The Event at Charlottesville
On August 12, 2017, an alt-right hate group marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. The “Unite the Right” march was organized by Jason Kessler, a journalist and member of an ultra-nationalist group. While the march started out peaceful, it quickly turned tense when the group clashed with counter-demonstrators. Slogans such as “white lives matter” and “blood and soil” rang out, and violence between the two groups erupted. At 11:28 am, the city was declared a “local state of emergency”. A few hours later, James Alex Fields Jr, an alt-right protester, drove a car into a car of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring 19 others. Later, two state troopers were killed in a helicopter crash while trying to get to the scene. After the violence had ended, three people had died, and 35 more injured(“Charlottesville Attack: What, Where and Who?”). Is white-supremacy really a thing of the past? Or is it still around in today’s world?
My Interest in the Problem
The reason why I am interested in addressing this topic is because I have strong ties against this group. Growing up in Oakland, one of the most diverse cities in the country, I am lucky enough to be able to interact with people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and have seen that we are all just human inside and very similar. I interact with people who are different from me on a daily basis, and am curious why someone would think that their race is superior to everyone else. Some of my family members and best friends are African American which is the major reason why I oppose the KKK. Some guiding questions to my research were: “How can you think yourself superior to other human beings?” and “Why would someone ever want to join the KKK?” and “What could encourage people to leave the KKK and similar hate groups?”.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), also known as the White Knights, is a Christian hate group that has been around for almost two centuries. Their core beliefs include white supremacy, homophobia, anti-immigration, Christianity, and separation of the races (Chu). Their main approach for achieving these goals is through fear and intimidation tactics, which has proved to be effective in the past. While the peak of membership, influence, and support has already passed, they still exist in smaller numbers today.
Born from the rubble of the destroyed Confederacy, the KKK was founded in 1866 in Tennessee by a group of Southern soldiers, with ex-Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest being the “Imperial Wizard”, or leader, of the group (“Grant, Reconstruction and the KKK”). They gained support quickly from Christian whites in the diminished south, who believed that African Americans needed to be enslaved again and put to work in the cotton fields. In their first “wave”, the White Knights’ main goal was to oppose the radical Republicans from the north and their ideas about Reconstruction. To achieve their goals, the KKK often resorted to violence and intimidation tactics. In 1868 alone, there were 3,000 “mysterious” deaths of African Americans and Republicans in Georgia, Louisiana, and Kansas (“Grant, Reconstruction, and the KKK”). In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant passed legislation that allowed military force to be used to break apart the KKK, with an act called The KKK Act. While it was eventually declared unconstitutional in 1882, this was too late for the KKK, and they were forced into submission for almost another 40 years (“Grant, Reconstruction and the KKK”).
With help from D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the KKK made a huge resurgence in 1915, boasting an impressive 3-6 million members at their peak (Arbuckle). Originally intended to be called “The Clansman”, Birth of a Nation was an explicitly racist movie glorifying the White Knights, often pictured on horseback, and portraying African Americans as animalistic or savage. Considered a film masterpiece of the time, with never before seen action shots, this movie was an extremely influential piece of work that boosted Klan membership massively (Dirks). In Indiana, one out of every three white men was a Klansman, and on three separate occasions, there was a shortage of the signature white robes of the KKK. Part of the KKK’s massive membership was due to the way they were perceived during this time period. To many Americans, the KKK was a charitable Christian group who sponsored local baseball teams, gave money to the church, celebrated holidays together, attended each other’s weddings and funerals, and held beauty pageants. These activities gave the perception of small town, fun, family activities that many white, middle class, Christian Americans supported, when in fact there was a deeper, darker message of this hate group. There was even a Women’s Ku Klux Klan (WKKK) founded, since women weren’t permitted to join the KKK, giving some women leadership roles and a sense of purpose towards a cause they supported. This coordinated support group of members allowed the KKK to have massive influence on politics, from community levels all the way up to federal levels (McAndrew). At the peak of the KKK’s second wave, in 1925, an estimated 50,000 members paraded through the streets of Washington DC, many of them maskless (Rothman). However, good times for the KKK ended abruptly later in 1925 when Indiana Grand Wizard D.C Stephenson was found guilty of killing and raping a white American woman, causing the KKK to lose massive amounts of support, and eventually control over Indiana and all other states. People started to realize the KKK’s true values and their ineffectiveness in solving problems, causing them to leave the group (McAndrew).
