In Defense of the Ozarks

As a lifelong resident of the Ozarks, I want to take a moment to respond to an article in the Springfield News-Leader, "Does Something About the Ozarks Attract Hate Groups?"

First of all, define "hate group."  If I understand the article correctly, "hate group" includes patriot and militia groups.  While a portion of these groups hold racist views, are we to jump to the conclusion that because a group believes in a small and unobtrusive federal government that they are necessarily a "hate group?"  That seems like a big (and unfair) assumption.  Such groups may be paranoid, but that doesn't necessarily make them "haters."  

To my point of view, the most frightening aspect of the story is the following quotation from Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center:

"The region [the Ozarks], like a good soil, provides some of the main nutrients needed to sustain hate groups.  The area has a predominantly white population, conservative religious views, and a general attitude that government should stay out of people's business."

Did you hear that?  Essentially, according to Potok, if you are a white, evangelical Christian who believes in limited government you hold to views that foster hate.  In the article, Potok seeks to soften this statement, but his intention is clear and the damage is done.  I resent this caricature, as the finest, most caring/loving people I've ever known would meet all these criteria.

Does the Ozarks have a vestige of racism?  Tragically, yes.  But I would argue the per capita figure is no more than any other region of the country.  The genuine hate groups that do exist are on the fringe and have a nominal following at best.

Does something about the Ozarks promote a negative view of big government?  Yes sir.  We are an independent people.  Historically, we put our faith in God and hard work.  We do not expect the government to take care of us and, thus, we do not expect the government to be in our business.  There are exceptions, of course, to this rule.  But I am speaking of the traditional mindset of the culture.  We do not apologize for this.

Does the geography of the Ozarks lend itself to accommodate hate groups?  Perhaps.  The rugged/forested hills and hollows of our region are a double-edged sword.  They provide solitude for those who seek it, but they also provide cover for those who have more sinister motives.  (This is why pot and meth have flourished here as well.)

Nevertheless, as anyone who has spent much time in the Ozarks will tell you, these hills are full of hard-working, God-fearing, compassionate people who love their fellow man.  Are there a few bad apples?  Of course.  But let's not stereotype the entire region.