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Palin's AG Pick Defended KKK Statue, Mocked Offended Student

First Posted: 05/15/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:15 PM ET

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Sarah Palin's choice for attorney general once wrote a column defending the statue of a KKK figure as an expression of free speech and mocked the psychology of a college student who protested the display.

Wayne Anthony Ross has come under intense scrutiny since the Alaska Governor and former vice presidential candidate announced his nomination. His resume includes derogatory remarks about homosexuals, accusations of sexism, and bizarre comments downplaying the fallout of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. But his most controversial incident may have come in December 1991, when he penned an op-ed for the Anchorage Times, a copy of which was obtained by the Huffington Post (see below), entitled "KKK 'art' project gets 'A' for courage."

The crux of the piece, reported also by Max Blumenthal at The Daily Beast, is a defense of one particular art student's statue of a KKK figure -- created for a class assignment to "depict a monster" -- that the University of Alaska-Anchorage had put on display. In the process, Ross insisted that he was no racist. "I am a card-carrying member of the Congress of Racial Equality," he wrote. "I have never supported David Duke, and never will."

But the column was filled with racial and political insensitivities that, even in the relatively homogenous Alaska, were bound (perhaps designed) to stir the pot.

Ross repeatedly chided one particular student, Clara Bynum -- who, Ross noted, was a member of the Afro-America Student Association -- for having the gall to protest the statue.

"A 35-year-old psychology student," he writes, "Ms. Bynum was obviously letting her inner hostilities rise to the surface. Perhaps by the time she completes her psychology studies, Ms. Bynum will have the training and desire to control such emotions."

At one point, he accused her of seeking to trample on the art student's right to expression of free speech by threatening to take the statue down -- a legally provocative stance for the leading law-enforcement official of the state.

"In fairness to Ms. Bynum, her threat to tear down the KKK figure... could have been viewed as a symbolic protest against the KKK," Ross wrote. "But to achieve civil rights, we must ensure the civil rights of others. Ms. Bynum's actions would have violated the right of expression granted Mr. Hamilton under our First Amendment. Does she really believe that civil rights for one group can be achieved by trampling on the rights of others?"

The conclusion of the piece included one of its harshest digs, with Ross offering Bynum a failing grade on the topic of her major. "Art professor Ken Gray gave Mr. Hamilton an 'A' for his art work," he writes. "No one said what Ms. Bynum's grade was for her psychology course. But she 'flunked out' as far as I'm concerned."

That Ross would defend the right to create a KKK statue as well as the school's right to display it is a stance that, while clearly defensible under first amendment grounds, could prove tricky for the Palin administration to defend. Conservatives have railed at offensive art depictions in the past, with Rudy Giuliani famously cutting off funds for the Brooklyn Museum of Art after it displayed a painting of the Virgin Mary covered in Elephant dung. The display of confederate flags at South Carolina's Capitol, meanwhile, has long engendered fierce political and constitutional debates in federal and state elections.

But it is Ross's mockery of the offended student -- at one point urging her to take down the racially-tinged art display so she would be arrested -- that is likely to cause the most headaches for the governor's office.

"The university, quite rightly, allowed the artwork to remain, but art professor Gray capitulated and removed the figure from display," Ross wrote. "It is too bad that Mr. Gray did not display the intestinal fortitude shown by the university. It might have been more fun to see Ms. Bynum try to remove the display. Then she could have been arrested and her future as a student at the university could have been resolved through the university disciplinary proceedings."

Read the op-ed below:


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