Mussolini and the Meaning of Fascism 

Nicholas Farrell, Mussolini: A New Life (London: Phoenix, 2003) 

Nicholas Farrell, author of ‘Mussolini: A New Life’, his controversial revisionist biography of Il Duce, is a journalist, born in England but now resident in Italy. 

Indeed, at the time he wrote this biography, he was living in Predappio, Mussolini’s birthplace and a mecca for neo-fascists, which, though long a communist stronghold, had, at that time (the authorities have since clamped down), a booming cottage industry selling what can only be described as ‘Mussolini Memorabilia’ to visiting tourists, fascist pilgrims and the merely curious. 

Mussolini: A New Life’ is not the definitive Mussolini biography. Indeed, it does not purport to be. Instead, in Farrell’s own view, this honour goes to Italian historian Renzo De Felice’s four-volume magnus opus.

Unfortunately, however, De Felice’s biography stretches to around 6,000 pages, spread over four volumes and published as eight separate books, has never been translated into English, and remained unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 1996. This makes it a heavy read even for someone fluent in Italian, a daunting work to translate, and one likely to be read in full only by professional historians. 

Farrell seems to view his own biography as primarily an abridgement, translation and popularization of De Felice’s work, written in order to bring De Felice’s new revelations, and new perspective, to a wider English-speaking audience. 

In contrast to De Felice’s work, Farrell’s biography is highly readable, and indeed written in a strangely colloquial, conversational style. 

Revisionist 

Yet, be forewarned, Farrell’s biography of Mussolini is not only highly readable, it is also highly revisionist, and attracted no little controversy and criticism when first published in 2003, being variously dismissed as everything from fascist apologetics and whitewash to a hagiographic paean to Il Duce. 

Why then the controversy? How then was Farrell’s work revisionist and why did it attract so much controversy? 

There seem to be two main elements where Farrell departs from the mainstream historical narrative regarding fascism in Italy. 

First, Farrell argues that Mussolini was not so bad, and even was a relatively successful Italian ruler compared to those who came both before and after him, his posthumous reputation being damaged primarily by his association with Hitler and National Socialism.

Second, Farrell claims that Mussolini, far from being ‘right-wing’, remained, until his dying day, very much a socialist

Given that Farrell himself is himself far from socialist, these claims come close to being contradictory. After all, if Mussolini was a leftist, then what is a conservative like Farrell doing defending him? If he was a socialist than surely he was indeed bad, at least from the perspective of a conservative like Farrell. 

Of course, it is possible for conservatives to admire some leftists. (An old aphorism, often attributed to Leo Rosten, has it that conservatives only admire radicals some several centuries after the latter are dead). 

However, Farrell perhaps lays himself open to the charge of wanting to both have his cake and eat it too. 

A cynic might interpret his thesis thus: Mussolini was not so bad, and, even if he was, he was a socialist anyway so he’s not our problem. 

Rehabilitation 

Is Farrell, then, successful in rehabilitating Il Duce? 

Well, yes, up to a point – the point in question being the latter’s disastrous decision to ally with Germany during World War Two. 

Up until that point, Mussolini had been, at least by twentieth century Italian standards, a relatively successful ruler and, by contemporary international standards, a not especially repressive one. 

Of course, he had, with the aid of his infamous Blackshirt militia, more or less bullied his way into power. Indeed, contrary to popular perception, his rise to power had actually been rather more violent than that of Hitler in Germany, albeit with violence on all sides not just on the part of the Fascists. 

Yet, after he had come to power, Mussolini was not especially repressive or draconian. There were no Gulags or concentration camps in Italy (at least prior to WWII), nor any Night of the Long Knifes or Stalinist purges

Of course, Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia was indeed brutal. Here, indeed, concentration camps were employed, among other brutal and draconian measures. 

However, Italian rule in Ethiopia was surely no worse than what preceded it, namely the rule of Haile_Selassie, under whom slavery was still both lawful and widely practiced, despite repeated promises by successive Ethiopian rulers to prohibit and eradicate the practice.[1]

Moreover, Mussolini had a point when he charged Britain and France with hypocrisy for opposing Italian expansion in Africa despite their own vastly greater African colonial possessions, acquired only a few years earlier, sometimes with comparable brutality. 

For example, during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, which was fought by the British for transparently self-interested economic reasons, namely to gain control over the Boer Republics’ lucrative and newly-discovered gold and diamond reserves, was similarly brutal in nature. Here, the British themselves employed concentration camps, and indeed are even sometimes credited with having invented the concept. 

Suppressing the Mafia

Today, there is a tendency to deny that the fascist regime had any positive impact on Italy, an implausible conclusion given both the popularity and endurance of the regime in Italy. 

Take, for example, Mussolini’s suppression of the Mafia in Sicily, an achievement to which Farrell himself devotes only a few paragraphs (p182-3). 

In most recent histories of the Sicilian Mafia, Mussolini and his regime are denied any credit whatever for this achievement. 

For example, historian John Dickie, in his books Blood Brotherhoods and Cosa Nostra, takes great pains to emphasize that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not, in fact, finally defeated, but merely went underground and became inactive. Moreover, he insists, most of those mafiosi who were arrested and imprisoned or sent into internal exile during Cesare Mori’s clampdown on the Mafia were not Mafia bosses, but rather, at best, low-level soldiers and underlings. 

It is, of course, true that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not finally defeated. Indeed, this was amply proven by the resurgence of the Mafia during the post-War period under the Allied occupation. 

Yet this view neglects to credit that merely forcing the Mafia to go underground and become inactive was an achievement in and of itself, and seemingly resulted in a massive decrease in serious violent crime, including homicide, in the Mafia’s traditional heartland of Palermo. 

For example, another historian of the Sicilian Mafia reports that, in the traditional Mafia stronghold of Palmermo:

Between 1924 and 1928 murders… dropped from 278 per year to 25, which, by any standard of crime prevention is impressive” (Mafia: Inside the Dark Heart: p92). 

Moreover, while leaving (some of) the mafia bosses untouched and focusing law enforcement attention on low-level soldiers may seem both unfair and inefficient, arresting and taking out of circulation a sufficiently large number of low-level soldiers is likely a highly effective method of suppressing a group such as the Mafia, since it is low-level soldiers who, on order from above, are responsible for most of the day-to-day operation, crimes and violence of the group.[2]

Indeed, if the Mafia had indeed been made inactive in this way on a long-term, indefinite basis, then ultimately it would surely have died away and ceased to exist as a criminal network. 

Thus, it was only the overthrow of the Fascist regime and Allied occupation that permitted the resurgence of the Mafia in the post-War period, not least because imprisoned and exiled Mafiosi were, on their return to Sicily, able to use the fact of their imprisonment or exile under the fascist regime as proof of their supposed anti-fascist credentials, in order to pose as anti-fascists and hence secure appointment to high office under the Allied occupation.[3]

One may, then, question the methods employed by Mori and the Fascists in their repression of the Mafia, which essentially involved employing Mafia-style intimidation and force against the Mafia itself. One may also debate whether the ends justified the means. 

However, the achievement of the regime in suppressing the Mafia surely cannot itself be denied. 

A Benevolent Dictator? 

Mussolini is famously credited with making the trains run on time. Certainly, the period of his rule up until the beginning of World War II constituted the most stable period of governance in Italy’s turbulent 20th century history, arguably right up to the present day. 

Moreover, in agreeing the Papal Accords and thereby resolving Roman Question which had dogged the Italian state from its birth, Mussolini produced a legacy that outlived both Mussolini and Fascism itself, since this agreement continues to govern the relationship between Church and State in Italy to this day. 

Thus, Farrell grandiloquently but not wholly unjustifiably claims: 

Garibaldi had begun the process of the creation of Italy. Mussolini would complete it” (p199). 

Mussolini and Hitler: A Match Made in Hell?

Mussolini’s undoing ultimately came with the rise of the Nazism in Germany, the coming of the Second World War and Mussolini’s disastrous decision to ally his regime with that of Hitler in Germany and hence tie its own fate, and that of Mussolini himself, with that of Hitler and Germany. 

While today we might think of Hiter and Mussolini as natural allies, the alliance between Germany and Italy was actually far from a foregone conclusion. 

Indeed, to his credit, Mussolini was initially wary of German National Socialism and indeed of Hitler himself, despite the latter’s professed admiration for, and ardent courtship of, the Italian dictator upon whom he had (partly) modelled himself. 

Fascism,” he famously declared, “is not for export” (p240). 

I should be pleased, I suppose, that Hitler has carried out a revolution on our lines. But they are Germans. So they will end by ruining our idea.” 

This notion, namely that Germans, by virtue of being German, would inevitably ruin the idea of fascism, even if it ultimately proved prophetic, is obviously crudely jingoistic. Yet such jingoism was entirely consistent with fascist ideology. 

After all, fascism was a nationalist ideology, and nationalist ideologies are intrinsically jingoistic.

Nationalist movements are also, by their very nature, necessarily limited in their appeal to members of a single nation or ethnicity. Indeed, the whole notion of exporting nationalism to foreigners is arguably a contradiction in terms.

A nationalist of one nation is no necessarily a natural ally for the nationalist of another, especially if the nations in question share a border. On the contrary, nationalists of neighbouring nations are natural enemies.[4]

Moreover, the fact Italy was the chief ally and protector of the Federal State of Austria, whose annexation was a major priority of Hitler’s foreign policy, and had herself annexed German-speaking South Tyrol at the end of World War I, certainly did not help matters.[5]

Hitler, however, was to prove an ardent suitor. 

Mussolini would have preferred, Farrell reports, an understanding with the British. (So incidentally would Hitler himself.)

Moreover, initially the British political establishment was surprisingly favourably disposed.

Indeed, Mussolini even counted among his most ardent British admirers one Winston Churchill, who, though then out of office, had in 1933 extolled fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Il Duce himself as “the Roman genius” and “greatest law-giver among living men” (p225). 

Indeed, Farrell reveals that, given his staunch anti-communist credentials, oratorical ability and personal charisma, Churchill was was even touted by some contemporaries as a potential fascist dictator in his own right, journalist Clare Sheridan writing that he was “talked of as the likely leader of a fascisti party in England” (quoted: p130). 

Yet three factors, Farrell reports, ultimately led to Mussolini’s estrangement from Britain. These were: 

  1. The Spanish civil war
  1. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden
  1. Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia

Each of these factors strained Mussolini’s relationship with Britain, and precluded any possibility of an alliance, or even an understanding, between the two powers. Ultimately, this led Mussolini, reluctantly at first, into the German Führer’s fatal embrace. 

Anti-Semitism 

Hitler is also likely to blame for Italy’s anti-Semitic laws, introduced in 1938. 

True, Hitler, it seems, exerted no direct pressure on Mussolini with regard to this issue. However, given that Mussolini had been in power a decade and a half without enacting such laws, and changed his mind only after allying with Hitler, it seems likely that this was the decisive factor. 

However, Farrell claims that the rapprochement with Germany was “not the reason”, only “the catalyst” for this decision (p304). 

The real reason, he claims, was that: 

Jews had come to epitomise Mussolini’s three enemies: Communism, the bourgeoisie and anti-fascism [since] Jews were prominent in all three” (p304). 

This may be true. However, Jews, it should also be noted, were also prominent among Fascists themselves. Indeed, Farrell himself reports: 

More than 10,000 Jews, about one-third of adult Italian Jews, were members of the PNF in 1938” (p303).

Thus, relative to overall population size, Jews were in fact overrepresented among members of the PNF by a factor of three (Italy’s Jews: From Emancipation to Fascism: p44).[6]

Perhaps most prominent and influential among Jewish Italian fascists was Mussolini’s long-term mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, a leading Italian intellectual in her own right, who had followed, or perhaps even led, Mussolini from socialism to fascism, and who plays a prominent role in the first half of Farrell’s biography.

In addition to being Mussolini’s mistress (or rather one of his many mistresses) and a confidante of Il Duce for almost thirty years, she is thought to have been a key and influential figure in the Fascist regime, helping shape policy and decision-making from behind the scenes. 

She was also, Farrell surmises, the only of Mussolini’s many mistresses whom his semi-literate peasant wife (who was also, Farrell reveals, possibly his illegitimate half-sister: p40) truly “hated” and regarded as a serious threat to her marriage (p73-4). 

However, as Sarfatti aged, Mussolini’s ardour seemingly faded in parallel to her looks, suggesting that her hold over him had always been primarily sexual rather than intellectual. The breakdown of this relationship was likely a key factor in paving the way for both the Pact of Steel and Italy’s race laws. 

