The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Wed Oct 25, 2017 10:44 am

The Last Time the KKK Surged in the United States

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You write that the second Klan waned quickly, "a fraction of its peak strength (though it continues today)" by 1926. Why would anybody need a KKK?
It's hard for me to grasp why people are fearful of people different from them. I find it inherently interesting to meet people different from me. How do we get people so fearful, so angry to the point where they could find pleasure in finding out about people who have a different culture?

This notion of a resentful white working-class is only part of the story. What we're seeing among these extremists—this is exactly like the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s—they truly believe America is destined to be a white country. They are absolutely furious, and I think they've been that way since the civil rights movement began to challenge the notion this is a white country."

Today's white nationalists don't seem to have much room for women at the front, although some white supremacist women have found ways to enter the spotlight. How does the 1920s KKK movement inform this today?
They fall into this certain kind of idea of the role of women, in which they're told over and over again they're extremely important because they're giving birth to the next generation of the white race. There's a certain kind of romanticism about these women reproducing whiteness. They get some sort of attention. Then there's the problem that a lot of people think feminism is all about how women should be in the workforce and something is wrong with you if you want to stay home and raise your children. When I was a younger feminist, I certainly didn't think that. Women are in the labor force because they have to earn.


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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Mon Nov 13, 2017 4:14 am

The war between Vietnamese fishermen and the KKK signaled a new type of white supremacy

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It was shrimping season in Texas, and things were getting ugly. In the late 1970s and early 80s, a group of Vietnamese refugees had fled a humanitarian crisis at home and legally resettled in the Galveston Bay area.

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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Mon Nov 20, 2017 10:11 pm

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/4247 ... o-massacre

Lessons on the Anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre

By Flint Taylor, Truthout | News Analysis

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Activists display a sign in a March for Justice after the deadly Greensboro Massacre that took place on November 3, 1979.
(Photo: The Romero Institute)


Thirty-eight years ago, on November 3, 1979, 35 heavily armed members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party drove nine vehicles through the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, and opened fire on a multiracial group of demonstrators who were gathering at a Black housing project in preparation for an anti-Klan march. In the most deadly 88 seconds in the history of the city, the KKK and Nazi marauders fired over 1,000 projectiles with shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and pistols, leaving five of the march leaders dead and seven other demonstrators wounded. Most of the victims were associated with the Communist Workers Party (CWP) -- a militant, multiracial organization which had been organizing in the South against the Klan.

The Greensboro police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were all aware of the plan to attack the march. However, no law enforcement officials were present except for a police informant-provocateur, Edward Dawson, who led the caravan into the housing project, and his control agent, Jerry "Rooster" Cooper, a Greensboro intelligence detective who followed the caravan and reported on its progress to the Greensboro police. Four television crews were on hand and captured the attack on video.

Greensboro's official position was that the CWP had sought a confrontation with the Klan and were responsible for the "shootout." The city declared a state of emergency in response to the funeral march and quickly issued a report absolving its police department of any blame.

Out of the violence emerged the Greensboro Justice Fund, which was organized by the widows of the victims and was supported by many organizations and people across North Carolina and the country. The public outcry and the shocking video tape evidence helped compel the reluctant local district attorney to obtain indictments against six of the Klan and Nazi members on murder charges.

The six-month-long murder trial began in the summer of 1980, with the chief prosecutor making anti-communist remarks to an all-white jury. The lawyers for the Nazi and Klan defendants used every emotional weapon at their disposal -- anti-communism, racism and patriotism, wrapped around a self-defense claim. The jury acquitted all six defendants.

The acquittal fanned the flames of outrage. The decidedly unsympathetic Reagan Department of Justice originally resisted this pressure, but finally, in March of 1982, the DOJ convened a special grand jury, and, a year later, obtained civil rights conspiracy indictments against nine Klansmen and Nazis. This trial began in January of 1984. The jury was secretly selected and was again, all white. The Klan and Nazi lawyers argued that their clients' motivation was patriotic anti-communism rather than racism. After a three-month trial, the jury acquitted all of the defendants.

