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Comparing The Donald and the Hoosier KKK

Is Trump really trying to make America great white again?


  • Marc Nozell/wikimedia commons

There is no question that white supremacy groups have come more into focus during this presidential campaign season.

From the words of support from former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke — who recently mounted a Senate campaign, too — to the KKK recruitment material found on Hoosier lawns in two counties, the activity and the rhetoric appear to be increasing.

And Donald Trump and the Republican Party can take a lot of the credit.

The principles the KKK have held steady for decades and the rhetoric coming from the Trump campaign are eerily similar. Liberal political satirist Bill Maher publicly said Trump wants to make America white again and Tennessee congressional candidate Rick Tyler owned it, taking the slogan for his own campaign and putting it on a highway billboard.

A look at some of Trump's messaging in 2016 and the recruiting messaging of the Klan from 1924 shows how closely in tune the two messages really are.

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan

The Indiana Historical Society keeps and preserves dozens of documents, pamphlets, books and other media related to Indiana's history. One of the gems in the archive is small recruitment pamphlet from 1924. The 3.5 by 7.5-inch five-page booklet is titled "Why You Should Become A Klansman" and proceeds to answer the "because" inside its tiny pages. The subtitle at the bottom of the document reads, "Of interest to white, Protestant, native-born Americans who want to keep America American."

The booklet was published in 1924 — a time when the Klan was in great power in Indiana. Several legislators in the General Assembly and executive office holders were Klan members. At the time the document was published, Indiana had the highest total Klan membership of any state in the union.

A photo of the actual pamphlet is prohibited from publication without consent from the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. This illustration represents the document published in 1924. - ILLUSTRATED BY CLARA DOTI
  • illustrated by Clara Doti
  • A photo of the actual pamphlet is prohibited from publication without consent from the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. This illustration represents the document published in 1924.

By 1923, the Indiana-led Klan and its related chapters had a membership including 30 percent of native-born white men in the state. The next year, Ed Johnson was elected governor with the help of KKK Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson; the General Assembly in 1925 included a KKK majority.

The KKK in Indiana began its rise to power after World War I. Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were entering the U.S. looking for a more peaceful way of life. The population was heavily Catholic and Jewish.

The Klan appealed to the semi-conscious nativism in white, native-born American men who were not happy with the influx of "aliens" — people born outside of the United States now trying to make America their home. The fast settlement of European immigrants created social and political issues across the country. The Klan presented itself as a fraternity dedicated to reversing this trend and working to make America "American" again. The organization worked hard to promote its members into leadership positions and elected offices with the intent of effecting change from within government systems. In Indiana, the Klan members held the governor's office, several General Assembly posts and other positions in local and state offices and agencies.

The recruitment pamphlet breaks down the interest and eligibility for someone to join. It starts with the expected basics: white, male, native-born American and Protestant.

What follows is a list of ideologies that are eerily comparable to present day politics.

Editor's note: We would love to print images of the primary source we're dissecting. Alas, according to the Indiana Historical Society guidelines, photos of any of the materials, documents, books, pamphlets, etc. restricted by copyright in their collection cannot be used for publication without the written consent of the copyright holder. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan still hold the valid copyright for "Why You Should Be A Klansman."

The Klan in 1924 vs. GOP 2016

If you believe in Practical Christianity

The recruitment book describes a belief in an open Bible, the personality and power of Jesus Christ and most notably a belief in the fullest religious liberty. Religious liberty isn't necessarily a major platform issue for Donald Trump, but it is a major issue for the Republican Party on the state and national level. In the 2016 platform language for the Indiana GOP, there is a stress on the First Amendment, the freedom of religion and the freedom of political and religious speech. (Notice how the freedom of speech clause is specific to religious and political speech, and ignores any and all other genres of speech.) Although a specific religion is left vague in all language from the Republican Party and Trump, evangelical Christianity (a.k.a. Protestantism) is implied in a lot of rhetoric, donations and public support of both the candidate and the party.

If you believe in Law and Order

The Klan emphasized respect for and obedience to Law as well as the full and impartial enforcement of Law. The interpretation of "Law" can be taken a couple of different ways. On one hand, the support of law enforcement and the police would be important and is echoed in this century through the "Blue Lives Matter" response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The support of law enforcement, especially when in conflict with a minority or immigrant, is going to override any question of misjudgment or overuse of force. However, statements from the 1924 Klan always refer to "Law" and not "the law," which means the reference could mean God's Law to re-emphasize the importance of Protestant Christianity. For Trump, it's all about the police and how they need both more respect and more officers on the street.

"The police in our country are not appreciated. We do not give them the kind of respect that they have to have," says Trump in a YouTube video posted on his website. "Sure, there'll be a bad apple, there will be a bad thing happen, and it ends up on the news for two weeks, and everybody hates the police. The fact is they do an incredible job. We have to give them MORE authority and we have to give them far more respect."

"Why You Should Become A Klansman" was a recruitment booklet used to strengthen the numbers of the Klan in Indiana in the 1920s. - ILLUSTRATED BY CLARA DOTI
  • Illustrated by Clara Doti
  • "Why You Should Become A Klansman" was a recruitment booklet used to strengthen the numbers of the Klan in Indiana in the 1920s.

If you believe in good citizenship

The Klan pamphlet stated it wanted to create an appreciation for the responsibilities, privileges and duties of American citizenship. It also wanted to develop a high order of citizenship. Both statements are relatively vague, but the focus of those statements is on American citizenship and ultimately immigration. Post-World War I, the Klan took issue with the number of Eastern and Southern European immigrants coming to America. The Klan took the position that only a native-born American was truly an America, and only truer still if they were white and Protestant. Now in 2016, the immigrants have changed geographically, but the underlying issue is still the same.

Regarding immigration, Trump says, "A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans." He makes no mention of those who want to make America their home. Trump's position to end birthright citizenship (any child born on U.S. soil is considered a U.S. citizen regardless of the citizenship status of the child's parents) narrows the pipeline of native-born Americans. Since the 1924 Klan emphasized white before native-born and most, if not all, immigrants are considered at least non-white and "alien" in the eyes of the Klan, an end to birthright citizenship would have been wise.

Preserving "American" life

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan believed that in 1924 these ideals and others were the only way to preserve the life they had come to know as they had come to know it and believed that a well-organized group was needed to promote their ideals. The recruitment material identified existing organizations in the minority groups to which they were opposed as well. The pamphlet states:

"The Jews are organized to protect Jewish interests; the Roman Catholics are organized to protect papal interests; the Negroes are organized to advance the interest of that race; and in various parts of America, various racial and alien-national groups are organized for the furtherance of their particular interests, and spread their peculiar ideals among our own American people. These racial and religious groups exercise the rights of freedom of assembly, free speech, and free press. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan believes that White, Native-born, Protestant Americans should be protected in their own exercise of these fundamental American rights, and especially in their right to insist that America shall be made American through the promulgation of American principles, the dissemination of American ideals, the creation of wholesome American sentiment, the preservation of American institutions and through all of those means that will make for a nobler, purer and more prosperous America.

-Why You Should Become A Klansman, 1924

(Note: The National Council of Jewish Communities formed in 1932 to unify all previously organized neighborhood groups; The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] formed in 1909.)

For the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, their existence and activity was the only way to preserve their America.

Likewise, for Donald Trump and the Republican Party, adhering to their principles and ideas is the only way to capture America's greatness once again — a greatness that is apparently white, native-born and Protestant. 


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