader to speak to his class two years ago is drawing scrutiny after that same man became the sole suspect in shootings that killed three people at Jewish centers in the Kansas City area on Sunday.

The instructor, David Embree, defended his decision in a statement released on Monday, saying that he wanted to educate his students on white supremacist worldviews.

The man who spoke to students in Mr. Embree’s course, Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., of Aurora, Mo., is a former "grand dragon" of a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and has a history of expressing anti-Semitic and racist views, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. Mr. Cross, who is also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, is accused of killing three people at a Jewish community center and a retirement center in Overland Park, Kan., on Sunday, the day before the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The revelation that Mr. Cross had been asked to speak to Missouri State students was first reported by BuzzFeed.

Mr. Embree said speakers like Mr. Cross help students grasp the danger of hateful worldviews. But others said that such classroom appearances can legitimize fringe views and endanger students.

In his statement, Mr. Embree said Mr. Cross yelled at his 12-person class, praised violence, and used racial slurs.

Mr. Cross described his visit in a January 10, 2012, posting on Vanguard News Network, an online forum whose slogan reads "No Jews. Just Right." He refers to the students using multiple slurs, and writes that the visit made him feel "absolutely TERRIFIC and CONFIDENT, even braggadocious."

Mr. Embree said the classroom visit spurred his students to warn others about the dangers of white-supremacist philosophies.

"I know that the ‘nice’ students I tend to get would not believe what their textbook or I told them about the hatred and venom of these groups unless they encountered one of them," he said in his statement. He added that he had warned students in advance about what they might hear.

‘A Platform to Glorify the Hatred’

Karen Aroesty, the St. Louis regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said there are better ways to teach about white supremacy, like using multimedia tools or inviting experts who have studied the subject firsthand, that do not "provide a platform to glorify the hatred."

"It legitimizes him," Ms. Aroesty said of inviting such a speaker to talk at a state university. "Feeding that ego can be very dangerous."

The news that Mr. Cross had shared his anti-Semitic views with students "left me queasy," she added.

Since Mr. Cross’s visit, Mr. Embree said, he has rejected requests from other white-supremacist groups to speak to his students.

"After feeling the full emotional impact of [Mr. Cross’s] presence, offers by others who called him a ‘poser’ had/have no appeal to me," Mr. Embree wrote in an email on Monday. "He was enough. Even without the events of yesterday, I would never have invited him back."

Mr. Embree said he still grapples with the question of whose views are too violent or extreme for a classroom.

"In New Religions classes, should we only invite in the benign ‘New Agers’ to present their worldview," he asked, "or should we include Satanists or the hard-core Nation of Islam as well?"

Missouri State officials did not respond to a request for comment.

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