On the first anniversary of the massacre, the Greensboro Justice Fund had filed a civil rights suit on behalf of the 16 victims. As plaintiffs, the victims alleged a broad-based conspiracy by the Nazi and Klan defendants under the 1871 anti-Klan Act, which provided victims of racially motivated conspiracies the right to sue the conspirators for money damages. They also alleged that the law enforcement and informant-provocateur defendants officially encouraged and participated in the conspiracy, and that they conspired to cover up their involvement. Their complaint also incorporated newly revealed information that informant-provocateur Dawson had obtained the demonstrators' march plans from the Greensboro police and used them to plot the attack, and that ATF undercover agent Bernard Butkovich had infiltrated the Nazis and had encouraged them to bring weapons to Greensboro.

As the civil suit proceeded, the depth and contours of official involvement became even clearer, revealing that Dawson had also been a longtime FBI agent provocateur in the Klan and had encouraged other acts of violence by his longtime associate, Grand Dragon Virgil Griffin, with whom he planned the November 3 attack. It was also revealed that Dawson had not only been acting with the knowledge of the Greensboro police in planning the attack, but had also informed his FBI contact that violence was likely on November 3, and that Greensboro police had been informed that the Klan was coming to Greensboro with a machine gun "to shoot up the place."

This newly discovered evidence also showed ATF provocateur Butkovich had informed his superiors of the Nazis' plan for violence and of their possession of several high-powered weapons, and that Klansman Jerry Paul Smith had bragged at the Nazi planning meeting on November 1 that he had manufactured a pipe bomb that "could work good thrown into a crowd of n*****s." Butkovich's testimony further showed that his encouragement of violence was pursuant to ATF policy and with his superior's advice and consent.

The civil rights case went to trial in March of 1985. The judge examined more than 300 potential jurors. Most of the prospective white jurors exhibited a great degree of racism, anti-communism and tolerance for the Klan, so the judge was compelled to disqualify more than 250 jurors. Consequently, the selected jury included a Black man who had participated in civil rights demonstrations, and had boldly said in voir dire that he "can't respect any man who has to hide his face to express his beliefs."

The 10-week civil trial had numerous moments of high drama, as the victims presented their case of conspiracy, back dropped by the news video that chillingly showed the murderous attack. One of the most dramatic scenes came late in the trial. The victims' lawyers called victim Paul Bermazohn to the stand. He told of his background as the son of Holocaust survivors, his role in organizing the "Death to the Klan" rally, and how he was shot in the head. Next was Roland Wayne Wood, who was one of the main shooters. He was confronted with some of his prior anti-Communist and anti-Semitic statements, his previous wearing of a "Eat lead you lousy Red" tee-shirt to court, a Nazi song that included the chilling refrain "kill a Commie for Christ," and the five white skulls that he had pinned to his lapel. His denial that the skulls represented the five slain demonstrators rung coldly hollow.

On June 7, 1985, the jury returned a compromise verdict. After nearly six years and three trials, a southern jury had finally convicted a good number of the main actors in the November 3 massacre and had found a conspiracy between police officials, their provocateur, and several of the Klan and Nazi killers. An intense six-year struggle -- waged by the widows, the families, the survivors and numerous political, religious and community organizations, and prosecuted by people's lawyers, law students and paralegals -- had resulted in a seldom seen victory against the Klan and the police. The Klan could no longer claim, as they had previously, that November 3 stood for the principle that they could kill Black people and communists with complete immunity.

The verdict was national news, with the New York Times editorializing that "the recompense for the victims may be limited as well as late, but this is no time to complain about inadequate justice. The criminal acquittals set back American principles of law and civil rights; the civil verdict goes a long way to reassert them." Appropriately, a picture of the plaintiffs walking triumphantly out of the courtroom with their hands clasped together over their heads ran on the front page of the Sunday Greensboro News and Record. The verdict placed the Greensboro massacre in the long-running historical context of racist Klan violence that was all too often fomented by FBI and police provocateurs, and countenanced by law enforcement officials who would make themselves conveniently absent.

