A few weeks later, the FBI waited in the darkness outside the home of a Jewish Meridian businessman named Meyer Davidson for the arrival of Thomas Albert Tarrants, whom they knew to be the synagogue bomber and who had fallen into the trap they had set. Tarrants planned to leave a bomb in Davidson's carport, which he intended to blast away not only the house but whoever happened to be in it.
Tarrants eventually showed up, the FBI and police pounced from their hiding places and after a wild car chase through a residential neighborhood, Tarrants' companion - a schoolteacher named Kathy Ainsworth - died in a hail of gunfire. Tarrants was captured and eventually sent to the state penitentiary at Parchman.
Tarrants claimed to be a Christian and in conducting his personal war against Jews and blacks as a member of the Ku Klux Klan to be doing the work of Christ. While in prison he had a conversion to the type of Christianity most of us think of as the genuine article - the peace-loving kind that emphasizes love and concern for everyone and that views hatred of others as the polar opposite of God's will.
Tarrants and his fellow Klansmen and Klan sympathizers, the American terrorists of the 1960s, were self-identified Christians. For many, their twisted faith was their primary motivation for their acts of violence. They saw themselves as protecting "white Christian civilization." Yet as they went about killing, maiming and harassing blacks, Jews and even those few whites who didn't toe the segregationist line, no one thought to blame Christianity as a whole for their actions. Not once do I recall seeing them described as "Christian terrorists."
Of course, there were many who wondered why so many Christians - including clergy - were silent in the face of such violence and intimidation, even the bombing of black churches by Tarrants and others before him. Where are the voices of moderation, people outside Mississippi often asked in those days. Where are those who will stand up and proclaim that this is not the Christian way?
They had a valid point. The voices of condemnation were few. Mostly such acts were met with silence - and the fear that speaking out might make you the next target.
I can't say that all of this is an exact parallel to where we find ourselves today with radical Islamic terrorism and the accompanying controversies like the Ground Zero mosque. It's not that simple, of course.
But think of it this way: If someone who had never known a Christian, or never known much if anything about the Christian faith, saw the work and heard the hate-filled proclamations of those "Christian terrorists" of the 1960s, what might he or she have concluded? That all or most Christians were like that, or that most at least harbored those sentiments?
There are signs that nine years after 9/11, sentiment in our nation is shifting away from George W. Bush's assertion that we are not at war with Islam, but with purveyors of a perverted version of it. Some of the newly bold rhetoric that sees the Muslim faith as inherently incompatible with American values and Muslims themselves as inherently dangerous to America comes from sincere people, but much of it springs from political demagogues only too willing to exploit our fears. In either case, historical analogies aren't likely to sway anyone.
But many Mississippians of a certain age know from historical experience what it is like to live in a climate of terrorism in which some people have good reason to fear for their lives every day, and in which silence in the face of murderous acts has the effect of encouraging more. And many Mississippi Christians can recall the revulsion they experienced on hearing these acts justified in the name of their God.
Yet somehow in those days we managed to separate the perpetrators from the faith they claimed to profess. We knew that the brand of Christianity professed by those who committed hate-filled acts of violence was a horribly mangled version of the faith lived by millions.
That historical experience isn't precise in its application to our situation today, but it's close enough to be instructive - difficult as it may be in the current environment to make the connection.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or email@example.com..