Ten days before Donald Trump takes office as President of the United States, cable network A&E will launch Generation KKK, an eight episode show about the personal lives of high ranking members of the Klu Klux Klan, whose official newspaper and former leader David Duke both endorsed Trump during the presidential campaign.
Billed as a documentary series, though the show appears to follow the same format as WWE Total Divas, Generation KKK will focus on the families of Steven Howard, Imperial Wizard of the North Mississippi White Knights, Chris Buckley, Grand Knighthawk in the North Georgia White Knights, and Richard Nichols, Grand Dragon in the Tennessee Knights of the Invisible Empire. While their titles make it sound like they are a ragtag band of fun, enthusiastic live-action roleplayers, the show reportedly chillingly opens with Howard giving his young daughters hooded Klan robes, planning to pass on his hateful heritage.
By delving into the personal lives and struggles of KKK members, Generation KKK runs the risk of turning them into sympathetic characters, which could help to legitimize their views. A&E, the network that brought us Duck Dynasty, The Wahlburgers, Hoarders, Dog The Bounty Hunter, Storage Wars, Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, and Intervention, claims to be conscious of this danger, with General Manager Rob Sharenow telling The New York Times that while A&E needed to gain the trust of the KKK in order to film their personal lives, "We certainly didn't want the show to be seen as a platform for the views of the KKK. The only political agenda is that we really do stand against hate."
"The struggles we were most drawn to were the struggles with the internal families," said executive producer Aengus James. "We had a stance, and we were clear with folks that we were hoping for them to see the light and to come out of this world. It's an incredibly destructive environment for anybody to be in, let alone children."
To that end, Generation KKK will also include anti-hate activists like Darryl Lamont Jenkins, Arno Michaelis, and Bryon Widner, who will attempt to convince Klan members to give up their racist ways, similar to the way coaches on The Biggest Loser encourage contestants to eat healthier and exercise. Failing that, the activists will try to convince the KKK leaders to at least leave their children out of it, perhaps appealing to fans of Honey Boo Boo as well.
"People involved in hate groups do so because they're suffering," explained Michaelis, a former white supremacist who now works to convince others to give up the cause, in the Times story. "I really draw upon that truth to respond to their aggression with compassion, and doing so makes a very powerful first impression."
It's totally possible that A&E will handle the show responsibly as they claim, and that it won't serve to legitimize overt racism as the media has by calling Neo-Nazi's and white supremacists "Alt-Right," but this could prove difficult in the ratings-hungry cable TV landscape. Hopefully, A&E knows what it's getting into.
"I wouldn't go so far as to say we're an advocacy brand," said Sharenow, hoping that A&E can "shine a light" on areas that other networks haven't. "But I do think there's a message of hope in all these shows and a promise of redemption."
Generation KKK debuts on January 10.