America's Ku Klux Klan Mentality
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The Ku Klux Klan (the name derives from the Greek word Kuklos meaning circle with a modification of the word clan added), an American terrorist organization, was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1865. It was organized by Southerners who refused to reconcile themselves to the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War, and its declared mission was to “maintain the supremacy of the white race in the United States.”
To this end it adopted tactics in the Southern states that would so terrify emancipated African-Americans and their white allies that they would not dare to vote, run for public office, or intermingle with whites except in “racially appropriate” ways.
Intimidation took many forms. Non-whites and their allies who sought to assert civil rights were threatened, assaulted and frequently murdered. If they were women, they were subjected to assault and rape. The property of these people was destroyed, their homes and meeting places attacked with bombs or burned. Finally, a favorite tactic was lynching.
Lynching was/is murder carried out by a mob that collectively thinks it is protecting the community and/or its traditions. Between 1882 and 1930, the Klan and allied organizations lynched some 3,000 people, mostly black men. Often the accusation was that the black male victim had sought sexual relations with white women.
It was very rare that those involved in these murders, which were carried out quite openly with little effort to hide identities, were arrested for their actions much less convicted and adequately punished. This, in turn, was possible because of a number of factors:
– First and foremost, the belief that African-Americans, and subsequently all non-whites, were dangerous to “white civilization.” This belief was built into the cultural perceptions of the majority. With rare exceptions, a white person could not grow up in this environment without acquiring a knee-jerk prejudice against non-whites.
– As a result, local white populations, as well as local law enforcement, often sympathized with the Klan, sometimes feared it, or just did not care about what happened to the non-white population.
In the years following the Civil War, the activities of the Klan only subsided when the U.S. government allowed the Southern states to impose laws that prevented African-Americans from voting and acquiesced in a harsh regime of segregation. When the civil rights movement finally took place in the 1960s, the Klan reappeared and participated in the violent opposition to desegregation and racial equality. This abated only when the federal government started seriously enforcing its own civil rights laws.
Old Tactics and New Victims
While today the Ku Klux Klan as an organization is nearly (but not quite) gone, it would be a mistake to think that the Klan mentality is dead in the U.S. Quite the contrary. The nation’s deep-seated history of racism has helped preserve an apparent permanent subset of Americans who grow up with prejudicial feelings against anyone they perceive as a threat to their version of the “American way of life.”
This background can help us understand the ongoing attacks against American Muslims. Since 2010 there has been an increase in the number of attacks on American Muslims, their mosques and other property, as well as American minorities (such as Sikhs) who are regularly mistaken for Muslims.
These attacks are not the work of a refurbished Ku Klux Klan but, nonetheless, have about them the same nature: fear of American Muslims as cultural subversives (for instance, the delusion that they seek to impose Sharia law in the United States); anonymous threats of violence (via telephone, Internet, and also in the form of abusive graffiti); bomb, arson, and gun-fire attacks on property; and finally assaults and murders.