Now, in the era of Trump and a white supremacist resurgence, the lessons taught by the Greensboro case are particularly important to remember. The Charlottesville case is a prime example of this history repeating itself -- the coming together of emboldened white supremacist organizations, heavily armed and looking to engage in deadly violence; a militant opposition to those organizations; and law enforcement agencies conveniently enabling the white supremacists and looking the other way while they wreak their bloody and murderous terrorism. The reactions of Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions and President Donald Trump to Charlottesville foreshadow an official response that may well make the DOJ's response in Greensboro look tame by comparison -- they have already started to blame the victims and promise an aggressive investigation of the counterdemonstrators.

This response is in keeping with the tenor of this administration, under which white supremacy is finding full-throated encouragement and official protection in the halls of power. Whether it be the Muslim ban, taking the "gloves off" local police, targeting "Black Identity Extremists" -- a move that smacks of the FBI's deadly COINTELPRO program -- defending Confederate symbols of slavery, or moving to reinstate draconian sentencing laws, the dog whistle of officially countenanced racism has been supplanted by an overt ideology of white supremacy.

That being said, Greensboro offers other, more positive lessons as well. Not only did courageous militants oppose the resurgence of white supremacy in North Carolina, they refused to be silenced even after five of their brothers and sisters were murdered and many others were injured and terrorized. Instead, they came together with other progressive activists, lawyers, legal workers and journalists to successfully change the official Greensboro narrative; to fight for some modicum of justice; to continue to oppose white supremacy; and to take on the governmental leaders and agencies who enabled, encouraged and covered up the wanton white supremacist violence.

On the anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre, let us remember the work of these brave activists, and let us draw strength from them as we move forward in the current repressive political climate to continue the crucial fight for racial justice.
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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Tue Feb 13, 2018 1:11 pm

Hearts and Minds

On becoming Klan (1982) (via)

“[Dr. Chalmers] testified that the Klan had four basic components. One is what he called “one hundred percent Americanism.” The Klan is as old as apple pie in the United States, and has always been what they called in the old days a “native American party.” I’m not speaking of Native Americans as we ordinarily think of them… Their notion was that no one but whites from Northern Europe should be here on these shores. The Klan is a continuation of that ideology.

A second component is moral conformity, which I spoke of earlier. Third, the notion of fraternity, of brotherhood. And finally, and most important to us at any rate, is the notion of violent action. They do something about the problems.

Most of the rank-and-file Klansmen, at least the ones I encountered in Chattanooga, were poor, uneducated, working-class whites. And the Klan gave them something to be proud of; it gave them a perspective, a purpose. And that’s the attraction the Klan has for white working-class America. And unless you all can develop some other method, or some other means of expression, you won’t be able to defeat the Klan.”



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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Thu Mar 15, 2018 8:37 am

https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3688-b ... -the-1920s


Broadside for the Trump Era: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s

A brief history of the second Ku Klux Klan, in printable form, by historian Linda Gordon.

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Broadsides for the Trump Era is a series of one-page, printable handouts commissioned by Historians for Peace and Democracy. Each broadside presents a brief summary and analysis of a moment in American history that informs one element or another of the Trump presidency.

Click here to download Broadside #3: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s by Linda Gordon, historian and author of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan and the American Political Tradition.


What was the Ku Klux Klan?

The first Klan arose after the Civil War to reimpose servitude on African Americans through a campaign of terrorism. The second Klan arose in 1920 with a broader agenda: because anti-black racism was not an adequate motivator in the North, where few African Americans lived at the time, it targeted Catholics, Jews, and in the West, Japanese and Mexican Americans. It added religion to its bigotry, alleging that America was intended as and should remain a nation of white Protestants. Unlike the first Klan, it was strongest in the Northern states, claiming 4 to 6 million members; and it was not at all secret.

What was the Klan’s ideology?

The Klan argued that America had been stolen from its rightful citizens. It alleged, as do white nationalists today, that Catholics and Jews conspired to subvert American values, notably through immigration. Their overlords sent them to the US in order to sabotage the nation. Using fear to mobilize, it deployed a barrage of fake news designed to frighten: The pope had arrived incognito in Washington, DC, where he was building a palace, with a throne of gold, to prepare for a Vatican takeover of the country. Ninety percent of US police forces had been taken over by Catholics to pave the way. Jews, guided by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, used Hollywood to undermine the chastity of American girls. These enemies defied Prohibition in order to weaken America. But these views were just a exaggerated version of a bigotry, especially anti-Semitism, shared by elites. In the 1920s many universities, including the most prestigious, established restrictive quotas for Jews and taught eugenics, which positioned ethnic/racial groups along a hierarchy that matched the Klan’s.