Mussolini also, Farrell reports, saw the Jews as harbouring “secret loyalties that conflicted with Fascism”, much like the Freemasons, themselves less fashionable victims of persecution under both Nazism and Italian Fascism (p304). 

Farrell attempts to play down the extent of persecution to which Jews were subject in Fascist Italy and absolve Mussolini of any culpability in the holocaust. 

Thus, he insists, Italy’s anti-Semitic laws “did not involve violence at all” (p310), and he concludes: 

Although not anti-Semitic, Mussolini became increasingly anti-Jewish” (p304). 

However, Farrell never really explains what exactly is the difference between these two surely synonymous terms.

Farrell also emphasizes that Mussolini’s racism was not biological but “spiritual” in nature (p305). In other words, it was not Hitlerian, but rather Spenglerian and Evolian.[7]

If this is intended as a defence of Mussolini, it rings decidedly hollow.

That the Italian dictator’s dislike of them reflected not biological but purely cultural factors was presumably scant consolation those Jews expelled from their jobs on account of their Jewishness, even if the criteria for qualifying as a Jew was less inclusive, and more open to exemptions and corrupt interpretation, than in Germany. 

Farrell quotes historian De Felice, himself, incidentally, of Jewish ancestry, as observing: 

Mussolini’s campaign against the Jews ‘was more against the Italians than against the Jews’” (p304). 

This may be true. However, I doubt either Farrell or De Felice could ever deny that it was surely the latter who ended up paying the greater price.  

The Holocaust 

On the other hand, Farrell does a good job of absolving Italians as a whole from any culpability in the holocaust. 

Italian government officials, ordered to round up Jews for deportation, often refused to comply and were deliberately obstructive. Many Italians, including the Vatican, hid and protected Jews. 

Mussolini himself, however, emerges rather less unscathed. 

Thus, reading between the lines, Mussolini seems to have been largely indifferent to the fate of the Jews

On the one hand, he ordered the rounding up and deportation of Jews in accord with Nazi orders. However, he also overlooked the refusal of many officials to comply with these orders. 

Certainly, even on the evidence presented by Farrell himself, his claim that “Mussolini did much to save Jews from Hitler” seems unwarranted (p363). 

The most Farrell manages to prove is that Mussolini was far less anti-Semitic than Hitler – faint praise indeed. 

World War II 

It is perhaps from WWII that the popular image of Mussolini as an inept and buffoonish figure emerged. Partly, this reflected allied propaganda. However, despite Farrell’s attempted rehabilitation of Il Duce, Mussolini’s conduct of the war does indeed seem inept from the start. 

Thus, before the War began, Mussolini made, arguably, his first mistake, agreeing the Pact of Steel with Germany, which obliged him to come to Germany’s aid even in the event of an aggressive war initiated by Germany herself (p317). 

Then, after the War had indeed begun in just this way, Mussolini conspicuously failed to come to Germany’s aid, in direct contravention of her newly acquired treaty obligations. 

Mussolini justified this decision on the grounds that Italy was not yet ready for war. In this assessment, he was right, as was proven tragically true when Italy did enter the war, with disastrous consequences, both for Mussolini’s own Fascist regime, and, arguably, for National Socialist Germany as well. 

To his credit, then, Mussolini had not, it seems, made the classic error of ‘falling for his own publicity’. He knew that his own militaristic braggadocio and podium strutting were mere empty bluff, and that war with Britain and France was the last thing that the Italian armed forces, or the Italian state, needed at this time.[8]

However, on witnessing Germany’s dramatic defeat of France, Mussolini suddenly decided he wanted to get in on the action, and rather in on the spoils.

Greedily and rather transparently anticipating a share of the territory of the conquered French, he suddenly and belatedly signed up for the war, albeit right about the same time that Hitler had already (seemingly) won it and hence had no further need of him. 

As a result, he got none of the territorial gains he so eagerly anticipated, the relevant parts of French territory having already been promised to the new French Vichy regime as part of the German-French peace accord of 1940 which brought an end to the fighting. 

Now, however, for better or worse, Mussolini had thrown in his lot with Hitler. Italy was now in for the long-haul and Mussolini’s own fate directly tied to that of the German war machine. Henceforth, Mussolini’s Italy would find itself relegated to the role of junior partner to the German behemoth, increasingly surrendering any capacity for independent decision-making. 

Mussolini did, however, make one last attempt to assert independence from the Nazi war machine. Chagrined that Hitler kept invading foreign powers without consulting his ostensible ally, Mussolini decided to do the same for himself, aspiring to emulate his ally by invading Greece, and thereby shift the focus of the war towards the Mediterranean, where his own territorial ambitions were naturally, and quite sensibly, focused. 

The attempt to assert independence backfired disastously. His invasion easily rebuffed, Mussolini was forced to call in for help from the very Germans from whom he had sought to establish independence and whose military successes he had so envied and sought to emulate. 

Moreover, the delay to the proposed invasion of the USSR that Germany’s intervention on Italy’s behalf in Greece necessitated, has been implicated as a key factor that ultimately doomed Operation Barbarossa, and hence led, ultimately, to the fall of both Hitler and Mussolini. 

Farrell does convincingly establish that, in his disagreements with Hitler regarding the conduct, strategy and overall direction of the war, Mussolini was, perhaps surprisingly, often more strategically astute than the Führer, who, despite his remarkable early military successes (or indeed because of them), had become increasingly detached from reality and inflexible in his strategic thinking. 

Thus, most military historians would agree that shifting the focus of the war effort towards the Mediterranean, as Mussolini advocated, was a sound strategic policy, not only in Italy’s own strategic interests, but also that of Germany and the Axis as a whole. 

But, alas, it was to no avail. Hitler was no more willing to listen to the wise counsel of his Italian counterpart than he was to listen to that of his own senior generals and commanders. Instead, Hitler had his sights firmly fixed on the Soviet Union, and would brook no delay or postponement, let alone cancelation, of these plans in order to secure his southern flank (which Churchill was later to identify as Europe’s ‘soft underbelly’) and establish complete control of the Mediterranean. 

Ultimately, Farrell is successful in explaining why Mussolini did what he did in World War Two given the limited information available to him at the time and the difficult predicament in which he increasingly found himself. 

However, he fails to revise the established view that these decisions were, in the long-term, ultimately anything other than disastrous miscalculations. 

Ciano – Diarist and Dilettante

Not only was Mussolini more often more strategically astute than the Führer, he was also, Farrell shows, far more strategically adept than his foreign minister and son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.

The latter plays a prominent role in the second half of Farrell’s biography, probably on the value of his famous diaries as an historical source regarding Mussolini’s thinking, and that of his inner-circle, during this crucial time period.

From initially hero-worshiping his famous father-in-law, Ciano gradually became a firm critic of Mussolini, criticising the latter’s decision-making repeatedly in his diaries and ultimately betraying him.

Yet, in Farrell’s account, Ciano emerges as a political dilitante, a playboy, and a hypocrite – “the spoilt child of the regime” – who was always unpopular with the public (p322).

Thus, while he later, in his diaries, criticized Mussolini for his decision to ally with Germany, and, in the post-War period, according to Farrell, “a whole industry sprouted up on the basis of his famous diaries which would have us believe… that Ciano tried to srop the Pact of Steel”, the truth was that Ciano was no more than “the Duce’s yes man, however much whinging he did in private” (p316-7).

Moreover, though he was indeed often critical of the alliance with Germany, his views changed by the day. Thus, Farrell reports, despite his earlier criticisms, “as soon as Germany started winning easily in the west in the spring of 1940 he was all in favour of Germany again” (p322). He was also a noted champion of Italy’s disastrous invasion of Greece (p340).

Indeed, Farrell does a far better job of showing that Ciano was even more incompetent, and inconsistent, in his strategic pronouncements than was Mussolini, than he does showing that Mussoini himself was in any way competent. 

History is written, it seems, not so much by the victors, or, at any rate, not only by the victors, as by those with sufficient time on their hands, and sufficient inclination, to put across their own side of things in diaries or other writings that outlive them. As Churchill was to put it:

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.

Was Mussolini a Socialist? 

What then of Farrell’s second claim: Did Mussolini really always remain a man of the Left until his dying day?

Certainly, both Fascism and Mussolini seem to have begun on the Left

Mussolini’s own journey from the Left began when he advocated Italian involvement in the First World War, contrary to the doctrine of the Second International. 

Yet, in this, Mussolini was merely following in the path trodden by socialists across Europe, who, caught up in the prevailing mood of nationalism and war-fever, abandoned the internationalism and pan-proletarian solidarity of the Second International en masse, to come out in support of, and march to their deaths in the service of, their respective nation’s war-efforts.[9]

Thus, as had occurred so often before, and would occur so many more times in the future, idealism and internationalism came crashing down in the face of nationalism, ethnocentrism and war fever. 

Mussolini himself thus came to believe in the power of nationalism to move men’s souls in a way that appeals to mere economic class interests never could. Thus, he came to believe that:

Nation had a stronger grip on men than class” (p61). 

As sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe was later to put it in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (which i have reviewed here): 

Blood runs thicker than money” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p243)

Thus, Mussolini and the early fascists, like the pre-Hitler German Workers’ Party in Germany, sought to combine socialism with nationalism

Mussolini also came to believe that, just as the Bolshevik revolution in Russia would never have been brought about without Lenin, so socialist revolution in Italy would require an elite revolutionary vanguard.

This was contrary to Marxist doctrine, and indeed ironically Leninist doctrine too, whereby the coming revolution was seen as both historically inevitable and envisaged as being brought about by the proletariat as a whole. 

In this assessment, Mussolini was surely right. The Bolshevik revolution would never have occurred without Lenin as the driving force.

When, in 1917, Lenin arrived by train in Petrograd, courtesy of the German government, even the vast majority of fellow Bolsheviks were resigned to a policy of support for the newly-established provisional government. Lenin was, at first, almost alone in advocating armed revolution, yet this policy was ultimately to prove a success. 

Ironically, then, the much-maligned Great Man Theory of History’, as espoused by Thomas Carlyle, became perennially unfashionable at almost precisely the moment that, in the persons of first Lenin and later Hitler, it was proven so tragically true.[10]

However, recognizing the need for an elite revolutionary vanguard also led Mussolini to question another key tenet of Leftism, namely belief in the equality of man

In other words, if an elite revolutionary vanguard was indeed necessary to bring about socialism, then this suggested that this elite vanguard represented a superior caste of men. This, ironically, undermined the entire basis for socialism, which presupposed human equality.

This led Mussolini to Nietzsche and ultimately to Fascism, Mussolini himself being quoted by Farrell as explaining to a visiting American journalist during the 1920s that: 

Nietzsche had ‘cured me of my socialism’” (p30). 

Yet Farrell insists that Mussolini nevertheless remained, in some sense, even thereafter, and indeed throughout his political life. Thus, he writes:

Mussolini was never a democrat. But much of him was and remained a Socialist” (p39).

However, in making this claim, Farrell is not entirely consistent. Thus, explaining the adoption of the black Arditi flag by the fascist faithful, he explains:

Red was the colour of the enemy – Socialism” (p80).

However, on the very next page he claims:

Fascism was anything but a right-wing movement. The first Fascist programme… reflected the preponderance of the futurists was very left-wing” (p81). 

These different claims, only a page apart, are difficult to reconcile with one another.

Perhaps, in referring to socialism as “the enemy”, Farrell has in mind ‘Socialism’ with a capital ‘S’ – i.e. the programme of the Italian Socialist party. On this view, the Socialists might be the enemy of Fascism precisely because both movements were left-wing and hence competed in the same political space for the same constituency of support.[11]

However, Farrell does not employ capitalization in any such consistent manner and also capitalizes ‘socialism’ when referring to Mussolini’s own beliefs (e.g. p39).

Mussolini’s eventual return to his leftist roots, Farrell reports, comes only much later, after his overthrow and dramatic rescue by the Germans, with the establishment of the short-lived Italian Social Republic in Northern Italy under Nazi patronage.

By then, however, Mussolini was a Nazi puppet, and any socialist pretentions, or indeed pretentions to any sort of action independent of, let alone in defiance to, his Nazi patrons, were wholly ineffectual.

Defining Fascism

To decide whether Fascism was a left-wing movement, we must first define we mean by ‘fascism’. Unfortunately, however, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ changed a great deal over time.

The word ‘fascism’ derives from the Italian word ‘fascio’, meaning ‘a bundle of sticks’, in particular the fasces, a symbol of power and authority in ancient Rome.

