The Second Klan

By Kevin M. Kruse

For many Americans, the recent move­ment of white suprema­cy from the mar­gins into the main­stream has been a stag­ger­ing devel­op­ment. Under the guise of coun­ter­ing a “polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” run amok, top­ics that were long con­sid­ered taboo have late­ly been broached pub­licly and proud­ly. Fringe orga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cat­ed to white suprema­cy have mobi­lized with sur­pris­ing strength, while the pol­i­tics of racism have been revived and ratio­nal­ized at the high­est lev­els of pow­er.

For white suprema­cists, Donald Trump’s vic­to­ry last fall was both rev­e­la­to­ry and rev­o­lu­tion­ary. “Trump has unques­tion­ably brought peo­ple to our ideas,” enthused Richard Spencer, the white-nation­al­ist leader who coined the term “alt-right.” Emboldened by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion — which, until recent­ly, includ­ed alt-right allies like Stephen Bannon — white suprema­cists stepped out of the shad­ows and into the spot­light. “It’s been an awak­en­ing,” Spencer raved at a cel­e­bra­to­ry ral­ly after Trump’s elec­tion. “This is what a suc­cess­ful move­ment looks like.”

That move­ment, of course, led to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white suprema­cists gath­ered for a “Unite the Right” ral­ly this past August. According to for­mer Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, the pro­test­ers went there “to ful­fill the promis­es of Donald Trump” and “take our coun­try back.” To the shock of onlook­ers, clean-cut young men marched through the streets of the col­lege town in a torch­light parade, their faces con­tort­ed in anger as they shout­ed “Blood and Soil!” — the old Nazi slo­gan ren­dered in German as “Blut und Boden!” The fol­low­ing day, the demon­stra­tions turned dead­ly when a 20-year-old alt-right sup­port­er drove his car into a crowd of peace­ful coun­ter­pro­test­ers, killing one.

With any oth­er American pres­i­dent, the obvi­ous response would have been a quick and clear con­dem­na­tion of the white suprema­cists. But Trump, as he often reminds us, is like no oth­er pres­i­dent. His ini­tial com­ments parceled out blame to the “many sides” involved in the con­fronta­tion and were so light­ly drawn that the neo-Nazi web­site The Daily Stormer saw his words as a sign of sup­port. To make mat­ters worse, Trump then insist­ed that “some very fine peo­ple” had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the white-suprema­cist protest. Naturally, alt-right lead­ers were flat­tered. “Really proud of him,” said Spencer.

To many Americans, the warm rela­tion­ship between the White House and white suprema­cists appears to be a new and shock­ing devel­op­ment. But as Linda Gordon reminds us in The Second Coming of the KKK, white-suprema­cist pol­i­tics have entered our polit­i­cal main­stream before. The “sec­ond Klan” of the 1910s and ’20s — unlike the vig­i­lante group that pre­ced­ed it in the Reconstruction era or the racist ter­ror­ists who tar­get­ed the civ­il-rights move­ment in the 1950s and ’60s — oper­at­ed large­ly in the open and with broad sup­port from white soci­ety in gen­er­al and white politi­cians in par­tic­u­lar. Moving beyond the region­al and racial bound­aries of the South, this ver­sion of the Klan spread across the coun­try, tar­get­ing a broad­er range of ene­mies: Asians and Latinos along­side African Americans, as well as large swaths of reli­gious minori­ties like Catholics, Jews, and Mormons. At its peak, the sec­ond Klan claimed to have between 4 and 6 mil­lion mem­bers nation­wide, although Gordon makes a per­sua­sive case that this was “cer­tain­ly an exag­ger­a­tion.”

Aslim vol­ume that large­ly syn­the­sizes the already sub­stan­tial lit­er­a­ture on its sub­ject, The Second Coming of the KKKnev­er­the­less offers read­ers some­thing new: The book is writ­ten, quite self-con­scious­ly, for this moment. Unlike oth­er his­to­ri­ans who strive for an ever-elu­sive objec­tiv­i­ty, Gordon is refresh­ing­ly blunt about who she is and why she wrote it. “In my dis­cus­sion of the Ku Klux Klan I am not neu­tral, and like all his­to­ri­ans, I can­not and do not wish to dis­card my val­ues in inter­pret­ing the past,” she notes in her intro­duc­tion. “The fact that I am one of those the Klan detest­ed — a Jew, an intel­lec­tu­al, a left­ist, a fem­i­nist, a lover of diver­si­ty — no doubt…informs this book.”Read more @ https://​www​.then​ation​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​t​h​e​-​s​e​c​o​n​d​-​k​l​an/