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The poison must be drawn out

So last night I watch Twelve Years a Slave, and this morning I get up to see a tweet from @chebutykin linking to this letter:

The KU KLUX KLAN notes that one Howard G. Costigan, as quoted by the P.-I. of last Sunday, November 14th, 1937, asks an Investigation of the KU KLUX KLAN in Seattle. We note also that 2 of your Members, as quoted, as asking investigation of the Silver Shirts -- the Nazi movement, along with the Klan. May we ask why the Italian Fascists also in Seattle, are not included? Is there anything more deadly — more sinister — to American Democracy, than Fascism, Naziism and Communism. The KU KLUX KLAN classes all these as un-American, with Communism as the most dangerous of the three. The KU KLUX KLAN are ALL AMERICANS, no ism – no symbol – no salute – no flag except to salute the Stars and Stripes, and the Stars and Stripes is OUR ONLY FLAG.We invite investigation by your Body, to the fullest extent.

The KU KLUX KLAN notes that one Howard G. Costigan, as quoted by the P.-I. of last Sunday, November 14th, 1937, asks an Investigation of the KU KLUX KLAN in Seattle.

We note also that 2 of your Members, as quoted, as asking investigation of the Silver Shirts — the Nazi movement, along with the Klan.

May we ask why the Italian Fascists also in Seattle, are not included?

Is there anything more deadly — more sinister — to American Democracy, than Fascism, Naziism and Communism. The KU KLUX KLAN classes all these as un-American, with Communism as the most dangerous of the three.

The KU KLUX KLAN are ALL AMERICANS, no ism – no symbol – no salute – no flag except to salute the Stars and Stripes, and the Stars and Stripes is OUR ONLY FLAG.

We invite investigation by your Body, to the fullest extent.

Whoa. You mean racism didn’t end after the civil war? I guess there’s a reason we still need a Martin Luther King Day to remind us of the struggle. I notice some things never change on the Right: the random Capitalization, the ALL CAPS (we await technology to enable random font changes), the draping of themselves in True Americanism, the poor grammar, the absence of the Oxford Comma, and, oh yeah, the implicit hate

It reminds me of how virulent anti-communism was (and still is) in this country, that just howling how much you hate the commies was sufficient cover to excuse racism, oppression, tyranny, and violence — and I’ll note that even now, the racist haters justify their contempt for MLK by accusing him incessantly of communist ties.

I can think of quite a few things more deadly — more sinister — to American Democracy than those three fundamentally defunct ideologies: how about patriotism, piety, and inequity? In fact, all the things the Ku Klux Klan stood for were inherent corruptions of the Enlightenment ideals (fitfully and poorly implemented) that were driving forces behind the founding of this country, and those same corruptions continue to be major factors in the ideology of the Republican party.

I’m also sad to see that that letter came from Seattle, where I grew up, which I remember as a liberal part of the country, a blue-collar town that was a hotbed of labor unions and Wobblies. But there was also always a dark undercurrent of racism there: farmers of Japanese descent could tell you stories, that’s for sure, and the labor movement focused and inspired some of the nastier elements of the far right, as Jeff Sharlet explains:

…Sharlet relates how Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant, founded the Fellowship (the organization now known as the Family) in Seattle in 1935, in direct response to a wave of militant strikes along the West Coast. First regionally and then nationally, business leaders rallied to Vereide’s prayer circles as a way to inject a new spirit of purpose and unity into their fight against organized labor and the New Deal. With the Cold War, Vereide’s “International Christian Leadership” spread to western Europe, notably West Germany, where it helped to rehabilitate a number of former Nazis into anticommunist respectability. (Sharlet describes Vereide’s relationship with fascism as “weirdly ambivalent”. He cultivated Nazi sympathizers Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh and recruited at least one genuine fascist, Merwin K. Hart, to the Fellowship board, but was ultimately more at home with conservative Republicans than far right rabble rousers such as Father Coughlin.) In the 1960s, Coe succeeded Vereide as organizational leader and made two important changes: Following the trajectory of U.S. Cold War policy, he shifted the Fellowship’s international focus away from Europe toward Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and he took the organization “underground,” moving it out of the public eye as much as possible, as a protective measure against sixties radicalism and upheaval.

Of course, David Neiwert is also an invaluable investigator of the darkness gnawing at the Pacific Northwest.

This country has allowed the voices and attitudes represented by that KKK letter — attitudes that were spawned by a vicious reaction to a rising tide of liberal, egalitarian thought — to drown out the ideals of America. Those ideals were better represented by the radical revolutionary Martin Luther King than by rich Wall Street bankers and Silicon Valley moguls. Those ideals are too often forgotten. This day is a day when we should all remind ourselves of that which we oppose and what we should be fostering, a world where all human beings have equal opportunity and dignity. Read King’s “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech to remind yourselves of what we ought to aspire to.