Amusingly, it seems to be cognate with the word faggot, now chiefly employed as a pejorative Americanism for a homosexual male, but which also originally meant a bundle of sticks

The political usage seems to derive from the notion that several sticks bound together are stronger than one stick alone, hence emphasizing the importance of collectivism and group solidarity. 

With regard to situating fascism on the left-right political spectrum, it is certainly the case that, like Mussolini himself, Fascism began on the left

Thus, among the first political groups to style themselves ‘fascist’ was the peasant Fasci Siciliani, who unsuccessfully fought for peasant land rights in Sicily in the late-nineteenth century.

Indeed, even the first incarnation of Mussolini’s own brand of fascism, namely the Fasces of Revolutionary Action, founded by Mussolini in 1914, was very much left-wing and revolutionary in orientation, being composed, in large part, of syndicalists and other disgruntled leftists estranged from the mainstream Italian left (i.e. the Italian Socialist Party).

Most left-wing parties are less radical in power than they promise to be while still in opposition. However, Mussolini’s (and Fascism’s) own move from the left began long before they ever even came within distant sight of power.

Thus, even as early as 1920, after humiliation at the polls during national elections the previous year, Farrell himself acknowledges:

Most of the Fascists of the first hour – especially those of left-wing origin – had gone… [and] fascism… moved right” (p95).

Thus, while fascism was initially anti-clericalist and associated with revolutionary Syndicalism and the Futurist movement, it ultimately came to be associated with Catholicism and traditionalism. 

Thus, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ evolved and changed with the regime itself. 

Fascism’ ultimately came to mean whatever the regime stood for at any particular point in time, something that both changed over time and never represented a coherent ideology as much as it did pragmatic realpolitik.

Defining the Left

To determine if fascism was truly leftist, we must also define, not only what ‘fascism’ means, but also what we mean by leftist. This is only marginally less problematic than defining ‘fascism’.

Hayek, in his celebrated The Road to Serfdom, equates the Left with big government and a planned economy. On this basis, he therefore classes both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism as leftist.

However, leftism is usually associated, not only with big government and a planned economy, but also with redistribution and egalitarianism. In this sense, fascism was not especially leftist.

On the other hand, anti-Semitism has always seemed to me fundamentally leftist.

Thus, Marxists believe that society is controlled by wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else. Anti-Semites, on the other hand, believe society is controlled by wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else.

The distinction between Marxism and anti-Semitism is therefore racial and largely tangential. Anti-Semites insist that our capitalist oppressors are largely or wholly Jewish in ethnicity. Orthodox Marxists, on the other hand, take no stance on this matter either way.

Hence the famous aphorism that states:

Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.[12]

Defining the Right

If fascism cannot then unproblematically be described as a phenomenon of the left, can we then instead characterize it as a phenomenon of the right?

This, of course, requires a definition of ‘the right’. Unfortunately, however, defining the right is even more difficult than defining the Left. 

For example, Christian fundamentalist who wants to ban pornography and abortion has little in common with, on the one hand, a libertarian who wants to decriminalise prostitution and child pornography, nor, on the other, with a eugenicist who wants to make abortion, for certain classes of person, compulsory. Yet all three are classified as together as ‘right-wing’, even though they have no more in common with one another than any does with a raving, unreconstructed Marxist

The Right, then, is defined as, in effect, anything that is not the Left.

As Steven Pinker puts it, the Left is like the South Pole. Just as, at the South Pole, all directions lead north, so, at the Left Pole, all directions lead right.

Therefore, right-wing is itself a left-wing term – because it defines all political positions by reference to the extent to which they diverge from a perceived leftist ideal.

Therefore, debating whether fascism was really an ideology of left or right simply exposes the inadequacy of this one-dimensional conception of the political spectrum, whereby all political positions are situated on a single left-right axis.

A Third Way?

Rather than self-identifying as of ‘the Right’, Fascists themselves often affect to reject any simplistic situation of their views as either being of the left or the right. Instead, they insist that they have moved beyond left and right, transcended the left-right political divide, and represent instead a Third Position or Third Way.

This leads Farrell to propose an even more provocative analogy in his Preface, where he writes:

Whereas communist ideas appear terminally ill, the Fascist idea of the Third Way lives on and is championed by the standard bearers of the modern Left such as New Labour in Britain” (pxviii).

Unfortunately, however, Farrell never really gets around to expanding on this single throwaway sentence in his Preface.

On its face, it at first appears to rest on little more than a curious convergence of slogans – namely, both Fascism and New Labour claimed to represent a Third Way.

However, each meant something quite different by this term.

Thus, for Mussolini the Third Way (or ‘terza via’), namely fascism itself, entailed nationalism, abrogation of individual rights to the needs of the nation, and totalitarian dictatorship.

In contrast, much though the notion of totalitarian dictatorship might have appealed to Tony Blair, the objectives ofNew Labour were altogether more modest in scale.

Indeed, the two regimes differed not only in what their respective ‘Third Ways’ were to involve, but also in their conception of the ‘First’ and ‘Second Ways’ to which they represented themselves as an alternative.

Thus, for Mussolini, the ‘Third Way’ represented an alternative to, on the one hand, Soviet-style communism, and, on the other, western liberal democracy.

For Blair, on the other hand, it was an alternative to, on the one hand, Thatcherite neo-liberalism and, on the other, the sort of unreconstructed socialism that the Blairites dismissed as Old Labour.

Defining that Blairism or New Labour itself actually entailed is, however, much more difficult, and even more difficult, perhaps, than defining ‘fascism’.

This, then, perhaps points to a deeper affinity between the two movements. Both were not so much coherent ideologies as glorified marketing campaigns – triumphs of spin over substance.

Defining what either actually stood for, as opposed to merely against, is almost impossible.

Fascism’ and New Labour represented, then, little more than catchy political slogans that tapped into the zeitgeister of the respective ages, new words for not especially new ideas.

Indeed, Mussolini, himself a former journalist (and a very successful one at that), can perhaps lay claim to being the first politician to successfully manipulate modern media to manage his own public image – the first truly modern politician.

As for Farrell’s comparison between Fascism and New Labour, this, one suspects, reflected little more than a marketing campaign of Farrell’s own.

Farrell, also a journalist, was using a provocative quote to attract media attention, publicity and hence, so he hoped, sales for his new book in Blair-era Britain.

Today, less than twenty years later, it already seems strangely anachronistic, as New Labour has itself gone the way of fascism, into the dustbin of history (at least for now), to be replaced, in the Labour Party at least, with a return to unreconstructed ‘Old Labour’ socialism, albeit now buttressed with a new, even more moronic, cultural Marxist ‘wokeism’ and deranged feminism.

Indeed, on the evidence of some recent Labour Party leaders, even “communist ideals” may no longer be as “terminally ill” as Farrell once so confidently predicted.

This, however, merely reinforces my suspicion that any attempt to draw analogies between fascism and contemporary political movements or regimes is ultimately unhelpful and reflects little more than a version of guilt by association or what Leo Strauss aptly termed the reductio ad Hitlerum.

Fascism certainly has little in common with the contemporary Left, despite the efforts of some conservatives to prove the contrary. However, as a nationalist and fundamentally anti-individualist ideology, it arguably has even less in common with the individualist and globalist ethos of contemporary neoliberalism and neoconservatism, let alone libertarianism.

As George Orwell wrote only a year or so after the defeat of both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy:

The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.”

So let’s stop using the word ‘fascist’ as a slur against our political opponents and restrict its use to an historical context.[13]

___________________

Endnotes

[1] The continued practice of slavery in Ethiopia was indeed among the justifications employed by the Italians to justify their invasion and conquest. Moreover, the Italians did indeed pass the first laws formally abolishing the practice of slavery in Ethiopia, though the extent to which these laws were enforced, or represented a mere propaganda exercise, seems to be in some dispute.

[2] Imprisoning or exiling large numbers of low-level mafia soldiers and associates will not only have taken those individuals themselves out of operation but also likely have deterred others from taking their places.

[3] Other, more genuine, Italian anti-fascists, who had indeed fought against the fascist regime, tended to be communists, who the American (and British) occupying forces were hence loathe to promote to high office. In addition, whereas the stronghold of the Mafia has always been Sicily, and other powerful Italian criminal syndicates (e.g. the ’Ndrangheta and Cammora) are likewise each based in regions of the Southern Italian Mezzogiorno, the Italian communists were always strongest in heavily industrialized Northern Italy. This ‘unholy alliance’ between the Americans, the Mafia, and, later, the Catholic Church and conservative Christian Democratic Party soon came to be almost institutionalized in post-war Italian politics, as during the Cold War, the American government, together with Italian conservatives opted to ally with the Mafia as the ‘lesser of two evils’ against Italy’s powerful Communist Party.

[4] Thus, for example, Irish nationalists and British nationalists are natural enemies, as are Pakistani and Indian nationalists, and Turkish and Greek nationalists. Indeed, as far back as the third century BCE, Arthashastra, the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, observed that next-door neighbours, by virtue of sharing a border, are natural enemies, whereas a state’s next-door neighbours but one, by virtue of sharing a border with one’s immediate neighbours, and hence one’s enemies, but not with oneself, are natural allies. Thus, France and Scotland combined against their common neighbour England in the Auld Alliance which lasted two and a half centuries, while in the First World War Russia and France allied against their common neighbour Germany. Arthashastra’s observation is sometimes cited as the origin of the famous aphorism, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

[5] It is interesting to note that, even when Mussolini did belatedly embrace the idea of a ‘fascist international’, he initially excluded National Socialist Germany from this alliance. Thus, at the 1934 Montreux Fascist International Congress, representatives of the German National Socialist government were conspicuous by their absence. Yet, in contrast, representatives of Hitler’s enemy, the Federal State of Austria, then governed by the ‘AustrofascistFatherland Front, were in attendance.

[6] This statistic is perhaps misleading and probably reflects the higher levels of political engagement of Jews as compared to non-Jewish Italians, rather than any especial affinity towards Fascism. Jews were thus likely overrepresented among almost all political movements (other than those which are overtly anti-Semitic, of course), and may indeed have been overrepresented among communists and other opponents of the Fascist regime to an even greater degree than they were overrepresented among Fascists themselves.

[7] Personally, as long-term readers of this blog, or my amazon and goodreads book reviews (assuming any such people exist) may be aware, I am actually not unsympathetic to biological theories of race and of race differences. Of course, Nazi racial theories were indeed largely nonsense. However, in purporting to be biological, and hence scientific (even if this claim was disingenuous), they at least had one benefit over so-called ‘spiritual’ theories of race, namely the benefit of being testable and hence falsifiable. Indeed, Nazi claims regarding the inferiority of the Jews are not only in principle falsifiable, but have indeed been falsified, at least with respect to intelligence differences. In contrast, the so-called ‘spiritual racism’ of Spengler, Evola and perhaps Mussoini, which admits exceptions whereby an ethnic Jew can be ‘spiritually’ Aryan and vice versa, seems to me to be wholly unfalsifiable mysticism.

[8] Although remembered as a disciple of his compatriot Niccolò Machiavelli, Mussolini, with his militaristic braggadocio and strutting, had perhaps here imbued, or, more likely, independently hit upon, the teaching of that other great guru of military strategy and statecraft, Sun Tzu, who famously advised military leaders:

The most powerful tool of a leader is deception. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Thus, just as a powerful commander should fake weakness in order to lull his enemies into a false sense of security before attacking them, or even thereby provoking them to attack first, so a militarily weak power like Italy is advised to feign military strength and power in order to deter potential enemies from attacking.
However, it is likely that Mussolini’s own militaristic braggadocio and strutting was intended at least as much for internal consumption within Italy as on the international stage. Certainly, few foreign leaders seem to have been taken in.

[9] In this respect, Italy was, Mussolini and the fascists excepted, something of an outlier and exception, since, here, the leading socialist party, Partito Socialista Italiano, did indeed stand true to the ideals of the Second International by opposing Italy’s entry into the War. Unfortunately, however, there was no Second International left to which to remain true.

[10] To be clear, I do not here endorce the strong version of great man theory, whereby the impact of so-called ‘great men’ is viewed as, if not the sole, then at least the most important factor in determining the fate of peoples, nations and civilizations. On the contrary, the impact of ‘great men’ is, I believe, much less important than that of social, economic, ecological, environmental and biological factors. The overemphasis on the impact of ‘great men’ in some popular histories has, I suspect, more to do with literary conventions, which require narratives to focus on the adventures and trevails of heroes and villians and other human interest factors, in order to attract an audience, than with an objective appraisal of history. Such a focus is indeed, in my view, unscientific. However, as the undoubted impact of such figures as Lenin and Hitler, and many others, on history amply demonstrates, ‘great men’ do indeed, at least sometimes, have a major effect on human history, and such factors cannot be entirely ignored or ruled out by the serious historian. Of course, in referring to both Lenin and Hitler as I am not ‘great men’ I am not using the word ‘great’ in a moral, acclamatory or approving sense, but rather in the older meaning of the word, referring to the ‘great’ (i.e. massive) impact that each had upon history.