What was the Klan’s constituency?

Contemporary critics belittled the KKK as an organization of uneducated rural hicks, but they were wrong. Historian Kenneth Jackson showed in the 1960s that 50 percent of active Klanspeople were urbanites, and 32 percent lived in the country’s larger cities: 50,000 in Chicago, for example. Recent studies of local Klans show that members were mainly middle class and upper working class, and in many locations Klan membership provided a way to become middle class, gaining both prestige and fellowship with successful businessmen and politicians. Among these were thousands of Evangelical ministers and large numbers of policemen.

How did the Klan grow?

The Klan operated a pyramid scheme: anyone who recruited a new member kept 40 percent of the initiation fees. Members were also attracted by their inclusion in arcane, secret rituals. The Klan’s huge outdoor gatherings attracted tens of thousands with entertainment for all — games, races, baseball, rides, band concerts and beauty contests. The enormous crosses burned in the evenings were not typically direct threats against Klan enemies, as in the South, but spectacles that symbolized Klan power — and holiness.

Was the Klan violent?

Although the Klan publically eschewed violence, its rhetoric was supremely violent. Its stories of subversive conspiracies also called on “real men” to quash them. “… The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan take their place upon the firing line to … save the most sacred heritage of the white race,” one Imperial Wizard declaimed. Dissenters were smeared with feminine labels. So episodes of vigilantism appeared frequently, mostly as threats rather than deeds, as when they drove Malcolm X’s family out of Omaha and evicted all the Japanese Americans from a town in Washington state. In the rare prosecution, the vigilantes were almost always acquitted.

What of Klanswomen?

Many women enthusiastically formed female Klan auxiliaries, later united into the Women’s KKK, which claimed a membership of about 1.5 million. Despite conservative gender rhetoric, many simultaneously plunged enthusiastically into political activism, and some refused to defer to the male leadership. Some spokeswomen edged toward a certain feminism, championing women’s rights to divorce, to equality in inheritance, to maternal custody of children in cases of marital separation, even calling for action against wife beating and supporting the Equal Rights Amendment when it was first introduced in 1923. Thus Klanswomen showed that support for women’s rights could be compatible with belief in the superiority of white Protestants.

What did the Klan accomplish?

The Klan ran hundreds of candidates, in both parties, and put into office sixteen senators, scores of congressmen (the Klan claimed seventy-five), eleven governors, and thousands of state, county, and municipal officials. The Indiana and Oregon state governments were dominated by the Klan for four to five years. In the 1924 Democratic Party convention, Klan sympathizers prevented the nomination of New York Governor Al Smith who was a Catholic. In many states Klan politicians introduced bills to prohibit Catholic schools and exclude non-Protestants from various employments. The Klan’s biggest legislative success was the 1924 federal immigration restriction, which installed the Klan’s hierarchy of desirable populations into a law that endured until 1965. Equally important, the Klan grew the legitimacy and intensity of bigoted discourse.

Why did the Klan decline?

The Klan suffered from high turnover in membership, because dues were steep and its arcane rituals probably lost their initial titillation. Scandalous behavior of Klan leaders, caught in corruption, bribery, embezzlement, drunkenness, sexual “immorality,” even murder, also contributed to its decline. By 1930 KKK membership was an estimated 30,000, but many true believers joined pro-Nazi groups such as the Silver Shirts and the Black Legion and railed against the New Deal, labor unions, and later the integration of the armed forces. In the South the Klan continued its violence — soon to include bombings — directed against any sign of African American economic success or resistance to Jim Crow. Anti-Catholicism soon declined, but racism against African Americans and anti-Semitism have continued to be core values of the successor groups.
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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Wed Jul 25, 2018 11:14 pm

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White Supremacy Has Always Been Mainstream