Click here to watch a short movie clip from D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: Movie Clip (“Watch Scene from D.W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation'”)
The Present Day Problem
Today, their membership has increased to around 8,000, scattered across the country. Recently, the KKK and similar hate groups have been receiving some publicity from the media from events such as the rally in Charlottesville, their stated support for Trump, and lack of strong denunciation by members of the Trump campaign. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was the Executive Chairman for a website called Breitbart, a far-right website popular with white supremacists. Also, David Duke, former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and Grand Wizard of the KKK, recently ran for a Senate position. Although he didn’t win, he certainly brought some publicity to the KKK (McAndrew). Even though the KKK has been historically much larger, they are still a serious problem in America that needs to be addressed.
My proposed solution in dealing with the KKK is more of a moral or social approach than a legislative one. I don’t think a legislative approach would be the best way to solve this problem because it would go against the idea of an American democracy with all of its freedoms. For example, in 1872, President Ulysses S Grant passed The KKK Act, permitting the use of military force to stop the KKK. While it did stop the first wave of the KKK, the act was declared unconstitutional in 1882 by the Supreme Court (“Grant, Reconstruction, and the KKK). If we are truly trying to stop the KKK to better American as a whole, it must in a constitutional way, or we are not promoting American freedoms. I propose that the solution for stopping the KKK lies with America’s youth and with community organizations. The KKK’s main recruitment tactic is to “befriend” vulnerable teens and warp their minds to believe in the KKK’s ideals. They paint the picture in teen’s minds that the root of all their problems is non-white, non-Christian people, rather than anything within themselves. Teens who do not have a strong support system at home and in school are most likely to be recruited by these groups, seeking a “family”. In order to combat this, my idea would be to support organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which provide opportunities for youth outside of school. These clubs keep kids off the streets and provide them with a support system which many youth are lacking. They would also be able to interact with kids who may be different from themselves, encouraging the idea of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance. This can also be done by encouraging diversity in schools because it allows for different ethnicities to interact. I also think that with the next generations, these ideals of being tolerant and accepting will also progress, which will help combat the problem. Overall, the solution for this problem of the KKK is not a legislative one, and needs to instead be a social one in order to uphold American values.
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Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out the following links!
How One Man Convinced 200 KKK members to quit: Link
Possible solution? Link
“A KKK Child and a Black State Trooper Meet Each Other, 1992.” Rare Historical Photos, 14 Oct. 2017,
Arbuckle, Alex. “Hate on Parade: When the KKK Marched on Washington.” Mashable,
Mashable, 24 Dec. 2015, mashable.com/2015/12/24/kkk-parade/#kCrII0WN3gqf.
Astor, Maggie. “White Nationalists Want to March Again. Charlottesville Says No.” The New York Times, The New York
Times, 12 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/us/charlottesville-protest-permit-denied.html.
“Charlottesville Attack: What, Where and Who?” News | Al Jazeera, 17 Aug. 2017,
Chu, Joyce. “Ku Klux Klan: What Do They Believe? · Guardian Liberty Voice.” Guardian
Liberty Voice, 23Aug.2016,guardianlv.com/2014/07/ku-klux-klan-what-do-they-believe/.
Dirks, Tim. “The Birth of a Nation (1915).” Filmsite Movie Review, www.filmsite.org/birt.html.
“Grant, Reconstruction and the KKK.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,
“KKK Carpetbagger Cartoon.” Wikipedia, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kkk-carpetbagger-cartoon.jpg.
McAndrew, Tara. “THE HISTORY OF THE KKK IN AMERICAN POLITICS.” JSTOR Daily, 25
Jan. 2017, daily.jstor.org/history-kkk-american-politics/.
McArdle, Terence. “The Day 30,000 White Supremacists in KKK Robes Marched in the Nation’s Capital.” The Washington
Post, WP Company, 17 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/08/17/the-day-30000-white-
Rothman, Joshua. “When Bigotry Paraded Through the Streets.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media
“Watch Scene from D.W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’.” The Washington Post, WP Company,