[11] Inevitably, it is parties of similar ideological persuasion who are most in competition with one another for support, since both will be attempting to attract the same core constituency of supporter. Relatedly, I am here reminded of a quotation attributed (possibly apocryphally) to Winston Churchill, who, when a newly elected MP, surveying for the first time the benches opposite, remarked ‘So, that’s the enemy’, was said to have replied, ‘No, that’s the oppostion. The enemy sits behind you’.

[12] Actually, as an avowed opponent of socialism and Marxism, I would think it would be more accurate to state:

Socialism is the socialism of fools. Anti-Semitism the socialism of other fools.

[13] I am here advocating that the word ‘fascism’ be confined in usage to the early- to mid-twentieth Italian political movement and ruling regime, and perhaps a few contemporaneous copycat movements that explicitly described themselves as ‘fascist’ (e.g. the BUF in the UK). Even describing the National Socialist movement and regime of Germany in the mid-twentieth century as ‘fascist’ seems to me unhelpful and potentially misleading, since, despite some commonalities, German National Socialism was, in many respects, a quite different and distinctively German phenomenon, and German National Socialist leaders such as Hitler, much as he may have admired and modelled himself on Mussolini, did not, to my knowledge, ever self-identify as ‘fascist’.

The Decline of the Klan and of White (and Protestant) Identity in America

Wyn Craig Wade, The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987

Given the infamy of the organization, it is surprising that there are so few books that cover the entire history of the Ku Klux Klan in America. 

Most seem to deal only with only one period (usually, but not always, either the Reconstructionera Klan or the Second Klan that reached its apotheosis during the twenties), one locality or indeed only a single time and place

On reflection, however, this is not really surprising. 

For, though we habitually refer to the Ku Klux Klan, or the Klan (emphasis on ‘the’), as if it were a single organization that has been in continuous existence since its first formation in the Reconstruction-era, there have in fact been many different groups calling themselves ‘the Ku Klux Klan’, or some slight variant upon this name (e.g. ‘Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’, ‘United Klans of America’), that have emerged and disappeared over the century and a half since the name was first coined in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Most of these groups had small memberships, recruited and were active in only a single locality and soon disappeared altogether. Yet even those incarnations of the Klan name that had at least some claim to a national, or at least a pan-Southern, membership invariably lacked effective centralized control over local klaverns.

Thus, Wade observes: 

After the Klan had spread outwards from Tennessee, there wasn’t the slightest chance of central control over it – a problem that would characterize the Klan throughout its long career” (p58). 

It is perhaps for this reason that most historians authoring books about the Klan have focussed on Klan activity in only a single time-frame or geographic locality.

Indeed, it is notable, besides Wynn Wade’s ‘The Fiery Cross’, the only other work of which I am aware that even purports to cover the entirety of the Klan’s history (apart from the recently published White Robes and Burning Crosses, which I have not yet read) is David Chambers’ Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan

Yet even this latter work (‘Hooded Americanism’), though it purports in its blurb to be “The only work that treats Ku Kluxism for the entire period of it’s [sic] existence”, actually devotes only a single, short, cursory chapter to the Reconstruction-era Klan, when the group was first founded, arguably at its strongest, and certainly at its most violent.

Moreover, ‘Hooded Americanism’ is composed of separate chapters recounting the history of the Klan in different states in each time period, such that the book lacks an overall narrative structure and is difficult to read. 

In contrast, for those with an interest in the topic, Wade’s ‘The Fiery Cross’ is both readable and informative, and somehow manages to weave the story of the various Klan groups in different parts of the country into a single overall narrative. 

A College Fraternity Turned Terrorist? 

If, today, the stereotypical Klansman is an illiterate redneck, it might come as some surprise that the group’s name actually bears an impressively classical etymology. It derives from the ancient Greek kuklos, meaning ‘circle’. To this was added ‘Klan’, both for alliterative purposes, and in reference to the ostensible Scottish ancestry of the group’s founders.[1]

This classical etymology reflected the social standing and educational background of its founders, who, far from being illiterate rednecks, were, Wade reports, “well educated for their day” (p32). 

Thus, he reports, of the six founder members, two would go on to become lawyers, another would become editor of a local newspaper, and yet another a state legislator (p32). 

Neither, seemingly, was the group formed with any terroristic, or even any discernible political, aspirations in mind. Instead, one of these six founder members, the, in retrospect, perhaps ironicallynamed James Crow, claimed their intention was initially: 

Purely social and for our amusement” (p34). 

Since, as a good white Southerner and Confederate veteran, Crow likely approved the politics with which the Klan later became associated, he had no obvious incentive to downplay a political motive. Certainly, Wade takes him at his word. 

Thus, if the various Klan titles – Grand GoblinImperial Wizard etc. – sound more like what one might expect in, say, a college fraternity than a serious political or terrorist group, then this perhaps reflects the fact that the organization was indeed conceived with just such adolescent tomfoolery in mind. 

Indeed, although it is not mentioned by Wade, it has even been suggested that a then-defunct nineteenth-century fraternity, Kuklos Adelphon, may even have provided a partial model for the group. Thus, Wade writes: 

It has been said that, if Pulaski had had an Elks Club, the Klan would never have been born” (p33). 

White Sheets and Black Victims 

However, from early on, the group’s practical jokes increasingly focussed on the newly-emancipated, and already much resented, black population of Giles County

Yet, even here, intentions were initially jocular, if mean-spirited. Thus, the white sheets famously worn by Klansmen were, Wade informs us, originally conceived in imitation of ghosts, the wearers ostensibly posing as: 

The ghosts of the Confederate dead, who had risen from their graves to wreak vengeance on [the blacks]” (p35). 

This accorded with the then prevalent stereotype of black people as being highly superstitious. 

However, it is likely that few black victims were taken in. Instead, the very real fear that the Klan came to inspire in its predominantly black victims reflected instead the also very real acts of terror and cruelty with which the group became increasingly associated. 

The sheets also functioned, of course, as a crude disguise.  

However, it was only when the Klan name was revived in the early twentieth century, and through the imagination of its reviver, William Joseph Simmons, that this crude disguise was transformed into a mysterious ceremonial regalia, the sale of which was jealously guarded, and an important source of revenue for the Klan leadership. 

Indeed, in the Reconstruction-era Klan, the sheets, though a crude disguise, would not even qualify as a uniform, as there was no standardization whatsoever. Instead:  

Sheets, pillowcases, handkerchiefs, blankets, sacks… paper masks, blackened faces, and undershirts and drawers were all employed” (p60).  

Thus, Wade reports the irony whereby one: 

Black female victim of the Klan was able to recognise one of her assailants because he wore a dress she herself had sewed for his wife” (p60). 

Chivalry – or Reproductive Competition? 

Representing perhaps the original white knights, Klansmen claimed to be acting in order to protect the ostensible virtue and honour of white women. 

However, at least in Wade’s telling, the rapes of white women by black males, upon which white Southern propaganda so pruriently dwelt (as prominently featured, for example, in the movie, Birth of a Nation, and the book upon which the movie was based, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan) were actually very rare. 

Indeed, he even quotes a former Confederate General, and alleged Klansman, seemingly admitting as much when, on being asked whether such assaults were common, he acknowledged: 

Oh no sir, but one case of rape by a negro upon a white woman was enough to alarm the whole people of the state” (p20). 

Certainly, the Emmett Till case demonstrates that even quite innocuous acts could indeed invite grossly disproportionate responses in the Southern culture of honour, at least where the perceived malfeasors were black. Thus, Wade claims: 

“Sometimes a black smile or the tipping of a hat were sufficient grounds for prosecution for rape. As one southern judge put it, ‘I see a chicken cock drop his wings and take after a hen; my experience and observation assure me that his purpose is sexual intercourse, no other evidence is needed’” (p20). 

Likewise, such infamous cases as the Scottsboro boys and Groveland four illustrate that false allegations were not unknown in the American South. Indeed, false rape allegations remain common to this day

However, I remain skeptical of Wade’s claim that black-on-white rape were quite as rare as he makes out. 

After all, American blacks have had high rates of violent crime ever since records began, and, as contemporary racists are fond of pointing out, today, black-on-white rape is actually quite common, at least as compared to other victim-offender dyads. 

Thus, in Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America, published in 1992, Jared Taylor reports: 

In a 1974 study in Denver, 40 percent of all rapes were of whites by blacks, and not one case of white-on-black-rape was found. In general, through the 1970s, black-on-white rape was at last ten times more common than white-on-black rape… In 1988 there were 9,406 cases of black-on-white rape and fewer than ten cases of white-on-black rape. Another researcher concludes that in 1989, blacks were three or four times more likely to commit rape than whites and that black men raped white women thirty times as often as white men raped black women” (Paved with Good Intentions: p93) 

Indeed, the authors of one recent textbook on criminology even claim that: 

Some researchers have suggested, because of the frequency with which African Americans select white victims (about 55 percent of the time), it [rape] could be considered an interracial crime” (Criminology: A Global Perspective: p544).[2] 

At any rate, Southern chivalry was rather selectively accorded, and certainly did not extend to black women. 

Indeed, Wade claims that Klansmen themselves, employing a blatant double-standard and rank hypocrisy, actually themselves regularly raped black women during their raids: 

The desire for group intercourse was sometimes sufficient reason for a den to go out on a raid…. Sometimes during a political raid, Klansmen would rape the female members of the household as a matter of course” (p76). 

As someone versed in sociobiological theory who has studied evolutionary psychology, I tempted to see these double-standards in sociobiological terms as a form of reproductive competition, designed to maximize the reproductive success of the white males involved, and indeed of the white race in general.

Thus, for white men, it was open season on black women, but white women were strictly off-limits to black men: 

In Southern white culture, the female was placed on a pedestal where she was inaccessible to blacks and a guarantee of purity of the white race. The black race, however, was completely vulnerable to miscegenation. White men soon learned that women placed on a pedestal acted like statues in bed, and they came to prefer the female slave whom they found open and uninhibited… The more white males turned to female slaves, the more they exalted their own women, who increasingly became a mere ornament and symbol of the Southern way of life” (p20). 

Klan Success? 

The Klan came to stand for the reestablishment of white supremacy and the denial of voting rights to blacks. 

In the short-term, at least, these aims were to be achieved, with the establishment of segregation and effective disenfranchisement of blacks throughout much of the South. Wade, however, denies the Klan any part in this victory: 

The Ku-Klux Klan… didn’t weaken Radical Reconstruction nearly as much as they nurtured it. So long as an organized secret conspiracy swore oaths and used cloak and dagger methods in the South, Congress was willing to legislate against it… Not until the Klan was beaten and the former confederacy turned to more open methods of preserving the Southern way of life did Reconstruction and its Northern support decline” (p109-110). 

Thus, it was, Wade reports, not the Klan, but rather other groups, today largely forgotten, such as Louisiana’s White League and South Carolina’s Red Shirts, that were responsible for successfully scaring blacks away from the polls and ensuring the return of white supremacy in the South. Moreover, he reports that they were only able to do so only because the federal laws enacted to tackle the Klan had ceased to be enforced precisely because the Klan itself had ceased to represent a serious threat. 

On this telling, then, the First Klan was, politically, a failure. In this respect, it was to set the model for later Klans, which would fight a losing rearguard action against Catholic immigration and the civil rights movement. 

Resurrection 

If the First Klan was a failure, why then was it remembered, celebrated and ultimately revived, while other groups, such as the White LeagueRed Shirts and Knights of the White Camelia, which employed similar terrorist tactics in pursuit of the same political objectives, are today largely forgotten? 

Wade does not address this, but one suspects the outlandishness of the group’s name and ceremonial titles contributed, as did the fact that the Klan seems to have been the only such group active throughout the entirety of the former Confederacy

The reborn Klan, founded in the early twentieth century, was the brainchild of William Joseph Simmons, a self-styled professional ‘fraternalist’, alumni of countless other fraternal organizations, Methodist preacher, strict prohibitionist and rumoured alcoholic. 

It is him to whom credit must go for inventing most of the ritualism (aka ‘Klancraft’) and terminology (including the very word ‘Klancraft’) that came to be associated with the Klan in the twentieth century. 