The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in the 1860s by former Confederate soldiers and for a few years became the spear and symbol of the war against Reconstruction. This first Klan was actively suppressed by legal and military action in the early 1870s, and the campaigns of racial terror and political intimidation that finally overthrew Reconstruction were largely conducted under other names. The second Klan was founded in 1915 by William Joseph Simmons in response to that year’s blockbuster film, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which reworked memories of the Reconstruction-era KKK into a mythos of white male chivalry combatting black sexual barbarism. Beginning in 1919, the Klan exploded in size and power as organizers channeled the era’s powerful currents of nativism and violent white supremacy through the heroic image and visual style of the film’s Klansmen. They coupled the anti-black rhetoric of the Reconstruction-era Klan with a pervasive hostility toward non-Protestant immigrants and what Simmons derided as their anti-American propensities for “Bolshevism, Socialism, Syndicalism, I.W.W.ism.” Gordon encourages us to understand that, to many of its white American contemporaries, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was an “ordinary and respectable” organization that promised to restore white Protestants, mainly of the lower middle and skilled working classes, to their proper place of authority in U.S. cultural and political life. She reminds us that many of the Klan’s hobbyhorses—anti-black racism, antisemitism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism; censoriousness about sex and alcohol; support for eugenics; and narrow-minded nationalism—reflected broad and sometimes hegemonic aspects of 1920s U.S. culture.

To many of its white contemporaries, the KKK of the 1920s was a respectable organization that promised to restore white Protestants to their proper place of authority.


Gordon also asks us to understand the movement as producing, not just reflecting, social concerns. The Klan channeled preexisting hatred of racial inferiors and haughty elites, but it also ginned up those expressions and provided new outlets for them. Conspiracy thinking was central to Klan rhetoric and ideology. Everywhere lurked sinister forces that sought to take over the U.S. government and subvert the country’s way of life. Indeed, those forces might already have taken power. Jews, Catholics, Bolsheviks, and African Americans were always about to swamp “true Americans” with rising birthrates; take control of U.S. police forces and public schools; undermine cherished values with sex, alcohol, or pornography; and oppress real Americans from the safety of powerful, distant institutions.

Such conspiracy talk effectively transformed grievances and insecurities into well-defined targets that local Klans could then organize against. In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, the Klan took up the cause of fighting illegal liquor trafficking in a neighborhood populated by Italians, blacks, and Jews. There and elsewhere, the Klan infiltrated or worked alongside police departments. Beatings, whippings, cross-burning, death threats, and fatal shootings marked the outer edge of the Klan’s activities, but in some locales—Dayton, Ohio; Williamson County, Illinois; large swaths of Oklahoma—assaults were common and condoned.

Yet this Klan was not atavistic or residual but modern, a for-profit enterprise that combined state-of-the-art public relations, mass media, and franchising. It was, Gordon shows, a pyramid scheme, in which local Klans and their leaders effectively purchased the right to recruit more dues-paying, regalia-purchasing members. Little mattered but recruitment; the fine points of Klan ideology were left to local groups (“Klaverns”), based on their local circumstances. Thus Klans in one locale might focus on the threat posed by Catholic teachers, while those in another attacked bootleggers, and a third local unionists.

The Klan reached its apex as a political movement in 1924, when its forces made a serious effort to choose the Democratic nominee for president. Scandals both lurid (sex) and dreary (embezzlement) undercut the organization during the remaining decade, just as the con was running out of marks. But even as the order crumbled, the Klan remained ideologically ascendant. The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, which went into effect at the end of the decade, dramatically curtailed “undesirable” immigration. Eugenics remained a commonsense feature of reform movements and scholarly discourse. And the Klan’s commitment to a nation where self-confident white Protestant men and women managed the lives and labors of their racial inferiors, while guarding vigilantly against subversion and sedition, remained woven into the U.S. political tradition.

Feminism is not a strictly left phenomenon. There is not only conservative feminism but even bigoted feminism. Feminists played a central role in building the Klan.