In other words, "Your whole structure (Yes) must be changed." [applause] A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. (Speak) And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. (Yes) And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. (Yes) [applause]

What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!" [applause] (Oh yes)

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]

Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together (Yes), and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes), and men will recognize that out of one blood (Yes) God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. (Speak sir)

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power. [applause]

The bits about God I can do without, but make no mistake, I agree entirely with the larger theme of that speech. Now if only a person of prominence could express those values unreservedly without being gunned down by the powers of ignorance and oppression…if only those values were represented in Congress…if only…

Comments

  1. Onamission5 says

    business leaders rallied to Vereide’s prayer circles as a way to inject a new spirit of purpose and unity into their fight against organized labor and the New Deal

    The privileged few as conservative christian prayer warriors united in their opposition to unions and social welfare? Gee, this doesn’t sound familiar at all.

  2. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    It is a few years old, but someone sent me a link to this powerful essay.

    The essay is about MLK’s real-world impact. A taste:

    But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

    He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

    I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about. But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

    It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

    [...]

    It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

    This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

    White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

    [...]

    This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

    The comments are also worth a read.

  3. Alverant says

    Was it really “communistic” ties or was the word being tossed around by people who have no idea what it means they just know it’s “bad”?

    @Estel
    And now some of that hate has been transferred to homosexuals, muslims, hispanics, and other people who also can’t get justice because of public apathy/antagonism.

  4. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    @Esteleth

    Are the comments going to reaffirm my faith in humanity, or drive me further into despair? I have limited spoons left.

  5. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Some of both, Thumper. You’ve got a lot of, “OH I GET IT NOW” and there’s also a series of comments that can be summarized as, “Yep, that’s what happened to black men. Let me tell you about the sexualized racism that black women got.”

  6. says

    Speaking of KKK and MLK, did you know that several states down here (namely, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia) are also honoring Robert E. Lee today?

  7. vaiyt says

    I’d like to point out how that final part of the essay sounds like the wet dream of “color-blind” inactivists. Of course, it makes no sense without the first; the lamb should not lay to sleep with the lion without first being sure that the lion is no longer dangerous.

    Speaking of which, MLK’s use of bible imagery is more powerful than any priest’s I’ve ever seen or read.

    This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

    Ended might not be the right word. After all, once in a while there’s a Zimmerman to remind you that some people still consider killing black people their God-given right.

  8. chris says

    Lots of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that the KKK was active in the Pacific Northwest. They even managed to make private schools illegal in Oregon for a while (they specifically wanted to prohibit parochial schools, since the public schools were only to stick to their brand of Christianity… and none of that secular stuff!).

    David Neiwert’s books like Strawberry Days and In God’s Country are fascinating reads on the PNW’s particular brand of racism. Which includes the John Birch Society, and I remember seeing the big billboards to join them when we drove through central Oregon and Washington to visit family. (and yes, Alverant, “communism” is used as a term for everything that is bad)

    Another interesting, but more scholarly read, that outlines the KKK activities and others that led to the Japanese Internment is The Burning Horse: The Japanese-American Experience in the Yakima Valley 1920-1942 by Thomas Heuterman.

    I decided to read about since my dad is from Yakima, and his best friend was interned. What made me angry is that I did not learn about the Japanese Internment in school, but from my father when I was in high school. I have seen my career Army officer dad cry twice in my life. The first was when my mother died when I was eleven, the second was when he told me about the internment and his friend.

    There is lots of hidden and unknown histories in the Pacific Northwest, and some are trying to find them: Volunteers hunt for the truth about our place in the Civil War.

  9. vaiyt says

    Was it really “communistic” ties or was the word being tossed around by people who have no idea what it means they just know it’s “bad”?

    A bit of column A, a bit of column B. You see, a lot of social activists of the time did HAVE sympathy for communism, because it was seen as the big alternative to capitalistic oppression. In Latin America, there was a shit ton of babies thrown away with the bathwater once the CIA started purging every regime that sounded like they might have something to do with communism (all according to plan, or course).

  10. Onamission5 says

    @chris #9:

    It is very disheartening how many in the PNW are in near total denial of the region’s racist history (and present, natch). I have lost track of how many times one of my fellow Oregonians has informed me that “that doesn’t happen here” along with their admonishments that I oughtn’t have moved to the south because of all the racism. To them I say
    sundown towns
    Rogue River Wars
    An incomplete yet still disturbing timeline of Oregon’s racist history
    Racist origins of the State of Jefferson movement

  11. kevinalexander says

    I knew a fellow at work years ago who told me that the Soviets were behind the disappearance of so many kids. They were all homosexuals you see and so couldn’t procreate and needed Christian children to repopulated their depraved country.
    So, yeah, Communism does contain every evil thing.

  12. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I’m confused about what the absence of a serial comma has to do with anything, except as an obvious counterpoint to the ‘ALL AMERICANS’ statement (read: irony), but it is interesting to note that in a pre-Cold War era and in a post-Cold War era, communism is useful as a scapegoat to wash over overt racism. I’m not sure I understand exactly what it is about the apparent need for the Right to avow themselves as not being as bad as them, especially when it’s almost certain that they don’t see it in those terms. It’s just so weird.

