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Franklin’s death row regrets remind city of a painful legacy

Franklin, 1997

Struck by a bullet from a .30.06 rifle, Vernon Jordan Jr., fell to the pavement outside a north side hotel at 2 in the morning of May 29, 1980. The bullet caused a horrendous wound, and it was far from certain that Jordan, then the president of the National Urban League, would survive.

He was hospitalized for 14 weeks. But Jordan recovered and has continued his role as a civil rights advocate and business executive. During the 1990s, he served as a close adviser to President Bill Clinton.

The man who admits that he shot Jordan is back in the public eye this fall, facing a Nov. 20 execution date in Missouri and, in an interview published this weekend, more fully charting the dimensions of the hatred that drove him.

Joseph Paul Franklin’s spree of racist violence began in the mid-1970s and lasted until he was arrested later in 1980. He has claimed responsibility for a wide range of shootings and bombings, and authorities believe that he killed at least 21 people during those years. But Franklin has never been convicted of the two most notorious crimes he’s admitted: Jordan’s shooting, and the shooting of Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who also survived.

Though Franklin was in Fort Wayne the day of the Jordan attack, and though he had killed others in other cities with a high-powered rifle, the evidence against him was circumstantial, and he was acquitted of the Jordan shooting in 1982. Later, however, he admitted the crime.

In an interview published this weekend in the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger, Franklin said he now regrets the attacks on Flynt and Jordan.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him now,” Franklin said of Jordan.

In earlier interviews, Franklin has said he decided to shoot Jordan after he heard on the radio that the civil rights leader was speaking here.

He told The Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell that he targeted Flynt after he saw a photo in Hustler of a black man and a white woman having sex.

In his youth, Franklin said, his racist violence was molded by abuse at home and by his adulation of Adolf Hitler.

“To me at the time, Hitler was a god-man,” he told the Clarion-Ledger. “ ‘Mein Kampf’ was my Bible.”

“I had a hatred towards blacks bordering on insanity,” he said in the interview. “I was flat-out mentally ill.”

If all of this sounds familiar, it unfortunately is. More than three decades later, terrorists – and Franklin, surely, is an American terrorist – still believe that their beliefs transcend others’ right to live.

Residents in Fort Wayne did a lot of soul-searching after the Jordan shooting. There were efforts to come together as a community and to ask ourselves how we could eradicate racial hatred and violence. It was recognized that our city will be forever linked with the shooting. But as his latest words remind us, the sickness that drove Joseph Paul Franklin knows no borders.