Times are changing. We stand at a place in history where many of the creations of our founding fathers are rapidly disappearing. However, one American institution―the Ku Klux Klan―is alive and well. This right-wing extremist group has managed to survive through three distinct secret movements, all of which sought purification of American society through acts terrorism, including intimidation, physical assault and murder. Nowadays, however, the Klan has legitimized and somewhat sanitized its terrorist activities by infiltrating and seizing control of the Republican Party. Indeed, the party of Lincoln has now become a safe haven for racists, fascists, evangelicals, sexual predators…even credibly accused pedophiles. Along with the U.S. Supreme Court, and more than any other person, former president Andrew Johnson is responsible for the continued existence of this vile and evil anti-American society.
History books relate that the South―states which desired to destroy the Union―lost the American Civil War. The scorched-earth armies of Grant and Sherman destroyed nearly every military presence and physical structure in sight during their march through the South. But the generals never broke the spirit of a society of individuals who somehow thought that human bondage was not only profitable, but also humane and proper.
This so-called “spirit” was conceived as a matter of law by Roger Taney, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, in the infamous Dred Scott case (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US 393, 1857). Taney ruled that people of African descent, blacks, had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro must be reduced to slavery “for his own benefit.” Taney further decided that blacks could be “bought and sold, like an ordinary article of merchandise, whenever a profit could be had by the transaction.” Thus, the dominant thought of white superiority was not only preserved in law, but also greatly magnified racism as a matter of practice following the assassination of Lincoln when President Andrew Johnson granted amnesty and full pardons to the architects and participants of the Southern secessionist movement on December 25, 1868.
Six young Confederate veterans of the Civil War met in the Jones Law Office in Pulaski, Tennessee in spring 1866. One of the participants, John Lester, suggested, “Why don’t we start a club of some kind?” About a week later, another member of the group, one John Kennedy, was house sitting for Colonel Thomas Martin. The group convened again at Martin’s plantation while the colonel and his family were away to finalize the plans, including a name, for their new club. James Crowe suggested kuklux, a variation of the Greek word circle, so no one would know what the word means. And Kennedy suggested, “Since we are all of Scotch-Irish descent, we should add the word klan.” Thus was born―quite innocently―a name that would live in infamy, the Ku Klux Klan. Inspired by the ghostly sound of the name they had just adopted, the six young men attired themselves in sheets and pillowcases pilfered from Mrs. Martin’s linen closet and cavorted after dark on horseback through the town of Pulaski, much to the curiosity of the local population. This would prove to be the last harmless act of the Klan.
The idea of a secret society doing business under cover of darkness soon caught on and surged like wildfire throughout the South. This first incarnation of the Klan conducted a reign of terror that lasted for about five years until the federal government put it out of business around 1871. The group, through its local units (dens, known as klaverns) had attempted to overthrow the Republican state governments in the South during the Reconstruction Era with tactics that included physical assault and murder: “We are the law,” was their mantra. They targeted blacks, and educators from the northern states who came south as part of the mission to educate blacks. And their well-known symbol―their calling card―was the burning of a “Fiery Cross.” Former Confederate general Nathan B. Forrest, known as the “Grand Wizard,” was the leader during this period. During an interview with a reporter from the Cincinnati Commercial, Forrest stated that membership of the Tennessee Klan was 40,000, and further estimated membership throughout the South at 550,000.
The catalyst for the second incarnation of the Klan was twofold. First, respectable historians of the Reconstruction Era provided false narratives of the period immediately following the Civil War which depicted blacks as villains and whites as victims, when the truth was exactly opposite. Second was the 1915 silent film by D. W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation, which mythologized the founding of the first Klan. This Klan expanded operations to include the entire country, and funded itself through membership dues and the sale of white costumes and conical hats. Its membership peaked between 1924 and 1925 at an estimated 3 to 6 million members. The first elected Imperial Wizard during this period was William Joseph Simmons, a Methodist minister. Thus, it was hardly surprising to see the Klan carrying out its heinous nighttime activities, either preceding, or following, the burning of a cross, to the strains of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Precisely as today, these evangelicals viewed the election of their leaders as the “will of God,” with a commensurate duty to follow orders, no matter how diabolical. Jews, blacks, and immigrants (mostly Catholics) were the targets of their white supremacist views. Stetson Kennedy, an activist author who infiltrated the Klan as an informant for the FBI appropriately described the secret society of hooded villains as “the ugliest skeletons in our closet.”