The fact that many women have played vital, sustaining roles in white supremacist organizing should not surprise anyone, and is not disconnected from the fact that a majority of white women voted for Trump. However, it can still be difficult to take this a step further and acknowledge that feminism is not a strictly left phenomenon. Gordon’s chapter “KKK Feminism” asks readers to take seriously “a phenomenon that many progressive feminists found and still find anomalous—the existence not only of conservative feminism but even of bigoted feminism.” Early in its resuscitation, women demanded entry into the second KKK, and in 1923 national Klan leader Hiram Evans merged disparate groups into a kind of women’s auxiliary, the WKKK. Women helped build and recruit the organization. They even preached its gospel: Rev. Alma Bridwell White, for example, demanded women’s rights to property and legal protection against domestic violence, while also calling for the nomination of Klan-endorsed candidates who would uphold “prohibition, restricted immigration, [and] white supremacy.” In this, as in so many other respects, the Klan was “modern.”

Elizabeth Gillespie McRae runs with this theme in Mothers of Massive Resistance, which is populated by modern professional women who shared Rev. White’s skills, confidence, and ideology, and who played critical roles in the defense of white supremacy from the 1920s to the 1970s. McRae follows these women’s confrontation with the mid-century transformation of Jim Crow from the law of the land to an embattled ideal, and of “white supremacy” from the slogan of a hegemonic regional regime to something controversial or even unspeakable in polite company.

Among McRae’s many subjects, North Carolina’s Nell Battle Lewis is illustrative. A cosmopolitan and reform-minded graduate of Smith College, Lewis believed that forward-thinking elites could maintain a just and smoothly functioning segregationist order. She thought the greatest threat to that system resided in the willingness to tolerate manifest injustices, for example in the judicial and penal systems. She abhorred the modern Klan’s self-confident ignorance and vigilantism. But her outlook was proudly racist. In 1923, after watching The Birth of a Nation for the fifth time, she swooned with racial nationalist pride: the Reconstruction-era Klan, she wrote, was “a necessary tour de force effected by some of the leaders of a . . . civilization in danger of its very life.” In her columns for the Raleigh News and Observer, Lewis depicted a world of enlightened whites and deferential blacks. Inequality was real. It just needed to be properly managed.

Mothers of Massive Resistance shows how white women defined, refined, and defended a white supremacist social order. In the 1920s, they worked as investigators who policed eugenicist “racial integrity” laws. Later, McRae argues, they became “Jim Crow storytellers,” affirming in columns, textbooks, and speeches “the oft-repeated fiction of a content black population in need of white oversight.” Here and elsewhere, their work orbited around the vision of white women as the guardians of domestic life, which encompassed homes, children, and schools. They may not have been the most visible public faces of the Jim Crow order, but they were “segregation’s constant gardeners.”


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Re: The Long Unfinished War: KKK & The Invisible Empire

Postby American Dream » Wed Aug 29, 2018 8:57 am

https://thenexteclipse.wordpress.com/vo ... ng-circle/

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vol. 2.2: Introducing the Knights of the Flaming Circle


During the 1920s, a nation-wide, secret organization called The Knights of the Flaming Circle took on the Ku Klux Klan in the streets. Little – far too little – is known about the organization. But we do know that there was a chapter in Williamson County.

This essay collects what little we do know about the “Red Knights,” and helps us to recognize that today’s antifascism is a part of a long, largely forgotten, tradition of giving no public forum to fascists.

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In late September 1923, a dynamite blast went off in the hills outside Steubenville, OH. Residents streamed out of their houses to see “white robed figures moving about in a strange ceremonial,” lit only by a gigantic, flaming circle.

Were these members of the Ku Klux Klan that had simply switched their flaming cross for a circle? Soon word spread through the town that, in fact, this was an anti-Klan group that was inaugurating its formation: The Knights of the Flaming Circle.

A month before, in Kane, Pennsylvania, a similar circle had burned, and the local paper, the Kane Republican, received an anonymous letter announcing the founding of the “Knights of the Burning Ring.” The letter stated: “Kane is selected as the starting point of a movement that will ring the earth with blazing justice to all. We are enemies of all clans or klans. We believe in liberty for every human being, black, white or yellow, regardless of race, religion or creed.” For reasons unknown, the “Burning Ring” name seems to have been subsequently dropped.

A short time after, a Klan parade in Steubenville, OH, a few hours away, led to a riot, during which “six or seven Klan cars were overturned by the Steubenville people. Flags were torn off the machines and their occupants were attacked with bricks and bottles and clubs and other flying objects.” The hillside dynamite blast and ceremony in Stuebenville followed the riot by about a month, announcing to western Ohio that there was more than just a raucous disruption of Klan demonstrations going on, but rather an organized effort.