Birth of a Nation’ and the Rebirth of the Klan 

Two further factors contributed to the growth and success of the reborn Klan. First, was the spectacularly successful 1915 release of the movie, The Birth of a Nation

Both deplored for its message yet also grudgingly admired for its technical and artistic achievement, this film occupies a curious place in film history, roughly comparable to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. (Sergei Eisenstein’s Communist and Stalinist propaganda films curiously, but predictably, receive a free pass.) 

In this movie, pioneering filmmaker DW Griffith is credited with largely inventing much of the grammar of modern moviemaking. If, today, it seems distinctly unimpressive, if not borderline unwatchable, this is, not only because of the obvious technological limitations of the time period, but also precisely because it invented many of the moviemaking methods that cinema-goers, and television viewers, have long previously learnt to take for granted (e.g. cross-cutting). 

Yet, if its technical and artistic innovations have won the grudging respect of film historians, its message is, of course, wholly anathema to modern western sensibilities. 

Thus, portraying the antebellum American South with the same pair of rose-tinted spectacles as those donned by the author of Gone with the Wind, ‘Birth of a Nation’ went even further, portraying blacks during the Reconstruction period as rampant rapists salivating after the flesh of white women, and Klansmen as heroic white knights who saved white womanhood, and indeed the South itself, from the ravages of both reconstruction and of Southern blacks. 

Yet, though it achieved unprecedented box-office success, even being credited as the first modern blockbuster, the movie was controversial even for its time. 

It even became the first movie to be screened in the White House, when, as a favour to Thomas Dixon, the author of the novel upon which the movie was based, the film received an advance, pre-release screening for the benefit of the then-President, Woodrow Wilson, a college acquaintance of Dixon – though what the President thought of it is a matter of dispute.[3]

Indeed, such was the controversy that the movie was to provoke that the nascent NAACP, itself formed only a few years earlier, even launched a campaign to have the film banned outright (p127-8). 

This, of course, puts the lie to the notion that the political left was, until recent times, wholly in favour of freedom of speech and artistic expression

Actually, even then, the Left’s commitment to freedom of expression was, it seems, highly selective, just as it is today. Thus, it was one thing to defend the rights of raving communists, quite another to apply the same principle to racists. 

The Murders of Mary Phagan and Leo Frank

Another factor in the successful resurrection of the Klan were two murders that galvanized popular opinion in the South, and indeed the nation. 

First was the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old factory girl in Atlanta, Georgia. Second was the lynching of Leo Frank, her boss and ostensible murderer, who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death, only to have this sentence commuted to life-imprisonment, only to be lynched by outraged locals. 

His lynching was carried out by a group styling themselves ‘The Knights of Mary Phagan’, many of whom would go on to become founder members of the newly reformed Klan. 

It was actually this group, not the Klan itself, which would establish a famous Klan ritual, namely the ascent of Stone Mountain to burn a cross, a ritual Simmons would repeat to inaugurate his nascent Klan a few months later.[4]

Yet, in the history of alleged miscarriages of justice in the American South, the lynching of Leo Frank stands very much apart. 

For one thing, most victims of such alleged miscarriages of justice were, of course, black. Yet Leo Frank was a white man. 

Moreover, most of his apologists insist that the real perpetrator was, in fact, a black man. They are therefore in the unusual position of claiming racism caused white Southerners to falsely convict a white man when they should have pinned the blame on a black instead.

It is true, of course, that Frank was also Jewish. However, there was little history of anti-Semitism in the South. Indeed, I suspect there was more prejudice against him as a wealthy Northerner who had come south for business purposes, and hence as, in Southern eyes, a ‘Yankee carpetbagger’.

Moreover, although his lynching was certainly unjustified, and his conviction possibly unsafe, it is still not altogether clear that Frank was indeed innocent of the murder of which he stood accused.[5]

Wade himself admits that there was some doubt as to his innocence at the time. However, he refers to a deathbed statement by an elderly witness some seventy years later in 1982 as finally proving his innocence: 

Not until 1982 would Frank’s complete innocence come to light as a result of a witness’s deathbed statement” (p143). 

However, a claim made, not in court under oath, but rather to the press for a headline (albeit also in a signed affidavit under oath), by an elderly, dying man, regarding things he had supposedly witnessed some seventy years earlier when he was himself little more than a child, is obviously open to question.

At any rate, it is interesting to note that Frank’s lynching played an important role, not only in the founding of the Second Klan, but also in the genesis of another political pressure group whose influence on American social, cultural and political life has far outstripped that of the Klan and which, unlike the Second Klan, survives to this day – namely the Anti-Defamation League of of B’nai B’rith or ADL

The parallels abound. Just as the Second Klan was a fraternal organization for white protestants, so B’nai B’rith, the organization which birthed the ADL, was a fraternal order for Jews, and Frank himself, surely not uncoincidentally, was president of the Atlanta chapter of the group. 

The organizational efforts of B’nai B’rith to protect Frank, a local chapter president, from punishment can therefore be viewed as analogous to the way in which the Klan itself sought to protect its own members from successful prosecution through its own corrupt links in law enforcement and government and on juries. 

Moreover, just as the Klan was formed to defend and promote the interests of white Christian protestants, so the ADL was formed to protect the interests of Jews.

However, the ADL was to prove far more successful in this endeavour than the Klan had ever been, and, unlike the Second Klan, very much survives, and prospers, to this day.[6]

Klan Enemies 

Jews were not, however, the primary objects of Klan enmity during the twenties – and neither, perhaps surprisingly, were blacks. 

This was, after all, the period that later historians have termed ‘the nadir of American race relations’, when, throughout the South, blacks were largely disenfranchised, and segregation firmly entrenched. 

Yet, from a white racialist perspective, the era is misnamed.[7] Far from a nadir, for white racialists the period represented something like a utopia, lost Eden or Golden Age.[8] 

White supremacy was firmly entrenched and not, it seemed, under any serious threat. The so-called civil rights movement had barely begun.

Of course, then as now, race riots did periodically puncture the apparent peace – at Wilmington in 1898Springfield in 1908Tulsa in 1912Rosewood in 1923, and throughout much of America in 1919

However, unlike contemporary American race riots, these typically took the form of whites attacking blacks rather than vice versa, and, even when the latter did occur, white solidarity was such that the whites invariably gave at least as good as they got.[9]

Thus, in early-twentieth century America, unlike during Reconstruction, there was no need for a Klan to suppress ‘uppity’ blacks. On the contrary, blacks were already adequately suppressed.  

Thus, if the Second Klan was to have an enemy worthy of its enmity, and a cause sufficient to justify its resurrection, and, more important, sufficient to persuade prospective inductees to hand over their membership dues, it would have to look elsewhere. 

To some extent the enemy selected varied on a regional basis, depending on the local concerns of the population. The Klan thus sought, like Hitler’s later NSDAP, to be ‘all things to all men’, and, for some time before it hit upon a winning strategy, the Klan flitted from one issue to another, never really finding its feet. 

However, to the extent the Second Klan, at the national level, was organized in opposition to a single threat or adversary, it was to be found neither in Jews nor blacks, but rather in Catholics. 

Anti-Catholicism 

To modern readers, the anti-Catholicism of the Second Klan seems bizarre. Modern Americans may be racist and homophobic in ever decreasing numbers, but they at least understand racism and homophobia. However, anti-Catholicism of this type, especially in so relatively recent a time period, seems wholly incomprehensible.

Indeed, the anti-Catholicism of the Second Klan is now something of an embarrassment even to otherwise unreconstructed racists and indeed to contemporary Klansmen, and is something they very much disavow and try to play down. 

Thus, anti-Catholicism, at least of this kind, is now wholly obsolete in America, and indeed throughout the English-speaking world outside of Northern Ireland – and perhaps Ibrox Football stadium for ninety minutes on alternate Saturdays for the duration of the Scottish football season. 

It seems something more suited to cruel and barbaric times, such as England in the seventeenth century, or Northern Ireland in the 1970s… or, indeed, Northern Ireland today. But in twentieth century America? Surely not. 

How then can we make sense of this phenomenon? 

Partly, the Klan’s anti-Catholicism reflected the greater religiosity of the age. In particular, the rise of the Second Klan was, at least in Wade’s telling, intimately linked with the rise of Christian fundamentalism in opposition to reforming practices (the so-called Social Gospel) in the early twentieth century.

Indeed, under its first Imperial Wizard, William Joseph Simmons, a Methodist preacher, the new Klan was initially more of a religious organization than it was a political one, and Simmons himself was later to lament the Klan’s move into politics under his successor.[10]

There was, however, also a nativist dimension to the Klan’s rabid anti-Catholicism, since, although Catholics had been present among the first settlers of North America and numbered even among the founding fathers, Catholicism was still associated with recent immigrants to the USA, especially Italians, Irish and Poles, who had yet to fully assimilate into the American mainstream. 

Catholics were also seen as inherently disloyal, as the nature of their religious affiliation (supposedly) meant that they owed ultimate loyalty, not to America, but rather to the Pope in Rome.  

This idea seems to have been a cultural inheritance from the British Isles.[11] In England, Catholics had long been viewed as inherently disloyal, and as desirous to overthrow the monarchy and restore Britain to Catholicism, as, in an earlier age, many had indeed sought to do

This view is, of course, directly analogous to the claim of many contemporary Islamophobes and counter-Jihadists today that the ultimate consequence of Muslim immigration into Europe will be the imposition of Shariah law across Europe.

However, even in the twenties, during the Second Klan’s brief apotheosis, their anti-Catholicism already seemed, in Wade’s words, “strangely anachronistic”, to the point of being “almost astounding” (p179).

Thus, as anti-Catholicism waned as a serious organizing force in American social and political (or even religious) life, it soon became clear that the Klan had nailed their colours to a sinking ship. Thus, as anti-Catholic sentiments declined among the American population at large, so the Klan attempted to distance itself from its earlier anti-Catholicism.[12]

First, anti-Catholicism was simply deemphasized by the Klan in favour of new enemies like communism, trade unionism and the burgeoning civil rights movement. 

Eventually, in the Sixties, the United Klans of America, the then dominant Klan faction in America, announced, during “an all-out crusade for new members”, that: 

Catholics were now welcome to join the Klan – the Communist conspiracy more than made up for the Klan’s former anti-Catholic fears of Americans loyal to a foreign power” (p328). 

Today, meanwhile, the Second Klan’s anti-Catholicism is seen as an embarrassment even by otherwise unreconstructed racists and Klansmen. 

The decline of anti-Catholicism provides, then, an optimistic case-study of the remarkable speed with which (some) prejudices can be overcome.[13]

It also points to an ironic side-effect of the gradual move towards greater tolerance and inclusivity in American society – namely, even groups ostensibly opposed to this process have nevertheless been affected by it. 

In short, even the Klan has become more tolerant and inclusive

Losing Land and Territory

For many nationalists, racial and ethnic conflict is ultimately a matter of competition for territory and land.

It is therefore of interest that the decline of the Klan, and of white protestant identity in the USA, was itself presaged and foreshadowed by two land sales, one in the early-twenties, when Klan membership was at a peak, and a second just over a decade later, when the decline was already well underway.

First, in the early-twenties, the Klan’s boldly envisaged Klan University had gone bankrupt. The land was sold and a synagogue was constructed on the site. 

Then, under financial pressure in the 1930s as the Depression set in, the Klan was even forced to sell even its main headquarters in Atlanta. 

If selling a Klan university only to see a synagogue constructed on the same site was an embarrassment, then the eventual purchaser of the Klan headquarters was to be an even greater Klan enemy – the Catholic Church. 

Thus, the erstwhile site of the Klan’s grandly-titled Imperial Palace became a Catholic cathedral

Perhaps surprisingly, and presumably in an effort at rapprochement and reconciliation, the new cathedral’s hierarchy reached out to the Klan by inviting the then-Grand Wizard, Hiram Evans, who had outmanoeuvred Simmons for control of the then-lucrative cash-cow during the Klan’s twenties heyday, to the new Cathedral’s inaugural service. 

Perhaps even more surprisingly, Evans actually accepted the invitation. Afterwards, even more surprisingly still, he was quoted as observing: 

It was the most ornate ceremony and one of most beautiful services I ever saw” (p265). 

More beautiful even than a cross-burning!

Evans was forced to resign immediately afterwards. However, in deemphasizing anti-Catholicism, he correctly gaged the public mood and the Klan was later, if belatedly, to follow his lead. 

The Turn to Terror 

The Klan is seemingly preadapted to terror. However benign the intentions of its successive founders, each Klan descended into violence. 

