Sometimes, despite everything you think you know about progress, human decency, the New South, and all that, the history we so often want to forget slouches rudely into the open. Last night, for the first time in recent memory, the Institute's hometown, Durham, North Carolina, was the site of three cross-burnings.

I'd like to think some dumb old boys got to drinking or nibbling on the kudzu, and this won't amount to anything. There doesn't appear to have been any warning, and white supremacists don't usually exhibit themselves so aggressively in this liberal, half-African-American city. But one of the targets, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, had recently been picketed by the infamous Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps (of Topeka, Kansas) and his weird clan of homophobes as part of his campaign against a performance of "The Laramie Project" at the Durham School of the Arts.

From the Durham Herald-Sun:

Burning a cross without the permission of the property owner is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that, under the First Amendment, cross burning could be barred only when done with the intent to intimidate.

I'm curious: under what circumstances would burning a cross - anywhere - not be considered an attempt to intimidate somebody?

Also see what Pam Spaulding has to say about this over at Pam's House Blend.

UPDATE 2 P.M.: There will be three community vigils tonight (Thursday) in Durham -- see the comments for details. There will also be an emergency community response meeting at the Mad Hatter Bakery in Durham (corner of Broad and Main streets) at 8 am Friday morning to discuss next steps. -- CK