A local dentist, Dr. W. F. McGuigan, claimed to be the founder of the Steubenville chapter of the Knights of the Flaming Circle and the Grand Supreme Monarch of the organization’s “central division,” stretching from Massachusetts to Illinois. A few days after the initial ceremony, McGuigan told reporters that “The Knights of the Flaming Circle is a non-sectarian society and its object is to combat religious, racial and political intolerance.” They wore no masks or hoods, but did wear white robes, embroidered with their official insignia: a red circle with the figure of the State of Liberty at the center.

But the very notion that there was an “organization” at all is disputed by one of the few oral histories that mentions the Flaming Circle. In an interview conducted in 1984 with Nicola Criscioni, of Youngstown, OH, Criscioni claims “there was no organization, it was the papers that dubbed them that, but it was no organization, just a thrown-together outfit…. What we did was we got a bunch of tires and put them around a circle and burned them, or bailed the hay and put them around a big circle and burned them. They burned the cross and we burned the circle. It was a hit-and-run outfit. There were no heads of anything… then when we heard that there was going to be a parade, by then we maybe put together a certain bunch and would try to disrupt it.”

This ambiguity – an organization with Klan-esque titles like Grand Supreme Monarch, or a rag-tag hit and run outfit with no meetings or dues – hints that this was a decentralized organization, one for which any group that wanted to take up the cause could do so on their own terms.

According to the 1923 A Dictionary of Secret and Other Societies, the Knights of the Flaming Circle “welcomes Catholics, Jews, and Negroes, but excludes Protestants. The members wear robes at the initiation ceremony, and each knight has a flaming circle over his heart, symbolic of the truth.” White protestants made up the base of the Klan, and were presumably excluded on that ground. According to the Klan, the Knights of the Flaming Circle were “a mob that proffered anarchism and sought to ruin the Republic.”

We have evidence that there were chapters of Knights of the Flaming Circle in Vermont, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and New Mexico. In the coming years, in various parts of the country, they used a diversity of rebellious tactics to confront the Klan. Many of those tactics are also practiced today by antifascists: pressure on meeting-halls to refuse to allow the Klan to meet there; publishing lists of Klan members, destroying the anonymity of the organization; organizing counter demonstrations to show mass opposition to the Klan and what it stood for; physically interrupting their parades and rallies; assaulting Klan members and damaging their property. In Youngstown, Criscioni recalls lining the road with roofing tacks before a Klan parade, popping their tires and getting some laughs at their expense.

They even, one could say, “trolled” the Klan. In addition to wearing illustrious garb of their own, sometimes white, sometimes red, they fought back with fire: in response to the Klan’s practice of burning crosses in front of the homes of immigrants and minorities, the Circlers’ would set tires alight on the yards of known Klansmen. It seems likely that McGuigan’s claim to be “Grand Supreme Monarch” was just another jab at the Invisible Empire’s ridiculous hierarchy.

But if indeed McGuigan was in some role of leadership in the midwest, he was certainly hard at work organizing. Numerous articles from the time repeat the Flaming Circle’s claims that they had organizers in every city in Ohio, and throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And somehow, within a year, a chapter was formed in Williamson County, Illinois.

//

Williamson County, known at the time as “Bloody Williamson,” had just been the site of one of the bloodiest labor battles in American history. The Herrin Massacre was the final major explosion of decades-long battles between coal-miners and mine-owners, and it had brought international infamy to the county. During the massacre, 19 scabs were killed by coal-miners. No one was convicted by a Williamson County jury.

A group of wealthy businessmen, interested in restoring the county’s reputation and affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, hired a former Bureau of Investigations officer, S. Glenn Young, to lead their campaign. But the campaign wasn’t against the miner’s union. The Klan made the move characteristic of all fascist movements: it attempted to divide the working-class union movement along racial and national lines, targeting Italian-American immigrants.

