On Saturday, blogger and radio host Erick Erickson posted a picture of a cross with Christmas lights on it. That evening, Twitter erupted into outrage as people compared the cross to the burning cross, a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. Newsweek even featured the words “burning cross” in a headline before removing them.
“Erick Erickson with a burning cross in his yard is the only thing about this week that doesn’t seem surprising,” Palmer Report blogger Bill Palmer tweeted.
Erick Erickson with a burning cross in his yard is the only thing about this week that doesn’t seem surprising.
— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) April 5, 2020
Blogger Tony Posnanski suggested Erickson would next get a Swastika in his yard to match his “burning cross.”
Do theese fine young men also do Swastikas so they can get snacks for hospitals? That way you can have a Swastika in your yard along with your burning cross?
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) April 5, 2020
Catholic comedian Jeremy McLellan asked if the boys who made the cross are “also making face masks that cover the whole head and come to a point on top.”
Are they also making face masks that cover the whole head and come to a point on top
— Jeremy McLellan (@JeremyMcLellan) April 5, 2020
Media Matters’ Editor-at-large Parker Malloy tweeted Erickson’s message with angry emojis, and singer Laura Jane Grace replied, “I legit thought this was a burning cross.”
Over at Wonkette, Stephen Robinson wrote, “Erick Erickson Promotes Burning Cross, Should Definitely Keep Neighbors Away.”
“The pressing question is why Erickson didn’t notice he’d Klanned up this cross,” he wrote. “Erickson took a photo from several feet away, and it never occurred to him that the cross had a certain terror-inducing, fiery glow.”
“I personally don’t think Erickson deliberately set out to insult minorities with his literally inflammatory imagery. But that’s not the point. Innocence isn’t always good. Sometimes it’s downright offensive. Besides, if gay people’s very existence offends Erickson, he should appreciate how much the existence of a flaming cross might offend black people who aren’t ignorant bigots,” Robinson added. He went on to slam Erickson’s opposition to expunging history by removing Confederate monuments.
“That means Erickson is on the hook for remembering it,” Robinson wrote. “Hell, as folks have pointed out, Erickson posted this photo on April 4, which is the anniversary of Atlanta-native Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Maybe next year, Erickson might put some more thought into not being so thoughtless.”
To be fair to the critics, Erickson’s image does look slightly similar to pictures of KKK burning crosses — at a very cursory glance. But it’s clear from the context that the conservative Christian blogger had no intention of endorsing racism by posting the picture. In fact, he shared it to promote two brothers who are selling crosses to buy snacks for local hospital break rooms.
“Two brothers who went to school with my kids are making these and selling them for $20. They’re then taking the money and buying snacks for area hospital break rooms. I added the lights,” Erickson tweeted.
Erickson’s message makes it clear he was trying to be festive, to celebrate Holy Week (which began on Sunday, Palm Sunday in the Western Christian tradition), and to encourage a local act of charity. It seems liberals who are looking to connect conservative Christians with the KKK seized at this opportunity to demonize their political opponents.
Newsweek‘s Benjamin Fearnow wrote a story about the image with this headline, “Conservative Radio Host Erick Erickson Criticized for Placing ‘Burning Cross’ in Front Yard.”
The Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney called the article “a disgraceful smear,” calling on Newsweek to “pull it down, and everyone involved in this should be embarrassed.”
This is a disgraceful smear by somebody named Benjamin Fearnow, published at Newsweek. They should pull it down, and everyone involved in this should be embarrassed. pic.twitter.com/oQtsaUjMiP
— Tim Carney (@TPCarney) April 5, 2020
Exodus movement chapter head Jeremy Frankel noted that “this is the same garbage person who wrote a smear piece about [Dennis Prager] saying he mocked Anne Frank.”
Following backlash from that article on Prager, which Fearnow wrote last December, Newsweek altered the headline to retract the claim that Prager had “mocked” Anne Frank. Similarly, the publication altered the original headline to remove “burning cross.”
Caleb Howe noted that Newsweek did not change the URL.
But not the URL. pic.twitter.com/Xqb8BALZoI
— Caleb Howe (@CalebHowe) April 6, 2020
Erickson refused to yield to pressure and retract the image. Instead, he noted that many of the same people condemning him for the “burning cross” also vehemently oppose his religious beliefs.
“Wait till the people upset by my Christmas lights on the Easter cross find out what we Christians think will happen to them if they don’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior,” he tweeted.
LGBT Canadian writer Thor Benson countered, “Wait until people upset by my cross that looked like a KKK cross find out that I think they should suffer for eternity if they don’t agree with my beliefs!” This is an intentional smear against evangelical Christianity. According to Christian doctrine, every person is sinful and cannot get to heaven on his or her own merits — Christians very much included. Jesus has provided a free gift of salvation, and faith is a key part of accepting it. This does not mean “those who don’t agree with my beliefs” “deserve” hell — the point is that everyone deserves hell, Christians included. Salvation is a matter of grace, not reward.
Wait until people upset by my cross that looked like a KKK cross find out that I think they should suffer for eternity if they don't agree with my beliefs!
— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) April 6, 2020
So where does this twisting of Christianity come from? It appears that Erickson’s support for biblical Christian sexuality — which involves marriage being defined as between one man and one woman — likely plays a large role in Benson’s attack against him. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center routinely accuses conservative Christian organizations of being “anti-LGBT hate groups,” including them on a list the SPLC developed to monitor KKK groups.
Yet those who know Erick Erickson know that his cross with Christmas lights has nothing to do with the KKK.
“I just don’t think there’s any chance that Erick intentionally put a burning cross on his lawn. My guess is that he saw everyone assuming the worst and dunking on him and he didn’t want to give in to the mob–which is *not* an appropriate response,” O. Alan Noble, editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, tweeted.
I just don’t think there’s any chance that Erick intentionally put a burning cross on his lawn. My guess is that he saw everyone assuming the worst and dunking on him and he didn’t want to give in to the mob–which is *not* an appropriate response
— . (@TheAlanNoble) April 5, 2020
Perhaps Erickson should have thought more about the potential backlash, but his intentions in posting the image were clear. A closer inspection of the picture shows indeed that it is a cross with Christmas lights — not a KKK symbol. The rush to compare Erickson’s tweet to a burning cross arguably reveals more about the liberals attacking this conservative radio host than about him or about the cross itself.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.