Collectively, we usually seem to be more open, understanding, and compassionate than we were twenty or thirty years ago, as a society. Historically speaking, Americans have not always been the most tolerant and accepting, even though we have often prided ourselves on being a cultural melting pot. As attitudes and cultures have intersected and blended together over time, one would expect that we’d eventually move beyond any sort of religiously or racially based “good guys vs. bad guys” mentality. However, there always seems to be some sort of boogeyman that keeps us fearful or fighting amongst ourselves, especially since the notorious attacks of September 11, 2001 brought “radical Islam” and the concurrent rash of Islamaphobia we’re still seeing today front and center, which has since infected the entire Western world.
But America has an unfortunate history of knee jerk responses to perceived threats and many reactionary movements have sprung up over the years, due to racial divisions, religious disagreements, and media dissemination of political propaganda. One of most infamous groups produced amidst the abolition of slavery was, of course, the Ku Klux Klan. It goes without saying that this movement has left a mark of disgrace upon our nation, just as ugly as the practice of discrimination or hatred toward any ethnicity or faith tradition. But their influence has been, and still is quite effective, in the way it allows for bigotry to hold sway over people of influence in the United States.
Many times since its inception right after the Civil War, the Klan has re-emerged to wreak havoc over the years, usually in response to some societal fear of minorities gaining more rights or immigrants infiltrating our borders to obtain citizenship here. According the the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“Since the 1970s the Klan has been greatly weakened by internal conflicts, court cases, a seemingly endless series of splits and government infiltration. While some factions have preserved an openly racist and militant approach, others have tried to enter the mainstream, cloaking their racism as mere ‘civil rights for whites.’ Today, the Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different – and often warring – organizations that use the Klan name.”
Though the number of official members in their ranks seems relatively small, and they may appear to be a disbanded, disorganized, or defunct group to some, their cultural influence still has lasting political ramifications even to this day. Recent research analyzing political affiliation in the South has found that the resurgence of KKK influence during the 1960s helped to increase Republican political dominance. And there is still a lasting effect that continues to shape opinions among the GOP.
“David Cunningham, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Brandeis University, Rory McVeigh of the University of Notre Dame and Justin Farrell of Yale University report that KKK activity played a significant role in shifting voters’ political party allegiance in the South in the 1960s — from Democratic to Republican — and it continued to influence voters’ activities 40 years later.”
To assume that the KKK is inactive or irrelevant today would be ignorant to say the least. They may not be a prominent voice in society, and they may not claim any violent actions or publicly terrorize the human targets of their hatred, as other extremists have been doing. The volatile nature of this group’s history of ups and downs has been tempered by society’s growing disapproval of their discriminatory views, but that’s not to say they don’t still have supporters, sympathizers, or even prominent members with important positions in society still today. For a cowardly racist, being anonymously hooded with a white shroud is one of benefits of being a member.
It’s hardly any coincidence that many conservative Republicans today hold a severely restrictive and often xenophobic position on immigration. Perhaps this discriminatory view is a vestige of Klan influence, still operating outside of plain view, but made quite obvious when people like Donald Trump, and other Republican Presidential candidates state their ignorant views. This trend of hatred is disturbing to say the least, especially in light of recent events involving the violent attacks in Beirut and Paris. Many are now seeking to justify retaliatory violence and deny protection and asylum to refugees fleeing violence in Syria, due to concerns that somehow the entire world will be attacked at any given moment. Now our worldwide government leaders, talking heads, and zealots of all kinds are coming out of the woodwork to condemn Islam and beat the war drums.
Many are familiar with the political exploits of the infamous racist David Duke, who consequently has offered his blessing of Donald Trump’s Presidential candidacy, albeit with concern about Trump’s support of Israel. How apropos is this half-hearted endorsement of a man who embodies the ultimate American notion of insensitivity, greed, hubris, and cultural ignorance. These are very same things that have turned violent extremists against the United States, and many other liberal Western countries in the first place. It is because of Western imperialistic pursuits, disastrous foreign policies, and destructive military invasions which have caused much more harm than good, that these extremist groups rise up to exact vengeance.
Pseudo-Islamic radical extremism is the modern version of the embodiment of evil that Western countries always seem to be fighting against. The form of extremism that gets conflated with Islam today, is more akin to a cancerous lesion of ideals among humans, much like the values that Ku Klux Klan in America has always promoted, even if it is now well hidden. Many clan members consider themselves Christian and claim that religion for the justification of their hateful ways. However, no rational human would consider that racist group is representational of Christianity as a whole in any way. So why do so many do this to Muslims whenever some extremist who claims a jihadist mission attacks innocent people? We need to start thinking about these things before spouting off about them, and stop listening to those just pushing ideologies or trying to make headlines.