John McIntyre

In a word: bigot

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 



On Saturday, images started cropping up on my Facebook news feed of Ku Klux Klan members demonstrating in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, where I grew up.

Though my father remembered that the largest gathering of people in Fleming County he ever saw was thousands attending a Klan rally in the 1920s, this is the first notice I am aware of in my time. County schools were integrated without incident when I was a child, and the only Confederate flags seen in my youth were displayed by teens who liked to think of themselves as rebels without thinking of the ugly racist baggage that goes with the banner.


The demonstration, which was reportedly repeated in Maysville and Morehead, did not amount to much: half a dozen men in gaudy robes (Do they not wear white until after Memorial Day?) holding Confederate banners and standing aimlessly on street corners in the center of town.

The earliest sense of the word bigot (pronounced BIG-ut) recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is the obsolete "religious hypocrite." In the sixteenth and seventeenth century the more modern sense "A person considered to adhere unreasonably or obstinately to a particular religious belief, practice" was current, quickly developing into "a fanatical adherent or believer; a person characterized by obstinate, intolerant, or strongly partisan beliefs."

The Klan, white, racist, and nativist, included religious bigotry in its portfolio of intolerance, being hostile to Roman Catholics when it could spare the time from despising African-Americans. I am not current with the Klan's contemporary thinking, but it's probably safe to assume that blacks, Hispanics, gays, and people with an education are bound up in the multicultural mix the Klan sees as a threat to the white, mainly evangelical Protestant culture whose dominance they fear losing.

That they are losing that dominance is one of the few points on which they are right.

Kentucky has always been a conservative state, apart from liberal pockets in Louisville and Lexington, but throughout the civil rights era it never reached the sustained pitch of viciousness we saw in states of the Old Confederacy. I would like to think that the disgust expressed Saturday by the people sharing those images is more representative of my native state than a pathetic clutch of garishly dressed masked men fighting for a cause that deserves to lose.

Example: From Andrew Sullivan's essay "The Fight Against Hate": "For hate is only foiled not when the haters are punished but when the hated are immune to the bigot's power."