One hundred years in the past this week, The New York World started to publish a 21-part explosive exposé on the inside workings of the Ku Klux Klan.
It was a sensation. At least 18 different newspapers throughout the nation ran The World’s bombshell reporting. According to The Columbia Journalism Review, “The series drew two million readers nationwide. New Yorkers stood in line for copies. And the Justice Department and several congressmen promised to investigate the group.”
The World would win a Pulitzer Prize for its efforts.
But, as I learn by that protection to write this column, I used to be struck by simply how resilient Klan ideology has been within the years since The World uncovered the group’s techniques and rituals; its concepts have been repackaged and dressed up — or, disrobed, because it have been — however the core tenets stay the identical. I used to be even struck by how most of the similar techniques are nonetheless getting used to protect white supremacy and subjugate racial, ethnic and spiritual minorities on this nation.
It proves to me that Klan pondering isn’t actually concerning the group itself or its techniques — the evening using or cross burning — however concerning the very which means of America and who controls it.
As one of many Klan’s “grand goblins” put it in a 1921 speech: “America for real Americans! Guardianship against the alien, the anarchist and all who would subvert that banner, be they white or black or yellow!”
It is that widening of the scope of hatred and oppression that first jolted me as I studied the Klan’s historical past. By the early 1920s, its leaders had moved on from primarily anti-Black hatred. To develop the model, they’d to develop the ring of bias. As one in all The World’s articles put it, “Now the negro has become a side issue with it. Today it is primarily anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-alien, and it is spreading more than twice as fast through the North and West as it is growing in the South.”
That isn’t dissimilar from right now, when xenophobia and Islamophobia have taken a extra outstanding position.
In truth, The World wrote that at occasions the Klan would tailor its message of hate by area, interesting to Japanophobes on the Pacific Coast, framing itself as a bulwark towards radicalism within the “Central West,” fanning hatred of immigrants on the Atlantic Coast and stoking fears about Jews and Catholics all through the nation. As The World put it, “Wherever a prospective member lives, he has been promised that his pet aversion will be made an object of Klan action.”
This sounds eerily comparable to the profitable marketing campaign that Donald Trump ran in 2016.
Many of his supporters view America not as a grand concept, malleable and expandable, however as a white man’s invention by which the displacement and slaughter of Native individuals and the enslavement of Africans was a obligatory evil.
So they demand a strict deference to that concept of America as a result of, to them, it guarantees a society bowing at their toes, a nation outlined by its reverence for whiteness.
At one of many Klan’s initiations, members have been informed to say, “All men in America must honor that flag — if we must make them honor it on their knees!”
Anyone else bear in mind how Trump supporters handled Colin Kaepernick?
Furthermore, the Klan realized, a lot as Trump did, that hate was an trade and that the best — or mistaken — man might milk it for revenue. As The World wrote on the time:
The unique Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc., modestly begun 5 years in the past, has develop into an enormous enterprise, doing a thriving enterprise within the systematic sale of race hatred, spiritual bigotry and “100 percent” anti-Americanism.
Perhaps the final lesson and similarity between the Klan of the 1920s and Trump’s legion of supporters are that publicity doesn’t essentially lead to eradication. After The World’s exposé, the Klan didn’t shrink; its membership surged.
Just 4 years later, in 1925, anyplace between 30,000 and 50,000 Klan members marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C., in what The Washington Post known as on the time “one of the greatest demonstrations this city has ever known.”
In 1913, eight years earlier than The World’s articles, Louis D. Brandeis, quickly to be nominated as a Supreme Court justice, wrote a bit in Harper’s Weekly underneath the headline “What Publicity Can Do,” arguing that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
But in journalism, this idiom is extra difficult. Sometimes, the contaminated courtroom the an infection. Sometimes, the sunshine you shine on evil additionally illuminates the trail to it. Sometimes, publicity is promoting.
Consider how this continues to manifest right now. Over the previous few years, we’ve seen how the press has amplified all method of conservative fictions and fever goals, from election denial to the rise of QAnon conspiracy theories to the lunacy of the anti-vax motion.
Sometimes individuals are drawn to these, and what we consider to be truth and logic repels them. Sometimes after we expose evil, we create or amplify its attract. Sometimes individuals willfully plunge into — and are consumed by — the flame that gives the sunshine.
The core ideology of the Klan lives on in a extra palatable kind, in fits and uniforms, amongst lawmakers and judges, pushing again towards progress and ahead within the type of gentrification.
One hundred years later, pointy-hat white supremacy has advanced into soft-shoe white supremacy: similar objective, much less gauche.
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