The KKK and far-right hate groups made the news again this week when former Grand Wizard David Duke spoke about GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, and praised Trump as being “head and shoulders right now above the rest.” While it is important to note that David Duke claimed this wasn’t an endorsement of the Trump campaign, the fact that he would praise Trump at all speaks not only to Duke’s incessant need for attention, but where the Republican Party finds itself today.
A lot of people will simply read the title of this story and either angrily disagree with it, or click “like” and pass it on without understanding what I’m trying to explain here. While many people automatically associate the KKK with lynchings and acts of racially motivated violence, there was more to them than just lighting crosses on fire or bombing churches.
The Klan was first formed in the aftermath of the Civil War, and quickly became a leading force of opposition to Reconstruction. Once Reconstruction had ended and white supremacy had taken over once again in the South, the KKK faded away, because there wasn’t a political need for them anymore.
The Klan was revived about 40 years later in 1915 and this incarnation was the most popular one of all, with nearly 4 million members at a time when America’s population was about 120 million. This time around, the KKK was born out of a fear of immigrants, Jews and organized labor. As the Great Depression set in, the Klan began to dwindle away.
The third appearance of the KKK came in response to the Civil Rights Era and the end of segregation. The violence of the Klan during this time was later portrayed in movies like “Mississippi Burning” and the organization is still alive today – mostly in the Deep South.
Throughout the history of the KKK, they have identified themselves as white, conservative and Christian. The Klan has always relied on resentment toward minorities, immigrants or organized labor to swell their ranks – which is very similar to the popular rhetoric coming from Donald Trump’s campaign in 2015.
When you argue with Fox News viewers about the Klan, they like to point out that it was founded by Democrats, although they’ll conveniently ignore the fact that both political parties have almost completely switched platforms in the years since the Civil Rights Era. This monumental point in our history started the exodus of white conservatives from the Democratic Party to the GOP, an opportunity exploited by Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in 1968.
The Southern Strategy relied on convincing white conservatives from the desegregated South to break from their more liberal Democratic brethren in the North and urban areas, and join the Republican Party instead. Richard Nixon was intent on winning, and he didn’t mind bringing the angry southern white vote aboard – if that’s what it took to get elected. That’s what Donald Trump is doing in 2015, appealing to the same mentality and fear that the Klan used to revive itself one hundred years ago.
The historical parallels are undeniable. The Klan rose again out of the fear of immigrants, Jews and Communism in 1915. In 2015, Donald Trump is telling his supporters that he wants to deport immigrants, persecute Muslims, and warns that Bernie Sanders is a dangerous “socialist.” The Klan resurgence of the 1920s was a brief, but ugly chapter in American history – just like the Trump phenomenon is in 2015.
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