Moreover, in a move that prefigured the War on Drugs, they targeted them not for political activity, but for violations of Prohibition. A “clean-up Williamson County” movement was underway, led by the Klan, which blamed the violence of a thirty year long class struggle between miners and mine-owners on immigrant communities in Herrin. S. Glenn Young’s raids targeted immigrants and anyone who opposed the Klan, ignoring the drinking of Protestants and flamboyantly ignoring the very laws he claimed to be enforcing. Eventually, Young even opened a “soft-drink parlour” of his own.

Prohibition, a constitutional amendment passed in 1919, didn’t go into effect until 1920 because it was well-known to be unenforceable by the American state-apparatus at the time. The Ku Klux Klan served as a para-military force, disproportionately targeting minority groups in the name of enforcing “law and order.” They defended their targeting of immigrants because of their unfamiliar culture and their supposed “predisposition to radicalism and anarchism”

And this might have gone well for them in Williamson County, IL, if they hadn’t encountered an unexpected adversary in the Knights of the Flaming Circle.

We don’t know how the Knights of the Flaming Circle made it to Williamson County. Perhaps word of the group travelled along lines of conspiratorial communication that the miner’s union had already established. If not, anyone reading The New York Times would probably have encountered mention of the group in 1923. Perhaps Ora Thomas and E.E. Bowan, the rumored founders of the group in Herrin, decided they could take up the name without asking any permission from some Grand Supreme Monarch. That would have suited them.

The Flaming Circle in Williamson county was an alliance of miners, immigrants, bootleggers, and even law-enforcement who were none-too-happy to lock up their communities just because some new Prohibition law had been passed. The city of Herrin was almost completely integrated with the miner’s union, and what little wealth and safety miners knew at the time could be attributed only to the solidarity that union embodied. The union rightly saw the Klan as a threat, a ruling-class funded attempt to divide the strength of the working-class union along racial and ethnic lines, obscuring the actual conflict between the poor and the wealthy. For that reason, the UMWA issued a statement barring all Klan members from the union, and noting that the Klan’s efforts were aimed primarily at disrupting and dividing the power that working people had gained through Union organizing. It was later learned that S. Glenn Young, who was notoriously fast and loose with the facts about his own history, had worked as a scab-herder during the 1922 Railway Shopmen’s Strike – a feature of his past that he tried to conceal.

The Klan, under the leadership of S. Glenn Young, was so powerful in those years that it would have been very dangerous to make membership in the Circle known. Still, newspaper articles from the time attest that when the Klan would hold a parade, the next day you could be sure the Flaming Circle would, “neutralizing the effect of the Klan’s.”

But events did not remain at the level of competing parades for long. The first shooting occurred at an anti-Klan meeting, by pro-Klan police. While the first victim was recovering in the hospital, a constable, and member of the Klan, named Ceasar Cagle was shot and killed in retaliation. In response, the Klan laid siege to Herrin hospital, where Flaming Circle members were gathering with their wounded. The Klan fired into the hospital, and the Circlers’ that found themselves held up in there refusing to leave. The National Guard was called in. This was just the first round of what would be an all out war that would engulf Williamson and surrounding counties for the next year and a half.

The war came to an end when Ora Thomas entered a cigar shop at the Embassy Hotel in January of 1925, overhearing the familiar voice of S. Glenn Young threatening a young miner for spreading the story that Young had been a scab-herder prior to his becoming a Prohibition agent. Young had two men with him, and all three of them died in that cigar shop. As did Ora Thomas, the founder of Herrin’s Red Knights.

In the years after the Klan was defeated, many of these bootleggers would go on to engage in bloody battle with one another. Even the notorious Shelton and Birger gangs, who wreaked havoc throughout southern Illinois for the next decade, were momentarily allied in opposition to the Klan.

///

The Knights of the Flaming Circle, whatever they were and whatever their shortcomings, are a sign that there has always been a counter-history to “America” on this continent, one full of people who, regardless of race, religion, or creed, have been quietly conspiring and jubilantly acting toward freedom for all. Today’s anti-fascists fall into a long tradition of those willing to risk everything to confront the racist forces who aim to re-create the “Founding Father’s” dream of a white ethno-state. That old American dream is recreated with new racist, nationalist lies in every generation that the wealthy feel their power threatened.

May we instead remember as our ancestors the brave people who fought to the death against the racist dreams of the wealthy, and against the stupid who accepted their lies.
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