Huge anger over Newtownards Ku Klux Klan stunt
There can only be deep concern over the appearance of a group of people dressed as Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members outside an Islamic prayer house in Newtownards, Co Down.
Photographs which have been widely viewed on social media indicate that up to ten masked individuals, wearing the sinister and unmistakable full KKK regalia and carrying white crosses, gathered in the centre of the town on Saturday night.
They were reportedly refused service in a bar and at one stage posed in a blatantly insulting and provocative way outside the Islamic centre on Greenwell Street while allegedly also engaging in fascist salutes.
The long and disgraceful history of the KKK in the US, involving the appalling mass murder of innocent black victims in the 19th century, means that the Newtownards episode cannot in any way be regarded as some kind of pre-Halloween prank.
Indeed, the KKK has continued to be active in some southern states much more recently, launching disturbing campaigns against vulnerable minorities right up to the present day
It will also be remembered that, in another deplorable incident in Newtownards, a pig's head was left at the front door of the same Islamic building last year.
The firm condemnations of the KKK display which have been issued by political representatives in the Strangford constituency were entirely appropriate, and the onus must now be on the perpetrators of the stunt to come forward and identify themselves.
If they claim that they had simply not thought through their crass actions, and offer a sincere and unreserved apology, then the Islamic community could offer its own assessment.
However, if they remain in the shadows, and have to be tracked down by the PSNI, which has already made clear that it is treating the matter as a hate crime, then they deserve to be brought before the courts without delay