Nevertheless, the largest and most famous gathering of the Klan came north of the Mason-Dixon Line in the state of Indiana on the Fourth of July, 1923. 200,000 klansmen, along with their wives and children gathered at a 185-acre field in Kokomo, about 50 miles north of Indianapolis. They were awaiting the arrival of the most influential Klan leader of the era, Grand Dragon David Curtis Stephenson (the Old man). Stephenson became the most powerful force in Hoosier politics; he was in fact a legend in his own time. But there was a defect in his character that foretold his destiny; he was a sexual predator. Stephenson abducted and raped state employee Madge Oberholtzer. The woman poisoned herself to escape Stephenson, and a doctor later found that skin on her left breast was torn open, and tissue on her genitals had been bitten off. Stephenson was charged and convicted of second-degree murder, and the statements he made to prosecutors about the inner workings of the Klan in an attempt to avoid prison spelled doom for the organization. The revelations brought prison terms for many politicians and disgust by klansmen everywhere; they burned their white robes and membership cards. Thus, the second incarnation was founded in 1915, flourished in the 1920’s, and by 1944 had all but vanished.
The third incarnation of the Klan emerged in the 1950’s. Compared with earlier versions, membership (estimated at 3000-6000, depending on who compiled the report) in the organization was miniscule. This group opposed the civil rights movement, using violence and murder, with assistance from police agencies, to suppress activists. For instance, the prominent event during this period was the unearthing of three decomposing bodies from a Mississippi dam site. An outraged America brought an end, for the most part, to Southern lawmen turning activist victims directly into the clutches of the Ku Klux Klan. In any event, the results of the presidential election of 2016 put an end to the Klan’s third version and its covert activities.
The Klan, now in its fourth incarnation, is pursuing its mission in the open, and under color of law. Klansmen are everywhere, and openly practicing their trade. The Republican National Committee recently endorsed credibly accused pedophile Roy Moore in his bid for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat. White Nationalist Steve King represents the people of Iowa in the House of Representatives. Fascists Mark Meadows, Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz are desperately gouging at the Department of Justice and FBI in their attempts to protect a traitor.
Back in 1953, America executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for selling secrets to the Soviets. How times have changed. The Russians reported that Donald Trump revealed top-secret information during an Oval Office meeting the day after FBI Director James Comey was fired. And more of the same probably happened during a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin at the recent Helsinki Conference. We can look at the results of an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted on August 21, 2017 and take away an understanding as to why approximately 40 percent of Americans, and 90 percent of self-proclaimed “Republicans” continue to unwaveringly support a serial racist and traitor. The poll revealed that 52 percent of Americans have racist tendencies. Another nine percent called it acceptable to hold neo-nazi or white supremacist views, which is equivalent to 22 million citizens. This does not include another ten percent who stated that they support the alt-right movement. Furthermore, a 2004 Pew survey identified 26.3 percent of Americans as “Evangelicals.” Thus is revealed the environment that nurtures a hate factory, and provides a reason why people attend racist conventions and cheer on a demagogue who mocks the disabled, people of color and war heroes. Indeed, all of the klaverns of the modern Ku Klux Klan have been united under one banner: the Republican Party. The Imperial Wizard of this unfortunate transformation is none other than Donald Trump, and the rallies he presides over represent the symbolic burning of a “Fiery Cross.” This explains why decent and respectable conservatives have left the party of Lincoln en masse.