According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Iron County School district has decided not to participate in the Western Freedom Festival after complaints that the event promotes a right-wing political agenda. Fifth graders from the district had been slated to perform “patriotic songs” in a presentation titled “Hope for America.” Festival organizers have been upfront about the event’s agenda, which is “to honor, pay respect, and pledge continued support to preserve Western culture, lifestyle, heritage, family values and freedom.” On the About Us page, they continue to quote Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock: “we all know what has happened regarding christian values.” The festival’s website never specifies if “western values” refers to values of the American West or more generally to white, European values. Perhaps the event’s supporters see no difference between these two concepts.
As far as I’m concerned, the Iron County School District’s decision to pull support for the Western Freedom Festival was a good choice. Promotion of “western values” sounds a lot like white nationalism, especially if one makes a quick Google search for the KKK and finds that the website for the Knights Party, USA (a KKK affiliated political party) states that the purpose of the Klan is to promote “a better way than a war torn, violent, wicked, socialist, new world order. That way is the Christian way – law and order – love of family – love of nation. These are the principles of western Christian civilization. There is a war to destroy these things.”
Now, am I saying that the Western Freedom Festival is a Klan organized event? No, that would be moving into the realm of unsubstantiated conjecture, but I am drawing a connection between right-wing politics and neo-white nationalism. American conservatism is headed in a disturbing direction that can be seen simply by tuning into the Republican primary debates. Once again, I am not arguing that the Republican Party openly supports white pride, but such “values” are not hard to discern when one takes note of what the Republican rank and file cheered for during the recent debates.
Donald Trump rode a swelling wave of support based largely on comments stating that Mexican immigrants are “drug dealers” and “rapists.” The current Republican Party suffers from a severe case of cultural angst—the belief that if white culture declines, so will America. This is nonsense, of course. Refusing to grant citizenship to a group of people who have lived, worked and raised families in this country simply on the basis that they “came here illegally,” is ridiculous, particularly when one recognizes that the very ground that is now called “Iron County” used to belong to Mexico. I’m not saying that “white” Americans should be forced to leave; I’m simply calling for coexistence and cultural compromise and sensitivity.
This brings us full circle back to the Western Freedom Festival. If “white” Christian Americans want to carve a place for themselves among an increasingly diverse American population, then certainly they will need to show a little acceptance. This acceptance doesn’t include sending fifth graders to act as performing spokespeople for a right-wing political forum.