About the Ku Klux Klan

Käthe Kollwitz, Dead Woman and Child, 1903.


The Klan, Nazism and Fascism are not static in time, they are institutions that are alive and active, as attested by the teacher parading in KKK clothing at a school in Santo André

On December 21, an image of a history teacher in Santo André, São Paulo, parading around the school courtyard in Ku Klux Klan clothing began to circulate on the internet. The professor's attitude was repudiated, but the Ku Klux Klan entered the most talked about subjects that morning. One of the debates said that the Klan was, in fact, a leftist institution. In fact, the Klan was born in the latter half of the XNUMXth century as a southern democratic response to “radical republicans” who adopted political strategies of legal protection and granting citizenship to newly freed slaves in order to create an electoral body. But is that enough to say that the Klan is (or at least was) a “left institution”?


The Klan in History

In the post-war period of secession (1861-1865), for southern democrats (and racists), slave emancipation and the republican plan to transform them into electorates meant the change from a virtuous and patriotic government to a corrupt, ignorant government. It is stupid. To combat Republicans and the entry of blacks into their states (and at the same time to expel them), Democratic agents revived the tradition of “regulatory” militias and slave patrols, “associations”, “societies” and “clubs”. of gentlemen” that became the Klan.

These Klansmen believed in and promoted the idea that black people were incited to rape women at Republican meetings. They believed that republican unions encouraged robbery, arson, and murder. They believed and promoted in their newspapers that the South was in decline because Republican judges freed criminals. The Klan's violence and propaganda managed to delay the black vote in eight states. Southern state governments that did not embrace segregation collapsed in the face of intimidation at the ballot box by paramilitary groups. The Klan had done its job. Well then, it is said. The Klan was born out of Democratic supporters.

The second wave of the Klan is marked in 1915. Inspired by the movie Birth of a Nation (which portrays the Klan as protectors of American values, defenders of women against stupid, brutal, sexually aggressive blacks), William Simmons, gathering friends and acquaintances, revived the KKK. The "new Klan" did not express exactly the same reactionary principles as in the beginning. He did not advocate directly and openly against social advances, nor against the republicans. The men of the “new Klan” took a more moralistic and social posture than directly political. They demanded an open and honest government, basic structures such as basic sanitation and modern roads. The religious wing fought for the application of conservative Protestant morality, for Prohibition (which prohibited the consumption and production of alcoholic beverages).

Thus, the main enemy has changed. No longer Republicans and their plan to build a Black Republic in the South, but any group that posed a threat to Southern American values ​​(which included Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Communists, and immigrants). The "new Klan" began to promote the idea that there was a plan in motion to "Catholicize" the United States, that the number of Catholics had risen considerably. Catholic stores were boycotted, Catholics were fired from schools. Jews were accused of trying to get the Bible out of schools. Between 1915 and 1940 the Klan had over four million members. It was at this time that, in defense of morals and good customs, the newspaper “Cidadão de Bem” appeared.

During the crisis of the 1930s, with poverty and unemployment, the Democratic government's response to state intervention in the economy (the New Deal) was recognized by Republicans as a shift toward communism. In the Klan, racist and anti-communist discourse was merged with discourses against the interventionist actions of the federal government, associating a central power with communism. As the government redefined traditional US liberalism into a new Keynesian liberalism, the Klan accused this change of doing violence to fundamental US rights. But it's worth noting that "Communist" at the height of the Cold War became a generic term in the South to describe almost anyone who didn't condone the Klan's "racial orthodoxy." Anyone who advocated civil rights, sexual freedoms or even “interracial” marriage was a “communist” who wanted to destroy the traditional family.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, anti-Semitism returned to the forefront of the Klan's enemies. In the 1960s and 70s, holocaust negativity and the theory that it was all a Jewish conspiracy gained notoriety among members. But despite this, the Klan harbored no affection for German Nazism. With the exception of a small group in the North who joined George Lincoln Rockwell's Nazi Party (founded in 1959), most Klansmen - many of whom even fought in Europe - repudiated Nazism as a totalitarian form and not Christian of tyranny.

But in the 1960s and 70s, the House Committee on American Activities declared the Klan's activities to be anti-American and terrorist. The FBI, in turn, accelerated the program COINTELPRO – White Hate Group and went against the Klan. In 1972 the United Klans of America declared in his newspaper: “The government of the United States] has been turned [into] a corrupt, unnatural, degenerate monstrosity… we need to put a bullet through its brain and hammer a stake through its heart. If that means blood and chaos and fighting the foreign enemy from house to house in burning cities across the land, then by God we better get on with it now than later.”

It was the beginning of the period that came to be recognized as the "Nazification of the Klan", in which the group became even more radical. Supporting the view that Jewish teachers repressed their students' Christian faith; that Jewish women promoted feminism and homosexuality; and that there was a Jewish conspiracy involving the government, the media and the banks to wipe out the white race through affirmative action, interracial marriage, the promotion of homosexuality, abortion and more. In the 1980s, the Klan decentralized. The FBI's action caused the racist militants to reject the Klan's traditional hierarchical organization and organize themselves into smaller cells.

But what more is there to say? The Klan was created by the Democrats, so it's on the left. Well, that's one of those statements that is both technically correct and wildly wrong. The Klan was indeed created by democratic supporters, but that far from makes it (and never did) “Left”. Starting with the fact that what we mean by “left” (or “liberal” in the United States, as the Democratic party is commonly called) is a terminology from the beginning of the XNUMXth century, precisely from the time of New Deal (of Democratic government) that the Klan was openly against. That is, when the Democratic Party became “the left” as we understand it, the Klan was against it.

