BOOK REVIEW | "THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: THE KLU KLUX KLAN OF THE 1920s AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION" BY LINDA GORDON
photo & text by nacrowe
this book is concerned with the resurgence of the KLU KLUX KLAN in the 1920s, not to be confused with the original iteration which itself was a response to the emancipation of slaves by order of then-president ABRAHAM LINCOLN. that organization petered out in influence during the RECONSTRUCTION period after successfully economically and legally limiting the new rights afforded the newly freed black slaves in the AMERICAN SOUTH.
what i would consider the most shocking insight of NYU history professor LINDA GORDON's book THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: THE KLU KLUX KLAN OF THE 1920s AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION (LIVERIGHT, 2018) is how mainstream this second iteration proved to be at the time. during that period a plurality of AMERICANS seemingly shared or sympathized with their extreme nativist, right-wing populist dogma that promoted an anti-intellectual, anti-cosmopolitan and anti-scientific belief system, not to mention the explicit call for the subjugation and ouster of JEWS and CATHOLICS.
its hard to believe but the KLU KLUX KLAN did not stand out in the least. they were very much consider just another male social club like your average local ELKS, LIONS or ROTARY club. they even made a point when entering a new area to seek out FREEMASONS to join their ranks. apparently this even included future president HARRY S TRUMAN who "joined when he though it was 'just' a patriotic group." in terms of its political sway in the 1920s, the KLAN had in its ranks two SUPREME COURT justices (HUGO BLACK and EDWARD DOUGLASS WHITE), "eleven of the thirteen men elected to the US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES" in INDIANA as well as "the majority of TEXAS and COLORADO congressmen." They also helped flex their political muscle by "electing governors in INDIANA, OKLAHOMA, OREGON, COLORADO and TEXAS."
reading this book is very much like witnessing an OBAMA-era TEA PARTY convention or a present-day TRUMP rally. indeed that is probably the point. echos of SARAH PALIN populist assertions of promoting "real AMERICANS" can be seen in the KLAN's promotion of what they deemed to be "100% AMERICANS" (i.e. white PROTESTANTS). the amount of nativist and racist MISINFORMATION, PROPAGANDA spewed at the time initially had a hard time being countered due in part to the sympathies of the public at the time, as well as BRANDOLINI'S LAW which is basically that "the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order or magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it." its a scenario that is even more relevant today than at any point in the past due to the sophistication of modern online communication and networking technologies.
ultimately internal corruption and hypocrisy destroyed the organization, which rose again in another iteration during the civil rights movement a generation later, but that is besides the point. the compelling nature of this book is the fact that our real national legacy is one of exclusion and violence. the culprits are numerous and plentiful make up a wide swath of AMERICAN religious, political and business leadership. for example, collusion by local "ministers struggling to keep their churches in repair, rarely refused to cooperate" with the KLAN as they offered funds and congregates. it is this type of corrosive and transactional dealmaking that insidiously made the KLAN part of the landscape of the period. their later economic boycotting of JEWISH and CATHOLIC stores and the building of political machines pushing for reduced immigration from non "NORDIC" countries (successfully i may add) worked because of how well they implanted themselves into AMERICAN daily life, especially in the MIDWEST, PLAINS and SOUTHWEST.
long story short, the methods and rhetoric used to ingratiate themselves with a sympathizing public in both tone and tenor is remarkably similar to that of the currently outgoing TRUMP ADMINISTRATION. maybe most startling of all is how much such doesnt shock me in the least. TRUMP is a truly horrendous person who like the KLU KLUX KLAN made visible an undercurrent of RACIST and NATIVIST attitudes and opinions that has always colored our political discourse from inception.
this book is pretty depressing but reveals quite a bit i didnt know about how mainstream and explicitly public HATE has been in our politics, even ironically outside of the KLU KLUX KLAN itself. such an environment only made their racist belief structures insidious by degree, which is beyond distressing. makes me pause to consider of what else we have shoved under the carpet, even today in a soon-to-be post-TRUMP AMERICA.