  13. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I’m confused about what the absence of a serial comma has to do with anything,

    Here

  14. unclefrogy says

    PZ you hit the nail on the head.
    At the deepest level we are still struggling with the “Enlightenment” all of the ideals grow out of it. All science, democratic Ideals, rational discourse, universal civil rights and justice.
    We are still struggling against, authority, dogmatism, tradition and ignorance. MLK himself was influenced by the humanism growing out of the Enlightenment intersecting in the one of the few places that were opened to a black man in the U.S. in the 20’th century, the christian church.
    We are not finished yet.
    uncle frogy

  15. Rich Woods says

    the absence of the Oxford Comma

    Ouch. Before now, I didn’t think I had anything in common with the Klan.

  16. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Azkyroth, it’s an interesting aside for me, but I don’t want to have a conversation about the telling grammar of the Right here. I’ll post my reply in Thunderdome.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    And here I’d been thinking that “un-American” as an epithet originated during the Cold War.

    This letter by itself shows that the term has a longer and even nastier history, but implies much about the background behind HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) and others of their deplorable ilk.

  18. says

    Onamission5 #1

    The privileged few as conservative christian prayer warriors united in their opposition to unions and social welfare? Gee, this doesn’t sound familiar at all.

    The Family are still around, and still doing the same shit.

    Pierce R Butler #17
    I’ve encountered usages all the way back to the mid 19th century

  19. Colin J says

    …but was ultimately more at home with conservative Republicans than far right rabble rousers…

    At the risk of falling into the golden age fallacy: ah, the good old days. You know, when you could tell the difference.

    Azkyroth @13:

    A TV Tropes link without a warning? Not cool. I’ve got work to do, you know…

  20. Joseph Felsenstein says

    @Trebuchet #3

    It is wonderful to again hear the name of the late Giovanni Costigan, a great defender of human rights at our University. They should have named a building after him, instead of mostly naming them after donors.

    However “Howard G. Costigan” was Howard Gary Costigan, a man with both positive and negative accomplishments, and no relation to Giovanni. There is a brief Wikipedia page for Giovanni Costigan, and a longer one for Howard Costigan.

  21. paulburnett says

    Seattle, home of the Discovery Institute, mothership of the intelligent design creationism movement.

    But also the home of Amazon, Starbucks and Nordstrom.

  22. Muz says

    Tedious minor aside. Was Ford really Nazi sympathiser? It’s a fine distinction I suppose, but the impression I’ve mostly had was that he was that particular mixture of anti-fascist capitalist philanthropist but just happened to completely buy into the Zionist conspiracy BS.
    That makes him at least partly sympathetic, but there is more to Nazism/Fascism than that. I could be just short on the details however.

  23. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dalillama… @ # 18: … the mid 19th century…

    So even before the States’ Rights Unpleasantness?

    Come to think of it, “Un-American” would have served as a good rallying cry all the way back to the Insurgency of 1776…

    Muz @ # 23 – Ford clearly and publicly admired Herr Hitler, and accepted a medal from The Leader’s hand.

    Does that count towards “Nazi sympathizer” status by whatever measure you use?

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    Re my # 24 – Continuing my # 24 – and the feeling was mutual. Henry got a glowing write-up in Mein Kampf (Vol. 1), the only American named therein.

  25. Muz says

    Oh really? Well I guess I missed quite a few things. That is why I asked though.
    I’ve only read some little thing about his falling into the thrall of the Protocols. That was early in the piece it would seem. It didn’t really say what happened next. I guess he must have continued in that vein more fully.

  26. says

    As to the Klan being further abroad than just the former Confederacy, I draw your attention to this photograph, taken in Hamilton, Ontario (the city at the western tip of Lake Ontario, just between Toronto and Buffalo along the roads) in 1930. There was also a march by the Klan in Hamilton which was attended by thousands of genial onlookers in the same period.

    In the 20s and 30s, the Klan boasted forty THOUSAND members in Saskatchewan (province out west to the north of the Dakotas).

    There are a lot of committed assholes in the world.

  27. says

    Pierce R Butler 24
    Indeed, it’s been aimed at union organizers since the late 1840s at least. Typically they’d be accused of being in league with Communists (Marxism was just starting to take off), anarchists, and Irish radicals (many of the union workers and organizers of the day being Irish or German immigrants; the particular accusations varied with ethnicity).

  28. pacal says

    It has always amused me that Nazis and Racists get themselves in such a knot over “Communism” when in so many respects their mindset was similar to fanatical “Communists”, (Stalinists is probably a better word.). Both groups shared a contempt for democracy, a religious style fanaticism and a love of brutal authoritarianism. Many of its members showed a willingness to kill and slaughter in prodigious amounts. That Stalinists and Nazis were so similar is obvious.

    That the KKK duplicated in so many ways the vicious, anti-democratic ethos of Stalinists is evidence that has you go to the extremes of both left and right they eventually meet.

  29. vaiyt says

    Both groups shared a contempt for democracy, a religious style fanaticism and a love of brutal authoritarianism. Many of its members showed a willingness to kill and slaughter in prodigious amounts. That Stalinists and Nazis were so similar is obvious.

    Libertarians and conservatives love to play up those similarities in order to paint any policy that looks socialist as one step on the road to Hitler.