Friday, October 27, 2017

Linda Gordon's "The Second Coming of the KKK"

Linda Gordon, winner of two Bancroft Prizes and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, is the author of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, Dorothea Lange and Impounded, and the coauthor of Feminism Unfinished. She is the Florence Kelley Professor of History at New York University and lives in New York and Madison, Wisconsin.

Gordon applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Second Coming of the KKK and reported the following:
Page 99 places the reader in the midst of the 1920s Klan’s vigilante attacks on Catholics, Jews, people of color including not only African Americans but also Mexican and Asian Americans, immigrants, Prohibition violators, and people “parking automobiles along our highways …for what is believed to be immoral purposes.”  These categories overlap of course.  What’s more, they are all racialized: in Klan ideology, immigrants are bad unless they are “Nordic” Protestants; only Catholics drink liquor and it’s only Jews who supply it; and the “immoral purposes” are incited by the Jews who use their control of Hollywood in a conspiracy to subvert American values and thereby weaken the nation.

Klansmen and police jointly conducted raids on saloons and bootleggers; sometimes the Klansmen were legally deputized by law enforcement.  One sheriff worked with a civilian “booze squad” of Klansmen.  In southern Illinois such attacks “produced lethal battles in 1924 and 1925, involving gunmen and the deployment of military forces, and ended by forcing the anti-Klan sheriff out of office.”  The victims of these raids then appeared before Klan-sympathizing judges—one a future Klaliff, aka Vice Cyclops aka a regional Klan leader—who always convicted them.  Klansmen, by contrast, were never convicted for their vigilantism.  In Oklahoma, and perhaps elsewhere too, Klan membership was automatically suspended for any man called for jury duty, so that he could deny it and not be excluded for bias.

We also learn on page 99 that a Klan Grand Goblin “modeled his spy network on that of tsarist Russia.”  (This is the northern KKK, with some 3 to 5 million members, founded in 1920.  Unlike the original southern Klan, a secret terrorist gang who lynched African Americans to warn the whole African American population not to dare protesting white supremacy, the northern Klan, not at all secret, extended its campaign of bigotry to target Catholics and Jews.)  Its “spies” worked to catch and discipline Klan members who patronized stores run by Catholics and Jews.

Much of the Klan’s method of intimidation involved threats rather than physical attacks, and the rest of the page recounts some of those.  “If you are the mouthpiece of American labor in this locality and do not endorse the above principles,” an Oregon “Kleagle” warned,  “then you would be a fit subject for a Vigilance Committee.”  Threatening a Vermont journalist:  “Unless “certain newspaper reporters ... stop attacking the Klan, they will be taught the same lesson that some editors in the south have learned.”

The Klan also practiced “black psy war.”  This label derives from the US war in Vietnam, in which the CIA and armed forces distributed leaflets designed to look as if they were issued by the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (aka the “Viet Cong).  The goal was to get people to turn against the NLF by attributing malign  plans to it.  The Klan used similar tactics, distributing frightening material allegedly from Catholic sources.

The page concludes thus: “Taken in the aggregate, it seems clear that these threats also constituted terrorism, aimed … “  The sentence continues on the next page: “at sending a message to whole communities of people—intimidating noncomforming groups into submission to Klan `law’,”

Lest we assume that only men were responsible for KKK bigotry, let me point out that the very next chapter is about Klanswomen, who numbered about 1.5 million.
Visit Linda Gordon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue