Linda Gordon’s new book captures how white supremacy has long been part of our political mainstream

Historians in the News
tags: Linda Gordon, KKK, The Second Coming of the KKK

Kevin M. Kruse is professor of history at Princeton University. His most recent work is "One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America."

… With any other American president, the obvious response [to Charlottesville] would have been a quick and clear condemnation of the white supremacists. But Trump, as he often reminds us, is like no other president. His initial comments parceled out blame to the “many sides” involved in the confrontation and were so lightly drawn that the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer saw his words as a sign of support. To make matters worse, Trump then insisted that “some very fine people” had participated in the white-supremacist protest. Naturally, alt-right leaders were flattered. “Really proud of him,” said Spencer.

To many Americans, the warm relationship between the White House and white supremacists appears to be a new and shocking development. But as Linda Gordon reminds us in The Second Coming of the KKK, white-supremacist politics have entered our political mainstream before. The “second Klan” of the 1910s and ’20s—unlike the vigilante group that preceded it in the Reconstruction era or the racist terrorists who targeted the civil-rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s—operated largely in the open and with broad support from white society in general and white politicians in particular. Moving beyond the regional and racial boundaries of the South, this version of the Klan spread across the country, targeting a broader range of enemies: Asians and Latinos alongside African Americans, as well as large swaths of religious minorities like Catholics, Jews, and Mormons. At its peak, the second Klan claimed to have between 4 and 6 million members nationwide, although Gordon makes a persuasive case that this was “certainly an exaggeration.”

A slim volume that largely synthesizes the already substantial literature on its subject, The Second Coming of the KKK nevertheless offers readers something new: The book is written, quite self-consciously, for this moment. Unlike other historians who strive for an ever-elusive objectivity, Gordon is refreshingly blunt about who she is and why she wrote it. “In my discussion of the Ku Klux Klan I am not neutral, and like all historians, I cannot and do not wish to discard my values in interpreting the past,” she notes in her introduction. “The fact that I am one of those the Klan detested—a Jew, an intellectual, a leftist, a feminist, a lover of diversity—no doubt…informs this book.”

But Gordon is also an accomplished American historian, and despite her lack of sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan, her approach to the group is a model of historical empathy. Unlike a previous generation of liberal and leftist scholars who dismissed far-right movements like the Klan as the result of “irrational paranoia,” Gordon takes her topic quite seriously, and comes away with serious lessons. …

Read entire article at The Nation

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