I know some of the folks opposed to open immigration – they are friends and relatives – people opposed to open immigration. These are people who are frustrated when anyone suggests their opinions are ‘racist’. They throw up their arms in defiance – accusing ‘those liberals of always playing the race card’. But not so fast – there is good cause of fearing racial overtones in anti-immigration policy. The greatest organized opposition to immigration was conducted by none other than the KKK.
The KKK originated after the Civil War as an organization opposed to freedom for what we today call African Americans – the KKK used other terminology In 1871 the KKK was declared a Terrorist Organization and their organization slowly diminished in power. The KKK found new life in the early 20th Century. The largely white South witnessed the growth of immigration in the north – people with funny names like Malinowski and Majewski and Steinman, and Burnstein and McCord and McDougal, were populating the urban centers of the north. The death of Booker T. Washington in 1915 saw a huge exodus of black folks from the South. These black folks found jobs in civil service such as policemen and firemen. The industrial North was seen as being financed by the Jews, jobs performed by African-Americans and Irish, and religion dominated by Catholicism. The KKK rallied behind a new term: WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestant.
In its second incarnation, the Klan moved beyond just targeting blacks, and broadened its message of hate to include Catholics, Jews and foreigners. The Klan promoted fundamentalism and devout patriotism along with advocating white supremacy. They blasted bootleggers, motion pictures and espoused a return to “clean” living. Appealing to folks uncomfortable with the shifting nature of America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation, the Klan attacked the elite, urbanites and intellectuals.
Their message struck a cord, and membership in the Klan ballooned in the 1920s. By the middle of the decade, estimates for national membership in this secret organization ranged from three million to as high as eight million Klansmen. And membership was not limited to the poor and uneducated on society’s fringes. Mainstream, middle-class Americans donned the white robes of the Klan too. Doctors, lawyers and ministers became loyal supporters of the KKK. In Ohio alone their ranks surged to 300,000. Even northeastern states were not immune. In Pennsylvania, membership reached 200,000. The Klan remained a clandestine society, but it was by no means isolated or marginalized.
Fast track back to today, the early 21st Century. Popular Conservatism embodies fundamentalist Christianity, extreme patriotism, fierce anti-immigration policy. There is a clear connection to earlier anti-immigration policy that found roots and nourishment in the KKK.
The KKK failed so miserably to gain any enduring respect that those three letters ‘KKK’ today represent everything that was ever wrong with America. The modern day Christians for America Opposed to Immigration bear striking resemblance to the KKK of a hundred years past. They do not like names like Lopez or Barbbosa or Mendez.
Yes, I know these people. They walk beside me in the grocery store. When at Walmart they pose for pictures. (OK – just joking. They are not actually posing). Back to seriousness – these are fundamentally (pun) good people. I believe they have been duped by sophisticated political operatives like Karl Rove and Lee Atwater. What else can explain generally kind and caring people acting like lunatics from the KKK?