The Klan’s back, but it’s not the real problem
A couple of weeks back, I watched a pretty interesting documentary on the Ku Klux Klan.
I’ve had a fascination with the organization since I was in high school. No, I don’t agree with their aims, nor do I want to join up, although a white sheet and a hood would solve that pesky what-do-I-want-to-wear-to-work daily dilemma. It’s just that I did a paper on them in high school and have been interested in them ever since.
For one thing, despite the fashions of bigotry and hatred, the Klan has somehow stayed around a long time. It’s something like 150 years old.
And there was a time when it was surprisingly powerful. In the 1920s, it basically ran three states, and not all of them were in the old Confederacy; one of them was Indiana, of all places.
The other thing about the Klan is that it isn’t just one big organization. There’s all kinds of factions. The documentary I watched was about one in particular. While they all have the same silly, fraternal in-group nicknames (a chapter is called a Klavern, and they each seem to have their own Grand Wizard, which would, let’s face it, look pretty cool on a business card), they differentiate themselves by the overall name of the faction.
Actually, the factionalism is one reason it’s hard for the Klan to gain any sort of toehold on power. Like most extreme right-wing groups, they tend to fall into factional squabbles that take up so much of their time that the rest of us can safely ignore them.
But still, to see people in the 21st Century so proud of their ignorance and hatred is pretty weird.
A lot of my fellow liberals are blaming the resurgence of the group on Donald Trump. Trump says a lot of things that appeal to people like that, and for a lot of reasons bigotry has become less socially unacceptable. But I’m hesitant to say he plays that much of a role. Actually, when a group’s been around more than a century, it’s going to rear its head every so often just because.
Even among people who don’t wear the hood, there are Klan enablers. A newspaper publisher in Alabama got a lot of national ink last week basically for calling for the Klan to go to Washington and lynch people. I guess he has the courage of his stupidity.
And my Lord, Klan people are so impervious to anything like facts or reason. I mean, how can you reason with a guy who, like one of the Klansmen in the documentary, actually believes there was a swimming pool at Auschwitz?
The other thing that’s scary is a lot of the folks they interviewed seemed — seemed — like nice folks. They’re that guy you nod at in the grocery store, that woman you pass pleasantries with in line at the bank. They try to sound reasonable, and they speak with a slight, Mona Lisa smile sometimes.
And of course, when they discuss their beliefs, they try awfully hard to sound reasonable. Even when they’re saying something deeply weird, their tone of voice is even, all but drained of the passions that roil their insides.
There are times, though, when the ugliness bursts through that scab. The Auschwitz-had-a-swimming-pool guy read a poem he sent to Barack Obama, giggling throughout because the n-word is in pretty much every line. “I’m sorry,” he says with a chuckle, “this is funny.” Actually, it wouldn’t even be funny if you agreed with the sentiment. He found it funny for the same reason a nine-year-old who just learned dirty words giggles when he says them.
In the end, history goes in cycles. Once the current fad for racism goes out of style, Klan members will crawl back under the rocks whence they came. We’ll hear about them when one of them kills somebody — usually a fellow Klansman — but they’ll go back to their tiny little meetings and reinforce each others’ various mental defects.
But we have to remember they’re a sideshow. The biggest problem this country has with racism doesn’t involve cowards in hoods. A lot of it is right out there to see, hiding in plain sight, using code words and dog whistles.
That’s the kind that worries me, a lot more than idiots in sheets.
Tom Pantera is the news editor at the Wauneta Breeze. He has a passion for storytelling, obscure trivia and family. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org