The Washington Post today published an interesting photo essay about the small number of people who are still members of the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee and Maryland. The photos reveal them to be mostly a bunch of pathetic outcast losers. However, the real reason for this essay wasn't to demonstrate what we already know about the Klan. Just after the introductory paragraph, the true purpose of this entire photo essay was revealed...to slam Donald Trump.
Trump denounced former KKK leader David Duke both before and after a CNN interview in February but Washington Post writer Kenneth Dickerman continues after all these weeks to dwell on the speed of the Trump disavowal. However, what is really interesting is that Dickerman completely skips what political party the Ku Klux Klan had a strong influence over during the years when it had considerable power during both the Reconstruction Era and in the period following its rebirth in the wake of the 1915 "Birth of a Nation" film. Although Dickerman's introductory paragraph briefly referenced the height of the Klan power before the Trump slam, there was no mention of the KKK ties to the Democratic Party.
The Ku Klux Klan is the oldest and most well-known hate group in the United States. At one point, during its heyday, the Klan boasted a membership of around 4 million. That number has greatly dwindled, with the Southern Poverty and Law Center putting current numbers between 8,000 and 10,000. Despite their fewer numbers, the KKK has seen some recent exposure in mainstream society, most notably during this campaign season.
And why was the Klan so powerful during its heyday? History.Com provides us with some vital context conveniently lacking in the Washington Post photo essay:
Founded in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) extended into almost every southern state by 1870 and became a vehicle for white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. Its members waged an underground campaign of intimidation and violence directed at white and black Republican leaders. Though Congress passed legislation designed to curb Klan terrorism, the organization saw its primary goal–the reestablishment of white supremacy–fulfilled through Democratic victories in state legislatures across the South in the 1870s.
...Leading Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was chosen as the first leader, or “grand wizard,” of the Klan; he presided over a hierarchy of grand dragons, grand titans and grand cyclopses.
And Forrest was both a delegate and featured speaker at the 1868 Democratic convention in New York. The official illustration below of the Alabama Democratic Party rooster crowing "White Supremacy" leaves no doubt as to the attitude of that party in the South for over a century in contrast to the Republicans.
In 1915, white Protestant nativists organized a revival of the Ku Klux Klan near Atlanta, Georgia, inspired by their romantic view of the Old South as well as Thomas Dixon’s 1905 book “The Clansman” and D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.”
Hmmm... And which Democratic president was favorably quoted in "Birth of a Nation" which was also enthusiastically viewed by him in the White House? Woodrow Wilson perhaps?
The Great Depression in the 1930s depleted the Klan’s membership ranks, and the organization temporarily disbanded in 1944.
And during that period only the most hard core racists joined the Klan. Among them was a certain political figure profiled in the Washington Post in 2005:
In the early 1940s, a politically ambitious butcher from West Virginia named Bob Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the "Grand Dragon" for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter.
...The young Klan leader went on to become one of the most powerful and enduring figures in modern Senate history. Throughout a half-century on Capitol Hill, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has twice held the premier leadership post in the Senate...
It is doubtful that the Washington Post photo essay on the current Klan would have even been published had it not been used as a device to smear Trump which was the real purpose of the article. Of course, no mention in the Post essay of the powerful influence that organization had over the Democrats for most of the early years of its existence.