On the other hand, in addition to racism (as if it were possible to dissociate the KKK from racism), what the Klan defended and still defends today are nationalist, religious (Christian Protestant) and moral values. Advocating not only against blacks and minorities in general, but against immigration, affirmative action, leftist politics, communism and beyond. The last major Klan action was in 2017, protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In 2015, in the state of South Carolina, Dylann Roof invaded Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest of its kind in the southern United States, and left nine dead in an act of domestic terrorism. A self-declared white supremacist and neo-Nazi, Roof displayed the Confederate flag in several photos. In 2017, the Charlottesville, Virginia, city council decided to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The first reaction was from the Ku Klux Klan who staged a demonstration to protest the decision. But months later, under the leadership of Jason Kessler, who recognizes himself as a “white nationalist” and alt-right, the demonstration that would come to be known as Right United. The move has been recognized as an attempt to unite different far-right groups in order to build unity around President Trump. John Spencer (one of the founders of what we now recognize as the Alt-right), during the march, exclaimed “Long live Trump, long live our people, long live victory”. Attendees ranged from neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan (including former Great Dragon David Duke), alt-rights and more.

The predominant discourse was the preservation of “white history” and “European culture”, which was being attacked by the cosmopolitan and multicultural left, by the “mainstream media”, and by the leadership of the Democratic Party. Theories proliferate that the “white elite” facilitates illegal immigration as it benefits from cheap labor.


Where do you want to go?

Yes, the Ku Klux Klan was born out of a Democratic response to Republican abolitionist policies; Yes, the Nazi party called itself National Socialist; and yes, Zumbi lived in a slave society. Hence, to make statements like the Klan was left wing, Nazism is left wing and Zumbi had slaves is to carry visions of the present into the past, it is the most basic form of anachronism. Empty statements that do nothing to contribute to the historical debate.

About the teacher who dressed like a member of the Klan, the professional was removed. But, the most important (and appropriate) thing to question about the episode is not the discussion about the Klan's political spectrum, but how much historical objects (let's say, controversial ones) can be materialized in the classroom for educational purposes. This was not the case, the teacher was dressed up for a festive occasion, it had no educational purpose, but the question remains.

In 2018, in Espírito Santo, a history teacher dressed up in a Nazi uniform in a thematic class. In 2017, in Recife, a teacher caused controversy by decorating the classroom with Nazi flags while teaching about totalitarianism. These teachers suffer punishment and have been criticized on social media, but defended by their students. The teacher who dressed in Espírito Santo was supported by a petition, stating that there was no apology or romanticization of Nazi crimes, but rather the application of a didactic.

The case of Dylann Roof, in the United States, already demonstrates the dangers of wielding symbols that represent entities that profess hatred. But we don't have to go very far to see this effect. In 2021, in Santa Catarina, a man invaded a daycare center leaving five dead. Investigations revealed the existence of neo-Nazi cells operating in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná and more. According to estimates, the number of neo-Nazi cells in Brazil grew from 75 in 2015 to 530 in 2021. It is clear that there are multiple explanations for this phenomenon. But that just goes to show how sensitive we need to be to draw attention to symbols of hate. Even if it's didactic.

The Klan, Nazism and Fascism are not static in time (whether in the XNUMXth or XNUMXth century), they are metamorphic phenomena and institutions that adapt to the times (and, not that it matters, but they are not leftist!). They are institutions that are alive and active, no longer burning crosses, but attacking day care centers, shooting at churches and running over people. More than ever in recent history, care must be taken with its symbols.

*João Victor Uzer Master in Social History from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).



About the Klan and racial fascism in the United States, I mainly used the works of Tatiana Poggi and the entry Ku Klux Klan by John Drabble from the book Conspiracy Theories in American History. The following reports were consulted:

JARDINA, Ashley. White identity politics isn't just about white supremacy. It's much bigger... Washington Post. August 16, 2017. Available at:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/08/16/white-identity-politics-isnt-just-about-white-supremacy-its-much-bigger/>

LEMOS, Vinicius. 'An idol for them': investigation into neo-Nazis reveals admiration for the author of the massacre in Suzano. BBC. 22/12/2021.. Available at:https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-59733205>

MELLO. Igor. Investigation of a massacre at a daycare center in SC revealed Nazi cells in Rio. Wow. 16/12/2021. Available in:https://noticias.uol.com.br/cotidiano/ultimas-noticias/2021/12/16/investigacao-de-massacre-em-creche-de-sc-revelou-celulas-nazistas-no-rio.htm>

PALMEIRA, Fran. Professor from Recife causes controversy by decorating his room with Nazi flags. Pernambuco Leaf. 11/04/17: Available at:https://www.folhape.com.br/noticias/professor-do-recife-causa-polemica-ao-decorar-sala-com-bandeiras-nazis/24050/>

QUEIROGA, Lius. History teacher dresses up as a Nazi to teach in Espírito Santo. The globe. 25/09/2018: Available at:https://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/professor-de-historia-se-veste-de-nazista-para-dar-aula-no-espirito-santo-23096443>

REUTERS. Klan members rally against removal of General Lee statue in Virginia. Reuters. July 8, 2017: Available at:https://www.reuters.com/article/us-virginia-klan-idUSKBN19T142>


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