If the First Klan was formed, as a sort of college fraternity, the Second Klan seems to have been conceived primarily as a money-making venture, and hence, in principle, no more inherently violent than the Freemasons or the Elks

Yet the turn to terror was perhaps, in retrospect, inevitable. After all, this new Klan had been modelled on what had been, or at least become, a terrorist group (namely, the First Klan), employed masks, and, from the lynching of Leo Frank, had associated itself with vigilantism from the very onset. 

Interestingly, although precise data is not readily available, one gets the distinct impression that, during this era of Klan activity, most of the victims of its violence were, not blacks nor even Catholics, but rather the very white protestant Christians whom the Klan ostensibly existed to protect, or, more specifically, those among this community who had somehow offended against the values of the community, or simply offended Klansmen themselves. 

Of course, lynchings of blacks continued, at least in the South. But these were rarely conducted under the auspices of the Klan, since these were a longstanding tradition that long predated the Klan’s re-emergence, and the perpetrators of such acts rarely felt the need to wear masks to conceal their identities, let alone don the elaborate apparel, and pay the requisite membership dues, of the upstart Klan.[14]

But Klan violence per se did not always deter new members. On the contrary, some seem to have been attracted by it. Thus, Klan recruiters (‘Kleagles’) at first maintained that newspaper exposés amounted to free publicity and only helped them in their recruitment drive. 

Instead, Wade claims, more than violence, it was the perceived hypocrisy of Klan leaders which ultimately led to the group’s demise (p254).  

Thus, it purported to champion prohibition, temperance and Christian values, but had been founded by Simmons, a rumoured alcoholic, while its (hugely successful) marketing and recruitment campaign was headed by Edward Young Clarke and Mary Elizabeth Tyler of the Southern Publicity Association, who were openly engaged in an extra-marital affair with one another. 

However, the most damaging scandal to hit the Klan, which, as we have seen, purported to champion Prohibition and the protection of the sanctity of white womanhood, combined both violence, drunkenness and hypocrisy, and occurred when DC ‘Steve’ Stephenson, a hugely successful Indianna Grand Dragon, was convicted of the rape, kidnap and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, herself a white protestant woman, during a drunken binge. 

In fact, by the time of the assault, Stephenson had already split from the national Klan to form his own rival, exclusively Northern, Klan group. However, his former prominence in the organization meant that, though they might disclaim him, the Klan could never wholly disassociate themselves from him.  

It seems to have been this scandal more than any other which finally discredited the Klan in the minds of most Americans. Thus, Wade concludes: 

The Klan in the twenties began and ended with the death of an innocent young girl. The Mary Phagan-Leo Frank case had been the spark that ignited the Klan. And the Oberholtzer-Stephenson case had put out the fire” (p247). 

Decline 

Thenceforth, the Klan’s decline was as rapid and remarkable as its rise. Thus, Wade reports: 

In 1924 the Ku Klux Klan had boasted more than four million members. By 1930, that number had withered to about forty-five thousand… No other American movement has ever risen so high and fallen so low in such a short period” (p253). 

Indeed, in Wade’s telling, even its famous 1925 march on Washington “proved to be its most spectacular last gasp”, attracting, Wade reports, “only half of the sixty thousand expected” (p249) 

The National gathering of thirty thousand was less than what [DC Stephenson] could have mustered in Indiana alone during the Klan’s heyday” (p250). 

Not only did numbers decline, so did the membership profile. 

Thus, initially, the new group had attracted members from across the socioeconomic spectrum of white protestant America, or at least among all those who could afford the membership dues. Indeed, analyses of surviving membership rolls suggest that the Klan in this era was, at first, a predominantly middle-class group representing what was then the heart of Middle America

However, probably as a consequence of the revelations of violence, the respectable classes increasingly deserted the group.

Klan defections began with the prominent, the educated and the well-to-do, and proceeded down through the middle-class” (p252). 

Thus, the stereotype of the archetypal Klansman as an uneducated, semi-literate, tattooed, beer-swilling redneck gradually took hold. 

Indeed, from 1926 or so, the Klan even sought to reclaim this image as a positive attribute, portraying themselves as, in their own words, “a movement of plain people” (p252). 

But this marketing strategy, in Wade’s telling, badly backfired, since even less well-off, but ever aspirant, Americans hardly wanted to associate themselves with a group that admitted to being uneducated hicks (Ibid.). 

As well as the membership narrowing in its socioeconomic profile, Klan membership also retreated geographically. 

Thus, in its brief heyday, the Second Klan, unlike its Reconstruction-era predecessor, had had a truly national membership. 

Indeed, the state with the largest membership was said to be Indiana, where DC ‘Steve’ Stephenson, in the few years before his dramatic downfall, was said to have built up a one-man political machine that briefly came to dominate politics in the Hoosier State. 

However, in the aftermath of the fall of Stephenson and his Indiana Klan, the Klan was to haemorrhage members in not just Indiana, but throughout the North. The result was that: 

By 1930, the Klan’s little strength was concentrated in the South. Over the next half-century the Klan would gradually lose its Northern members, regressing more and more closely towards its Reconstruction ancestor until, by the 1960s, it would stand as a near-perfect replica” (p252) 

Thenceforth, the Klan was to remain, once again, a largely Southern phenomenon, with what little numerical strength it retained overwhelmingly concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy. 

Death and Taxes – The Only Certainties in Life 

The Second Klan was finally destroyed, however, not by declining membership, violent atrocities, bad publicity and inept brand-management, nor even by government prosecution, though all these factors did indeed play a part.  

Rather, the final nail in the Klan’s coffin was dealt by the taxman. 

In 1944, the Inland Revenue demanded restitution in respect of unpaid taxes due on the profits earnt from subscription dues during the Klan’s brief but lucrative 1920s membership boom (p275). 

The Klan, which had been haemorrhaging members even before the 1930s Depression, and, unlike the economy as a whole, had yet to recover, was already in a dire financial situation. Therefore, it could never hope to pay the monies demanded by the government, and instead was forced to declare bankruptcy (p275). 

Thenceforth, the Klan was no more. 

Ultimately, then, the government destroyed the Klan the same way had did Al Capone – failure to pay their taxes! 

The Klan and the Nazis – A Match Made in Hell? 

In between recounting the Klan’s decline, Wade also discusses its supposed courtship of, or by, the pro-Nazi German-American Bund

Actually, however, a careful reading of Wade’s account suggests that he exaggerates the extent of any such association. 

Thus, it is notable, if bizarre, that, in Wade’s own telling, the Bund’s leader, German-born Fritz Julius Kuhn, in seeking the “merging of the Bund with some native American organization who would shield it from charges of being a ‘foreign’ agency”, had first set his sights on that most native of “native American organizations” – namely, Native Americans (p269-70). 

When this quixotic venture inevitably ended in failure, if only due to “profound indifference on the Indians’ part”, only then did the rebuffed Kuhn turn his spurned attentions to the Klan (p270). 

Yet the Klan seemed to have been almost as resistant to Kuhn’s advances as the Native Americans had been. Thus, Wade quotes Kuhn as admitting, somewhat ambiguously:

The Southern Klans did not want to be known in it… So the negotiations were between representatives of the Klans in New Jersey and Michigan, but it was understood that the Southerners were in” (p270). 

Yet, by this time, in Wade’s own telling, the Klan was extremely weak in Northern states such as New Jersey and Michigan, and what little numerical strength it retained was concentrated in the Southern states of the former Confederacy. 

This suggests that it was only the already marginalized northern Klan groups who, bereft of other support, were willing to entertain the notion of an alliance with Bund. 

If the Southern Klan leadership was indeed aware of, and implicitly approved, the link, it was nevertheless clear that they wanted to keep any such association indirect and at an arm’s length, hence maintaining plausible deniability

This is perhaps the only way we can make sense of Kuhn’s acknowledgement, on the one hand, that “the Southern Klans did not want to be known in it”, while, on the other, that “it was understood that the Southerners were in” (p270). 

Thus, when negative publicity resulted from the joint Klan-Bund rally in New Jersey, the national (i.e. Southern) Klan leadership was quick to distance itself from and disavow any notion of an alliance, promptly relieving the New Jersey Grand Dragon of his office.

On reflection, however, this is little surprise.

For one thing, German-Americans, especially those who willing to flagrantly flaunt their ‘dual loyalty’ by joining a group like the German-American Bund, were themselves exactly the type of hyphenated-Americans that the 100% Americans of the Klan professed to despise.

Indeed, though they may have been white and (mostly) protestant, German-Americans own integration into the American mainstream was, especially after the anti-German sentiment aroused during the First World War, still very much incomplete. 

Today, of course, we might think of Nazis and the Klan as natural allies, both being, after all, that most reviled species of humanity – namely, white racists.

However, besides racialism, the Klan and the Nazis actually had surprisingly little in common. 

After all, the Klan was a Protestant fundamentalist group opposed to Darwinism and the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools.

Hitler, in contrast, was an ardent social Darwinist, who was reported by his confidents as harbouring a profound antipathy to the Christian faith, albeit one he kept out of his public pronouncements for reasons of political expediency, and some of whose followers even championed a return to Germanic paganism.[15]

Indeed, even their shared racialism was directed primarily towards different targets.

In Germany, blacks, though indeed persecuted by the Nazis, were few in number, and hence not a major target of Nazi propaganda, animosity or persecution – and nor were Catholics among the groups targeted for persecution by the Nazis, Hitler himself having been raised as a Catholic in his native Austria.[16]

Yet, if Catholics were not among the groups targeted for persecution by the Nazis, members of secret societies like the Klan very much were. 

Thus, among the less politically-fashionable targets for persecution by the Nazis were both the Freemasons and indeed the closest thing Germany had to a Ku Klux Klan. 

Thus, in 1923 a Klan-like group, “the German Order of the Fiery Cross”, had been founded in Germany in imitation of the Klan, by an expatriate German on his return to the Fatherland from America (p266). 

Yet, ironically, it was Hitler himself who ultimately banned and suppressed this German Klan imitator (p267). 

The Third Klan/s 

The so-called Third Klan was really not one Klan, but many different Klans, each not only independent of one another, but also often in fierce competition with one another for members and influence. 

They filled the vacuum left by the defunct Second Klan and competed to match its size, power and influence – though none were ever to succeed. 

From this point, it is no longer really proper to talk about the Klan, since there was not one Klan but rather many separate Klans, with little if any institutional connections with one another. 

Moreover, the different Klan groups varied more than ever in their ethos and activity. Thus, Wade reports: 

Some Klans were quietly ineffective, some were violent and some were borderline psychotic” (p302) 

With no one group maintaining a registered trademark over the Klan ‘brand’, inevitably the atrocities committed by one group ended up discrediting even other groups with no connection to them. The Klan ‘brand’ was irretrievably damaged, even among those who might otherwise be attracted to its ideology and ethos.[17] 

Indeed, the plethora of different groups was such that even Klansmen themselves were confused, one Dragon complaining: 

The old countersigns and passwords won’t work because all Klansmen are strangers to each other” (p302). 

Increasingly, opposition to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, rather than to Catholicism, now seems to have become the Klan’s chief preoccupation and the primary basis upon which Klaverns, and Kleagles, sought to attract recruits. 

However, respectable opposition to desegregation throughout the South was largely monopolized by the Citizens’ Councils.

Indeed, in Wade’s telling, “preventing a build-up of the Ku Klux Klan” was, quite as much as opposing desegregation, one of the principal objectives for which the Citizens Councils had been formed, since “violence was bad for business, and most of the council leaders were businessmen” (p299). 

If this is true, then perhaps the Citizens Councils were more successful in achieving their objectives than they are usually credited as having been. Segregation, of course, was gone and did not come back – but, then again, neither did the Klan. 

Yet, in practice, Wade reports, the main impact of the Citizens Councils on the Klan was: 

Not so much eliminating the Klan as leaving it with nothing but nothing but the violence prone dregs of Southern white society” (p302). 

Thus, the Klan’s image, and the characteristic socioeconomic status of its membership profile, declined still further. 

The electoral campaigns of the notorious segregationist and governor of Alabama George Wallace also had a similar effect. Thus, Wade reports: 

Wallace’s campaigns… swallowed a lot of disaffected Klansmen. In fact, Wallace’s campaigns offered them the first really viable alternative to the Klan” (p364). 

Political Cameos and Reinventions 

Here in Wade’s narrative, the myriad of disparate Klan groups inevitably fade into the background, playing a largely reactive, and often violent but nevertheless largely ineffective, and often outright counterproductive, role in opposing desegregation. 

