How Powerful Are Hate Groups in American Politics?
From Muslim hate groups to white supremacy groups, America has been plagued with extremists that have attempted to limit the freedoms others have enjoyed. Whether that be through slander and libel, intimidation, or outright violence, it's clear these groups have one thing in mind; to take back what they believed was America. And with the paranoia fostering under the guidance of the media, cultural stereotypes, and societal discrimination, it's easy to see just how these hate groups came to be.
Of course, most of the time we simply ignore them. However, sometimes it's hard. When we question what these groups are saying, they consider it to be a freedom of speech, and by silencing them, we silence ourselves. They launch terrorist attacks to try and get attention. They try recruiting others, all the while fulfilling the delusion that their way is the best way, no matter what anyone else says. They ignore criticisms and continue on hurting others, if only for their benefit. Groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and Christian Identity have been labeled as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
However, did you know that these groups once carried political and cultural influence? And even now, with our growing minority population, these groups are continuing to influence the majority, influences that have managed to work its way into politics.
The Klu Klux Klan
One prevailing example of a group that had political power is The Klu Klux Klan, or the KKK. The KKK was a white supremacist group that was founded in the Southern United States in the 1860s. There were three separate movements within the Klan.
The first movement came from Tennessee, where they tried to combat Republican strategies of Reconstruction. The Klan used terrorist strategies, such as violence and assassinations, to try and subdue it. Many white Republicans and majority black institutions, such as schools and churches, fell prey to Klan violence. By the 1870s, the Klan's influence spread throughout the South, where many different classes and social statuses united against Reconstruction efforts. The Klan's influence became so great that it wasn't common when local law officials would turn a blind eye to Klan activity. It got so bad that Republicans had to go to Congress for help, which resulted in legislation that protected both their civil and human rights.
After a brief period of decline, the Klan arose again in Georgia in the 1920s. This Klan took an additional stance not only against blacks, but also against Jews, Catholics, and immigrants. With its burning crosses and marches, the Klan flourished under the fear that communist influence would spread to the United States. They also drew a sort of paranoid inspiration from what they perceived to a decadence in morality, as seen through criminal gang violence and divorce. Despite its activities, Klan membership grew by frightening people with change, as well as embracing Protestantism. During this time, both Republicans, Democrats, and Independents were known to be Klansmen, and their influence was strong in both the South and the Midwest. In states such as Alabama and California, Klansmen did hold public offices. Even so, organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League pressured Congress to put a stop to the Klan, which later proved to be successful. It's important to note that Klan membership had managed to reach a peak of 6 million during this time.
The third Klan rose in opposition to the civil rights movements. Arguably enough, this was a period when Klan political influence was at their strongest. For example, in Alabama and Mississippi, Klan members established alliances with local governments in order to continue their harassment of the blacks. Despite this however, rising protest against the Klan's actions, as well as an increasingly progressive American public, caused the Klan to be subdued. As of now, while the Klan is still very much legal, they have little to no power. Should they begin threatening and violently harassing others, their actions could be grounds for prosecution.
Below are some politicians who were Klan members, which include:
- Benjamin F. Stapleton was the Democratic mayor of Denver during the 1920s, who had appointed various Klansmen into positions of office. The majority of his voters were Klan members, and though he did struggle with a few decisions, such as appointing a Klansman as chief of police, he still chose to do so under Klan pressure. Even with the rise of anti-Klan sentiment, he refused to denounce them.
- David Duke was a politician who ran for both the Democratic and the Republican presidential primaries between 1988-1992. He is a particularly famous for his efforts in white supremacy and Holocaust Denial. Interestingly enough, at first, he refused to endorse the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, simply because he believed Trump was too friendly with Jews. He has long since faded into political obscurity. When he later reversed his decision, Trump, ironically enough, said he would not accept an endorsement from Duke, and had even claimed to not know him.
- Bibb Graves was a Democratic Governor of Alabama who managed to win the seat after being endorsed by the KKK. Despite having some influence within the KKK, Graves more than likely used the organization to further their political careers.
- Clarence Morley was a Republican Governor of Colorado who was particularly famous for his exploits against the Catholics. In fact, it'd even gotten to the point where he tried having the University of Colorado to remove all non-Protestant professors (that is, Catholics and Jews). He was regarded as one of the more extreme governors in Colorado, but fortunately, most of the bills he endorsed failed.
Bigotry in Politics
It's clear that hate groups did influence politics in some way, so much so that top officials had to speak out against it. Former President George W. Bush had attacked this bigotry, saying that America refers to a population "from every race, religion, [and] ethnicity", and to hinder that sort of population would be considered a "blasphemy against the American creed." Franklin D. Roosevelt had stated that "men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds." Jimmy Carter called out the racism in America, stating that it's his hope that both Democrats and Republicans will take a stand against racism.
Even so, that very bigotry they spoke out against was eerily similar to the rhetoric the KKK adopted. Arkansas State Representative Loy Mauch had stated that the Confederate flag was "a symbol of Jesus Christ", and is also a member of The League of the South, an organization dedicated to the independence of southern states. Minnesota State Representative Michele Bachmann is a member of the Tea Party, and has made outlandish comments, from saying that Disney's "The Lion King" was a vehicle for gay propaganda, to claiming that carbon dioxide wasn't harmful, to even stating that a gay musician should repent because of their orientation. The White House isn't even spared from this. Trump's nomination for his newest Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has been noted for his Islamophobic views, so much so that the Southern Poverty Law Center had expressed concerns for these views. Trump has also drawn alarm from others, from tweeting fake statistics, to halfheartedly criticizing hate groups, with one glaring example being Charlottesville. Even now, according to the Pew Research center, most hate crimes are motivated more so by race and ethnicity than anything else, and while politicians do respond to them, the legislation passed makes it clear that there is anything but.
Racist Legislation Passed
Of course, the KKK was just an example of a hate group in politics. There have been many independent politicians that have promoted inequality based on a number of factors, whether they be gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. For instance, the U.S Supreme Court has labelled the voter registration laws in Texas as racist, and has had a negative impact on voter turn out. Even with the explanation that these laws prevent voter fraud, studies have shown that this was not the case. Another example was the fact that there was found to be voter suppression in North Carolina. Many have sought for laws against same-sex couples to adopt, and have limited LGBT rights through religious freedom acts. From the Muslim ban Donald Trump implements, to the "protection of freedom" acts that many have used to try and defend their actions, reasons for defending these blatant constitutional violations have more often than not been met with criticisms..
So How Powerful Are They?
By themselves, not very.
A majority of the time, hate groups are ostracized from mainstream society, and despite the racist biases that America may have, these groups draw little power from that. However, like any other group, when they have the societal and political influence, they can exert power that will further disclaim America's claim to freedom. The Klu Klux Klan was just an example of how these groups can progress..
Even so, the majority of American society has become more progressive. People see now that marginalized groups weren't meant to be pitied, but rather to be treated as equals. Equality has been given to those who were belittled in the past, such as the LGBT community, minorities, and women. Immigration has started to become more favored, with more and more minorities becoming apart of American politics. However, despite what many politicians may think, the legislation passed and the protection granted for these people aren't enough to begin to compensate for America's long history of inequality. We have to be vigilant in dealing with these groups, and continue to fight for the equality everyone deserves.