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The NRA put a KKK hood on Thomas the Tank Engine to protest diversity

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The NRA criticised the diversity movement by using a long-running children's show and placing Ku Klux Klan hoods on the characters.

Even by the standards of today’s political culture, it was a startling image: the talking trains from the children’s television show “Thomas & Friends,” wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods.

That was what viewers of the National Rifle Association’s online video channel saw as Dana Loesch, a spokeswoman for the gun rights group, took the show to task for diversifying its cast.

“They’ve decided that the next stop is Virtue Town,” Loesch said Friday on “Relentless,” the NRATV program that she hosts. She was responding to news that the children’s show was adding several female and international characters.

The segment echoed complaints by some that the additions amounted to politically correct pandering. But it confounded many others who wondered why a spokeswoman for an organisation known for fierce advocacy of gun rights would weigh in on programming aimed at preschoolers.

In the segment, Loesch, an outspoken conservative commentator, questioned the decision to add the new characters, including Nia, a train from Kenya. How, she asked, could the children’s show introduce “ethnic diversity” when its anthropomorphized characters are mostly trains?

“I’m really, really struggling to understand how in the world there isn’t any diversity in any of this,” she said, before showing a photo of several characters in Ku Klux Klan hoods in front of burning tracks.

“Fair, I get it,” she deadpanned in response to the image. “Thomas the Tank Engine has been a blight on race relations for far too long.”

The segment drew the beloved children’s franchise, whose story was created more than 70 years ago, into the increasingly partisan debate over diversity and multiculturalism.

In response, Mattel, which owns the Thomas the Tank Engine brand, said it had “always been a priority” for the company to promote inclusivity and kindness.

This photo provided by Mattel shows Nia, the first tank engine from Africa, in "Thomas & Friends: Big World! Big Adventures!"
Thomas & Friends: Big World! Big Adventures! is introducing the first tank engine from Africa.
Mattel, Inc.

“We are not associated with images that promote hate and denounce any images of our brands that are being used to convey a message not in line with the values of the company,” it said.

“Thomas & Friends” had announced Friday that it was adding the new characters in partnership with the United Nations, part of an effort to introduce its preschool audience to new cultures and issues.

In the show’s coming 22nd season, which begins this month on Nick Jr., the main character, Thomas the Tank Engine, will leave his home on the fictional island of Sodor for the first time in series history. He will travel to China, India and Australia, where he will meet other trains. The show will also add several new female characters.

The character Thomas the Tank Engine was invented more than 70 years ago by the Rev. W. Awdry, as a story for his son. Awdry turned the story into the first of many books in 1945, and in 1984, Thomas became the star of a new British animated show that was narrated by Ringo Starr. The show made its American debut in 1989 on PBS.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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