Instead, the starring role is taken, in Wade’s own words, by: 

Two men who were masters of the electronic media: an inspired black minister, Martin Luther King, and a pragmatic white politician, JFK, who would work in an uneasy but highly productive tandem” (p310). 

Actually, in my view, it would be more accurate to say that the starring role was taken by two figures who are today vastly overrated on account of their respective early deaths by assassination, and consequent elevation to martyr status. 

In fact, however, while Wade’s portrait of King is predictably hagiographic, that of Kennedy is actually refreshingly revisionist. 

Far from the liberal martyr of contemporary left-liberal imagining, Kennedy was, in Wade’s telling, only a “pragmatic white politician”, and moreover only a rather late convert to the African-American civil rights movement

Indeed, before he first took office, Wade reports, Kennedy had actually endorsed the the Dunning School of historiography regarding the Reconstruction-era, was critical of Eisenhower having sent the National guard into Arkansas to enforce desegregation, and only reluctantly, when his hand was forced, himself sent the National Guard into Alabama (p317-22). 

Meanwhile, another political figure making a significant cameo appearance in Wade’s narrative, ostensibly on the opposite side of the debate over desegregation, is the notorious segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace

Yet Wade’s take on Wallace is, in many respects, as revisionist as his take on Kennedy. Thus, far from a raving racist and staunch segregationist, Wade argues: 

In retrospect… no one used and manipulated the Klansmen more than Wallace. He gave them very few rewards for their efforts on his behalf: often his approval was enough. And in spite of his fiery cant and cries of ‘Never!’ that so thrilled Klansmen, Wallace was a former judge who well understood the law – especially how far he could bend it” (p322). 

Thus, Wade reports, while it is well-known that Wallace famously blocked the entrance to the University of Alabama preventing black students from entering, what is less well-known is that: 

When the marshals asked for the black students to be admitted in the afternoon, Wallace quietly stepped aside. Instead of being recognized, at best, as a practical politician or, at worst, a pompous coward, Wallace was instead hailed by Klansmen as a dauntless hero” (p322). 

Thus, if Kennedy was, in Wade’s telling, “a pragmatic white politician”, then Wallace emerges as an outright political chameleon and shameless opportunist. 

As further evidence for this interpretation, what Wade does not get around to mentioning is that, in his first run for the governorship of Alabama in 1958, Wallace had actually spoken against the Klan and been backed by the NAACP, only after his defeat vowing, as he was eloquently quoted as observing, ‘never to be outniggered again’ again, and hence reinventing himself as an (ostensible) arch-segregationist. 

Neither does Wade mention that, in his last run for governor in 1982, reinventing himself once again as a born-again Christian, Wallace actually managed to win over 90% of the black vote

Yet even Wallace’s capacity for political reinvention is outdone by that of one of his supporters and speech-writers, former Klan leader Asa ‘Ace’ Carter, a man so notorious for his racism that even the Wallace denied employing him, but who was supposedly responsible for penning the words to Wallace’s infamous segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech

Expelled from a Citizens’ Council for extremism, Carter had then founded and briefly reigned as tin pot führer of one of the most violent Klan outfits – “the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, which resembled a cell of Nazi storm troopers” (p303). 

This group was responsible for one of the worst Klan atrocities of the period, namely the literal castration of a black man, whom they: 

Castrated… with razor blades; and then tortured… with by pouring kerosene and turpentine over his wounds” (p303). 

This gruesome act was, according to a Klan informant, performed for no better reason than as a “test of one of the members’ mettle before being elected ‘captain of the lair” (p303). 

The group was also, it seems, too violent even for its own good. Thus, it subsequently broke up when, in a dispute over financing and the misappropriation of funds, Carter was to shoot two fellow members, yet, for whatever reason, never stood trial (Ibid.). 

Yet what Wade does not get around to mentioning is Asa ‘Ace’ Carter was also, like Wallace, to later successfully reinvent himself, and achieve fame once again, this time as Forrest Carter, an ostensibly half-Native American author who penned such hugely successful novels as The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (subsequently made into the successful motion picture, The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood) and The Education of Little Tree, an ostensible autobiography of a growing up on an Indian reservation, and a book so sickeningly sentimental that it was even recommended and championed by none other than Oprah Winfrey! 

The David Duke Show” 

By the 1970s, open support for white supremacy and segregation was in decline, even among white Southerners. This, together with Klansmen’s involvement in such atrocities such as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, might have made it seem that the Klan brand was irretrievably damaged and in terminal decline, never again to play a prominent role in American social or political life again. 

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the Klan brand did manage one last hurrah in the 1970s, this time through the singular talents of one David Duke

Duke was to turn the Klan’s infamy to his own advantage. Thus, his schtick was to use the provocative imagery of the Klan (white sheets, burning crosses) to attract media attention, but then, having attracted that attention, to come across as much more eloquent, reasonable, intelligent and clean-cut than anyone ever expected a Klansman to be – which, in truth, isn’t difficult. 

The result was a media circus that one disgruntled Klansmen aptly dismissed as “The David Duke Show” (p373). 

It was the same trick that George Lincoln Rockwell had used a generation before, though, whereas Rockwell used Nazi imagery (e.g. swastikas, Nazi salutes) to attract media attention, Duke instead used the imagery of the Klan (e.g. white sheets, burning crosses).

If Duke was a successor to Rockwell, then Duke’s own contemporary equivalent, fulfilling a similar niche for the contemporary American media as the handsome, eloquent, go-to face of white nationalism, is surely Richard Spencer. Indeed, if rumours are to be believed, Spencer even has a similar penchant to Duke for seducing the wives and girlfriends of his colleagues and supporters.. 

Such behaviour, along with his lack of organizational ability, were among the reasons that Duke alienated much of his erstwhile support, haemorrhaging members almost as fast as he attracted them. 

Many such defectors would go on to form rival groups, including Tom Metzger, a TV repairman, who split from Duke to form a more openly militant group calling itself White Aryan Resistance (known by the memorable backronym ‘WAR’), and who achieved some degree of media infamy by starring in multiple television documentaries and talk-shows, before being bankrupted by a legal verdict in which he was held liable for involvement in a murder in which he seems to have had literally no involvement.

However, for Wade, the most important defector was, not Metzger, but rather Bill Wilkinson, perhaps because, unlike Metzger, who, on splitting from Duke, abandoned the Klan name, Wilkinson was to set up a rival Klan group, successfully poaching members from Duke. 

However, lacking Duke’s eloquence and good-looks, Wilkinson had instead to devise to another strategy in order to attract media attention and members. The strategy he hit upon was that of “taking a public stance of unbridled violence” (p375). 

This, together with the fact the fact that he was nevertheless able to evade prosecution, led to the allegation that he was a state agent and his Klan an FBI-sponsored honey trap, an allegation only reinforced by the recent revelation that he is now a multimillionaire in the multiracial utopia of Belize

Besides openly advocating violence, Wilkinson also hit upon another means of attracting members. Thus, Wade reports, he “perfected a technique that other Klan leaders belittled as ‘ambulance chasing’” (p384): 

Wilkinson… traversed the nation seeking racial ‘hot spots’… where he can come into a community, collect a large amount of initiation fees, sell a few robes, sell some guns… collect his money and be on his way to another ‘hot spot’” (p384). 

This is, of course, ironically, the exact same tactic employed by contemporary black race-baiters like Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter movement

Owing partly to the violent activities of rival Klan groups from whom he could never hope to wholly disassociate himself, Duke himself eventually came to see the Klan baggage as a liability. 

One by one, he jettisoned these elements, styling himself National Director rather than Imperial Wizard, wearing a suit rather than a white sheet and eventually giving up even the Klan name itself. Finally, in what was widely perceived as an act of betrayal, Duke was recorded offering to sell his membership rolls to Wilkinson, his erstwhile rival and enemy (p389-90). 

In place of the Klan, Duke sought to set up what he hoped would be a more mainstream and respectable group, namely the National Assocation for the Advancement of White People or NAAWP, one of the many short-lived organizations to adopt this rather unimaginative name.[18]

Yet on abandoning the provocative Klan imagery that had first brought him to the attention of the media, Duke suddenly found media attention much harder to come by. Wade concludes:

Duke had little chance at making a go of any Klan-like organization without the sheets and ‘illuminated crosses’. Without the mumbo-jumbo the lure of the Klan was considerably limited. Five years later the National Association for the Advancement of White People hadn’t got off the ground” (p390). 

Duke was eventually to re-achieve some degree of notoriety as a perennial candidate for elective office, initially with some success, even briefly holding a seat in the Louisiana state legislature and winning a majority of the white vote in his 1991 run for Governorship of Louisiana.

However, despite abandoning the Klan, Duke was never to escape its shadow. Thus, even forty years after abandoning the Klan name, Duke was to still find his name forever prefixed with the title former Klansman or former Grand Wizard David Duke, an image he was never able to jettison. 

Today, still railing against “the Jews” to anyone still bothering to listen, his former good looks having long previously faded, Duke cuts a rather lonely figure, marginal even among the already marginal alt-right, and in his most recent electoral campaign, an unsuccessful run for a Senate seat, he managed to pick up only a miserly three percent of the vote, a far cry from his heyday. 

Un-American Americanism 

Where once Klansmen could unironically claim to stand for 100% Americanism, now, were not the very word ‘un-American‘ so tainted by McCarthyism as to sound almost un-American in itself, the Klan could almost be described as a quintessentially un-American organization. 

Indeed, interestingly, Wade reports that there was pressure on the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate the Klan from even before the committee was first formed. Thus, Wade laments: 

The creation of the Dies Committee had been urged and supported by liberals and Nazi haters who wanted it used as a congressional forum against fascism. But in the hands of chairman Martin Dies of Texas, an arch-segregationist and his reactionary colleagues… the committee instead had become an anachronistic pack of witch hunters who harassed labor leaders… and discovered ‘communists’ in every imaginable shape and place” (p272).

Thus, Wade’s chief objection to the House Un-American Activities Committee seems to be, not that they became witch hunters, but that they chose to hunt, to his mind, the wrong coven of witches. Instead of going after the commies, they should have targeted the racists instead.

Yet what Wade does not mention is that perhaps the most prominent of the “liberals and nazi haters” who advocated for the formation of the HUAC in order persecute fascists and Klansmen, and who, as the joint-chairman of the ‘Special Committee on Un-American Activities’, the precursor to the HUAC, from 1934 to 1937, did indeed use the Committee to target fascists, albeit mostly imaginary ones, was congressman Samuel Dickstein, who was himself a paid Soviet agent, hence proving that McCarthyist concerns regarding communist infiltration and subversion at the highest level of American public life were no delusion.

Ultimately, however, Wade was to have his wish. Thus, the Klan did indeed fall victim to the same illiberal and sometimes illegal FBI cointelpro programme of harassment as more fashionable victims on the left, such as Martin Luther King, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party (p361-3).

Indeed, according to Wade, it was actually the Klan who were the first victims of this campaign of FBI harassment, with more fashionable victims of the left being targeted only later. Thus, Wade writes:

After developing Cointelpro for the Klan, the FBI also used it against the Black Panthers, civil rights leaders, and antiwar demonstrators” (p363).[19]

Licence to Kill?

The Klan formerly enjoyed a reputation something like that of the the Mafia, namely as a violent dangerous group whom a person crossed at their peril, since, again like the Mafia, they had a proven track record of committing violent acts and getting away with it, largely through their corrupt links with local law enforcement in the South, and the unwillingness of all-white Southern juries to hand down convictions.[20]

Today, however, this reputation is long lost.

Indeed, if today a suspect in a racist murder were outed as a Klansman, this would likely unfairly prejudice a jury of any ethnic composition, anywhere in the country, against him, arguably to the point of denying him any chance of a fair trial. 

Thus, when aging Klansmen, such as Edgar Ray KillenThomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherrywere belatedly put on trial and convicted in the 2000s for killings committed in the early 1960s, some forty years previously, I rather suspect that they received no fairer a trial then than they did, or would have had, when put on trial before all-white juries in the 1960s American South. The only difference was that now the prejudice was against them rather than in their favour. 

Thus, today, we have gone full circle. Quite when the turning point was reached is a matter of conjecture.

Arguably, the last incident of Klansmen unfairly getting away with murder was the so-called Greensboro massacre in 1979, when Klansmen and other white nationalist activists shot up an anti-Klan rally organized by radical left Maoist labour agitators in North Carolina. 

Here, however, if the all-white jury was indeed prejudiced against the victims of this attack, it was not because they were blacks (all but one of the five people killed were actually white), but rather that they were ‘reds’ (i.e. communists).[21]

Today, then, the problem is not with all-white juries in the South refusing to convict Klansmen, but rather with majority-black juries in urban areas across America refusing to convict black defendants, especially on police evidence, no matter how strong the case against them, for example in the OJ case (see also Paved with Good Intentions: p43-4; p71-3). 

