Politicians and the Klan

The racist, neofascist Ku Klux Klan hit the headlines on Nov. 5 when a group alleging to be Anonymous hacker-activists released a list of KKK members, naming prominent U.S. politicians, including four U.S. senators and five big-city mayors.

Minnie Bruce Pratt anti-Klan demonstration, Washington, DC, 1982.Photo: Joan E. Biren

Minnie Bruce Pratt anti-Klan demonstration, Washington, DC, 1982.
Photo: Joan E. Biren

The list was quickly called “dubious” by big business media, and some named politicians have voted in ways at odds with Klan goals.

The shaky factual basis of the list raised the possibility the release was a cyber-disinformation move by right-wing forces to discredit an Anonymous-sponsored Operation KKK campaign. That culminated Nov. 6 with the “Million Mask March,” a 600-city global day of action protesting censorship, corruption, war and poverty.

The turmoil over the accuracy of the list obscures the long and deep connection of U.S. politicians — and local, state and national government — with hate groups whose primary tenets are racist, anti-immigrant, anti-woman and anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual, -trans* and -queer. (Trans* is used with an asterisk to indicate the spectrum of all the different genders of people who do not conform to the either/or of male/female.)

Many U.S. politicians have ties to the Council of Conservative Citizens, which was formed in the 1980s from the mailing list of the White Citizens’ Council, the “businessmen’s Klan” that strategized resistance to the Black civil rights movement. At its heyday in the 1960s, the Citizens’ Council claimed a million members. (Jackson Free Press, June 22)

The current CCC is on the Southern Poverty Law Center list of white-supremacist hate groups. Dylann Roof, who murdered the Charleston Nine in a racist massacre in June, cited CCC website content as one source for his murderous action.

Call for Workers Defense Guards against the Klan by UE Local 203, Burlington, VT.

Call for Workers Defense Guards against the Klan by UE Local 203, Burlington, VT.

Recently serving U.S. Senators Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz have received campaign contributions from the CCC. Former U.S. Senator and majority leader Trent Lott spoke at their conferences many times. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour appeared at a CCC fundraiser. Congressperson Bob Barr of Georgia delivered the keynote speech to a CCC national convention, later saying he had “no idea” what the group stood for. (New York Times, June 22)

In 2014, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip from Louisiana, admitted he had spoken to a “European-American Unity and Rights Organization” conference organized by David Duke, former head of the KKK. In the ensuing furor, Duke told critics to back off, saying he had “hosted both Democratic and Republican legislators at everything from conferences to his children’s birthday parties.” (Huffington Post, Jan. 2)

These names are but the smallest indication of current and historical ties between U.S. government and right-wing hate organizations.

The unified University of Missouri football team on strike against racism, Nov. 6, 2015.Photo: Gary Pinkel

The unified University of Missouri football team on strike against racism, Nov. 6, 2015.
Photo: Gary Pinkel

In the U.S. in the 1920s, between 4 million and 7 million people belonged to the Klan. Active in every state, the KKK was typically Democratic in the South and Republican in the North. Helping to elect state and local officials as well as at least 20 governors and U.S. senators, the Klan controlled the legislatures of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, Oregon and much of the South. (Washington Post, Jan. 7)

During this era, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was a Klan member, receiving a special life membership known as a gold “grand passport.” By the 1940s, U.S. Senate majority leader Robert Byrd was getting his political start organizing a KKK chapter, recruiting 150 friends to join and getting elected “Exalted Cyclops.” (Washington Post)

The link between U.S. politicians and white supremacy continues. The racist, anti-immigrant and anti-woman ravings of Donald Trump would have earned him a place as “Grand Cyclops” in the 1920s’ KKK.

U.S. government, capitalism, KKK go hand in hand

Why the enduring links between U.S. politicians and white supremacy?

Speaking at the end of the historic 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained the roots of the mass mobilization of racism after the Civil War.

Addressing the marchers from the steps of the Alabama Capitol, King said: “The segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. [Bourbons were Southern Democratic Party laissez-faire capitalists.] …

“If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. …

“And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. … And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow.” (soundcloud.com)

This analysis was extended into the contemporary era by Sam Marcy, a founder of Workers World Party, in his pamphlet, “The Klan and the Government: Foes or Allies”: “Even in the so-called best of times the capitalist government not only tolerates terrorist organizations like the Klan, but once the class struggle of the workers and oppressed people takes on the character of a genuine mass upsurge, the capitalist government is more likely than ever to encourage and promote the likes of the Klan and other mediums of repression.”

He adds: “If the growth of the KKK and the Nazis … were not supported, encouraged and promoted by formidable sections of the ruling class, they would be merely a sterile and stagnant combination of racist thugs. … But that is not at all the case. The growth of fascism everywhere has been securely tied to big business; that is its lifeline.”

These analyses make clear: The only answer to white supremacy, in the KKK or in government, is anti-racist solidarity of white workers with all oppressed workers of color.