Moral Panic

No, the KKK Is Not Invading Mizzou

Racism and rumors at the University of Missouri

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KKK
Paul Walsh / Flickr

Payton Head, the University of Missouri's student body president, posted on Facebook that the KKK had come to campus, and black students were advised to stay indoors, away from windows. He claimed he was working with the campus police department, state troopers, and the National Guard to address the active threat.

The warning was unnecessary, false, and eventually retracted. Head later copped to circulating a baseless rumor, according to The Blaze:

I'm sorry about the misinformation that I have shared through social media. In a state of alarm, I was concerned for all students of the University of Missouri and wanted to ensure that everyone was safe. I received and shared information from multiple incorrect sources, which I deeply regret. The last thing needed is to incite more fear in the hearts of our community. In the future, please receive emergency updates from MUalert.missouri.edu or @MUalert on Twitter ONLY.

While there certainly seem to be some genuine occurrences of racial animus on campus yesterday—as well as an actual threat of violence, made by a non-student who was 100 miles away and quickly apprehended—the situation at Mizzou is beginning to exhibit qualities of a moral panic. In some cases, it's difficult to sort out the rumors from the actual instances of racism; no one wants to seem skeptical of, or indifferent to, acts of intolerance against minorities, who shouldn't have some unreasonable burden to prove their pain is valid. At the same time, false rumors are circulated on the internet constantly, and journalists have an obligation not to become ensnared by them. (One of the incidents that kicked off the protest against President Tim Wolfe in the first place seems increasingly dubious.)

Meanwhile, a professor was widely ridiculed for refusing to cancel classes for black students who feel unsafe, but his full statement on the matter hardly seems offensive:

I don't know whether Mizzou professors should have cancelled classes. But let's not worry too seriously about a possible KKK invasion of the campus.