Klans Today 

Wade’s ‘The Fiery Cross’ was first published in 1987. It is therefore not, strictly speaking, a history of the Klan for the entirety of its existence right up to the present day, since Klan groups have continued to exist since this date, and indeed continue to exist in modern America even today. 

However, Wade’s book nevertheless seems complete, because such groups have long previously ceased to have any real significance in American political, social and cultural life save as a media bogeyman and folk devils

In its brief 1920s heyday, the Second Klan could claim to play a key role in politics, even at the national level. 

Wade even claims, dubiously as it happens, that Warren G Harding was inducted into the organization in a special and secret White House ceremony while in office as President (p165).

Certainly, they helped defeat the candidacy of Al Smith, on account of his Catholicism, in 1924 and again in 1928 (p197-99). 

Some half-century later, during the 1980 presidential election campaign, the Klan again made a brief cameo, when each candidate sought to associate the Klan with their opponent, and thereby discredit him. Thus, Reagan was accused of insensitivity for praising “states’ rights, to which Reagan retorted by accusing his opponent, inaccurately as it happens, of opening his campaign in the city that “gave birth to and is the parent body of the Ku Klux Klan”. 

This led Grand Dragon Bill Wilkinson to declare triumphantly: 

We’re not an issue in this Presidential race because we’re insignificant” (p388). 

Yet what Wilkinson failed to grasp, or at least refused to publicly admit, was that the Klan’s role was now wholly negative. Neither candidate actually had any actual Klan links; each sought to link the Klan only with their opponent.

Whereas in the 1920s, candidates for elective office had actively and openly courted Klan votes, by the time of the 1980 Presidential election to have done so would have been electoral suicide. 

The Klan’s role, then, was as bogeymen and folk devils – roughly analogous to that played by Willie Horton in the 1988 presidential campaign; the role NAMBLA plays in the debate over gay rights; or, indeed, the role communists played during the First and Second Red Scares.[22]

Indeed, although in modern America lynching has fallen into disfavour, one suspects that, if it were ever to re-emerge as a popular American pastime and application of participatory democracy to the judicial process, then, among the first contemporary folk devils to be hoisted from a tree, alongside paedophiles and other classes of sex offender, would surely be Klansmen and other unreconstructed white racists. 

Likewise, today, if a group of Klansmen attempt to march in any major city in America then a police presence is required, not to protect innocent blacks, Jews and Catholics from rampaging Klansmen, but rather to protect the Klansmen themselves from angry assailants of all ethnicities, but mostly white. 

Indeed, the latter, styling themselves Antifa (an abbreviation of anti-fascist), despite their positively fascist opposition to freedom of speech, expression and assembly, have even taken, like Klansmen of old, to wearing masks to disguise their identities

Perhaps anti-masking laws, first enacted to defeat the First Klan, and later resurrected to tackle later Klan revivals, must be revived once again, but this time employed, without prejudice, against the contemporary terror, and totalitarianism, of the militant left. 

Endnotes

[1] The only trace of possible illiteracy in the name is found in the misspelling of ‘clan’ as ‘klan’, presumably, again, for alliterative purposes, or perhaps reflecting a legitimate spelling in the nineteenth century when the group was founded.

[2] The popular alt-right meme that there are literally no white-on-black rapes is indeed untrue, and reflects the misreading of a table in a government report that actually involved only a small sample. In fact, the government does not currently release data on the prevalence of interracial rape. However, there is no doubt that black-on-white rape is much more common than white-on-black rape. Similarly, in the US prison system, where male-male rape is endemic, such assaults disproportionately involve non-white assaults on white inmates, as discussed by a Human Rights Watch report.

[3] The then-president Woodrow Wilson (who, in addition to being a politican, was also a noted historian of the reconstruction period, of Southern background, and sympathies, whose five-volume book, A History of the American People, on the reconstruction period is actually quoted in several of the movie’s title cards) was later quoted as describing the movie, in some accounts the first moving picture that he had ever seen, as: 

History [writ] with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true” (p126). 

However, during the controversy following the film’s release, Wilson himself later issued a denial that he had ever uttered any such words, insisting that he had only agreed to the viewing as a “courtesy extended to an old acquaintance” and that:

The President was entirely unaware of the character of the play before it was presented and has at no time expressed his approbation of it” (p137).

This claim is, however, doubtful given the notoriety of the novel and play upon which the film had been based, and of its author, Thomas Dixon.

[4] Like so many other aspects of what is today considered Klan ritual, there is no evidence that cross-burning, or cross-lighting as devout Christian Klansmen prefer to call it, was ever practised by the original Reconstruction-era Klan. However, unlike other aspects of Klan ritualism, it had been invented, not by Simmons, but by novelist Thomas Dixson (by way of Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake), in imitation of an ostensible Scottish tradition, for his book, The Clansman: A Historical romance of the Ku Klux Klan, upon which novel the movie Birth of a Nation was based. The new Klan was eventually granted an easement in perpetuity over Stone Mountain, allowing it to repeat this ritual.

[5] A conviction may be regarded as unsafe, and even as a wrongful conviction, even if we still believe the defendant might be guilty of the crime with which s/he is charged. After all, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If there remains reasonable doubt, then the defendant should not have been convicted. Steve Oney, who researched the case intensively for his book, And the Dead Shall Rise, concedes that “the case [against Frank] is not as feeble as most people say it is”, but nevertheless concludes that Frank was probably innocent, “but there is enough doubt to leave the door ajar” (Berger, Leo Frank Case Stirs Debate 100 Years After Jewish Lynch Victim’s Conviction, Forward, August 30, 2013).

[6] The ADL ’s role in Wade’s narrative does not end here, since the ADL would later play a key role in fighting later incarnations of the Klan.

[7] Indeed, even from a modern racial egalitarian perspective, the era is arguably misnamed. After all, from a racial egalitarian perspective, the plantation era, when slavery was still practised, was surely worse, as surely was the period of bloody conflict between Native Americans and European colonists.

[8] Even among open racists, support for slavery is rare. Therefore, few American racists openly pine for a return to the plantation era. Segregation is, then, then next best thing, short of the actual expulsion of blacks back to Africa. Thus, it is common to hear white American racialists hold up early twentieth century America as lost Eden. For example, many blame the supposed decline of the US public education system on desegregation.

[9] It is thus a myth that oppressed peoples invariably revolt against their oppressors. In reality, truly oppressed peoples, like blacks in the South in this period, tend to maintain a low profile precisely so as to avoid incurring the animosity of their oppressors. It is only when they sense weakness in their oppressors, or ostensible oppressors, that insurrections tend to occur. This then explains the paradox that black militancy in America seems to be inversely proportional to the actual extent of black oppression. Thus, the preeminent black leader in America at the height of the Jim Crow era was Booker T Washington, by modern standards a conservative, if not an outright Uncle Tom. Yet, today, when blacks are the beneficiaries, not the victims of discrimination, in the form of what is euphemistically called affirmative action, and it is whites who are ‘walking on eggshells’ and in fear of losing their jobs if they say something offensive to certain protected groups, American blacks are seemingly more militant and belligerent than ever, as the recent BLM riots have shown only too well. 

[10] This disavowal may have been disingenuous and reflected the fact that, by this time, Simmons had lost control of the then-lucrative cash-cow.

[11] Thus, in Ireland, the Protestant minority opposed Home Rule’ for Ireland (a form of devolution, or self-government, that fell short of full independence) on the grounds that it would supposedly amount, in effect, to Rome Rule, due to the Catholic majority in Ireland.

[12] Interestingly, unlike the Klan, another initially anti-Catholic fraternal order, Junior Order of United American Mechanics, successfully jettisoned both its earlier anti-Catholicism, and a similar association with violence, to reinvent itself as a respectable, non-sectarian beneficent group. However, the Klan was ultimately unable to achieve the same feat. 

[13] Of course, other forms of intergroup prejudice have been altogether more intransigent and long-lasting. Indeed, even anti-Catholicism itself had a long history. Pierre van den Berghe, in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (which I have reviewed here and here), argues that assimilation is possible on in specific circumstances, namely when the groups to be assimilated are: 

Similar in physical appearance and culture to the group to which it assimilates, small in proportion to the total population, of low status and territorially dispersed” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p219). 

Thus, those hoping other forms of intergroup prejudice (e.g. anti-black sentiment in the USA, or indeed the continuing animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) can be similarly overcome in such a short period of time in coming years are well-advised not to hold their breaths.

[14] In the many often graphic images of lynchings of black victims accessible via the internet, I have yet to find one in which the lynch-mobs are dressed in the ceremonial regalia of the Klan. On the contrary, far from wearing masks, the perpetrators often proudly face the camera, evidently feeling no fear of retribution or legal repercussions for their vigilantism.

[15] The question of the religious beliefs, if any, of Hitler is one of some controversy. Certainly, many leading  figures in the National Socialist regime, including Martin Bormann and Alfred Rosenberg, were hostile to Christianity. Likewise, Hitler is reported as making anti-Christian statements in private, in both Hitler’s Table Talk, and by such confidents as Speer in his memoirs. Hitler talked of postponing his Kirchenkampf, or settling of accounts with the churches, until after the War, not wishing to fight enemies on multiple fronts.

[16] To clarify, it has been claimed that the Catholic Church faced persecution in National Socialist Germany. However, this persecution did not extend to individual Catholics, save those, including some priests, who opposed the regime and its policies, in which case the persecution reflected their political activism rather than their religion as such. Although Hitler was indeed hostile to Christianity, Catholicism very much included, Nazi conflict with the Church seems to have reflected primarily the fact that the Nazis, as a totalitarian regime, sought to control all aspects of society and culture in Germany, including those over which the Church had formerly claimed hegemony (e.g. education).

[17] In a later era, this was among the reasons given by David Duke in his autobiography for his abandonment of the Klan brand, since his own largely non-violent Klan faction was, he complained, invariably confused with, and tarred with the same brush as, other violent Klan factions through guilt by association

[18] Duke later had a better idea for a name for his organization – namely, the National Organization For European American Rights, which he intended to be known by the memorable acronym, NO-FEAR. Unfortunately for him, however, the clothing company who had already registered this name as a trademark thought better of it and forced him to change the group’s name to the rather less memorable European-American Unity and Rights Organization (or EURO).

[19] Certainly, the Klan was henceforth a major target of the FBI. Indeed, the FBI were even accused, in a sting operation apparently funded by the ADL, of provoking one Klan bombing in which a woman, Kathy Ainsworth, herself one of the bombers and an active, militant Klanswoman, was killed (p363). The FBI was also implicated in another Klan killing, namely that of civil rights campaigner Viola Liuzzo, since an FBI agent was present with the killers in the car from which the fatal shots were fired (p347-54). Indeed, Wade reports that “about 6 percent of all Klansmen in the late 1960s worked for the FBI” (p362).

[20] Thus, former Klan leader David Duke, in his autobiographical My Awakening, reports that, when he and other arrestees were outed as Klansmen in a Louisiana prison, the black prisoners, far attacking them, were initially cowed by the revelation: 

At first, it seemed my media reputation intimidated them. The Klan had a reputation, although undeserved, like that of the mafia. Some of the Black inmates obviously thought that if they did anything to harm me, a “Godfather” type of character, they might soon end up with their feet in cement at the bottom of the Mississippi.

[21] All but one of those killed, Wade reports, were leaders of the Maoist group responsible for the anti-Klan rally (p381). Wade uses this to show that the violence was premeditated, having been carefully planned and coordinated by the Klansmen and neo-Nazis. However, the fact that they were leading figures in this Maoist group would also likely mean that they were hardly innocent victims, at least in the eyes of conservative white jurors in North Carolina. In fact, the victims were indeed highly unsympathetic, not merely on account of their politics, but also on account of the fact that they had seemingly deliberately provoked the Klan attack, openly challenging the Klan to attend their provocatively titled ‘Death to the Klan’ rally (p379), and, though ultimately heavily outgunned, they themselves seem to have first initiated the violence by attacking the cars carrying Klansmen with placards (p381).

[22] This was the same role that the Klan was to play once again during the recent Trump presidential campaigns, as journalists trawled the South in search of grizzled, self-appointed Grand Dragons willing, presumably in return for a few drinks, to offer their unsolicited endorsement of the Trump candidature and thereby, in the journalists’ own minds, and that of some of their readers, discredit him through guilt-by-association.