Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan

Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan

With a flag fluttering in the wind beside them, a Bible open to the twelfth chapter of Romans, and a flaming cross to light the night sky above, William Joseph Simmons and his disciples proclaimed themselves the new Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, named for the infamous secret order in which many of their fathers had served after the Civil War. Unsure of their footing in the New South and longing for the provincial, patriarchal world of the past, the men of the second Klan saw themselves as an army in training for a war between the races.

They boasted that they had bonded into "an invisible phalanx...to stand as impregnable as a tower against every encroachment upon the white man's liberty...in the white man's country, under the white man's flag."Behind the Mask of Chivalry brings the "invisible phalanx" into broad daylight, culling from history the names, the life stories, and the driving passions of the anonymous Klansmen beneath the white hoods and robes.

MacLean reveals that the movement mobilized its millions of American followers largely through campaigns waged over issues that today would be called "family values": Prohibition violation, premarital sex, lewd movies, anxieties about women's changing roles, and worries over waning parental authority.

The men who deplored sex among young people and sought to restore the power of husbands and fathers were also sworn to reclaim the "white man's country," striving to take the vote from blacks and bar immigrants.

Comparing the Klan to the European fascist movements that grew out of the crucible of the first World War, MacLean maintains that the remarkable scope and frenzy of the movement reflected on members' power within their communities than on the challenges to that power posed by African Americans, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, and white women and youth who did not obey the Klan's canon of appropriate conduct.

In vigilante terror, the Klan's night riders acted out their movement's brutal determination to maintain inherited hierarchies of race, class, and gender.

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Within studies of the 1920s KKK, there has recently been movement of "revisionism," which has questioned the assumptions of earlier writers that the Klan was primarily rural and Southern, has suggested that they were more concerned about curbing the power of Catholic immigrants than about blacks, and has even shown that the KKK was often involved in social reform rather than terrorism. This is particularly noxious when, uninformed by any familiarity with study of fascism, she attempts to argue for the close proximity of American the KKK to European fascist movements.

I bought this book at the same time that I bought MacLeans Democracy In Chains.

(But although the author relies primarily on material / class analytical frames, she does also note that not every aggrieved white male opted to join the Klan social networks and social reinforcement mattered immensely for its spread.) Of course, the Klans use of vigilante violence in support of racial hierarchy distinguished it to a degree from other reactionary groups, but even that drew on previous practice, and the Klans ideologues made rich use of individual rights and populist (the Klans opposition to monopoly chain stores, often paired with anti-Semitic rhetoric aimed at the owners, was interesting and new to me) American rhetorical traditions in their mobilization efforts which remain popular tropes to this day.

Other social consequences of the war were a renewed sense of resistance from black soldiers who discovered there was more to the world than institutional racism, and increasing control by the government of every aspect of life. This was an age of civic and fraternal organizations, far more active than they are today. Racism is the Klan's home territory, but MacLean's research indicates how broadly the Klan's sheets billowed: over half of the recorded violence done by the Athens klan, for instance, had white targets, and this was from an area bound to be more racial than most. (Hypocrisy seems to be endemic to the human condition.) The klan functioned on many levels: first, it offered a forum for concerns to be voiced and encouraged; it knit members together with socials and consumer-based activism, in which Klansmen only patronized the stores of other Klansmen; and, when it occasioned, offered a sanctified use of force to take down those deemed malefactors. The religious aspects of the Klan combined with its embrace of violence invites comparison to the Fascist movements in Europe, which also not only defended tradition against modernity, but combined it with an absolute worship of the Nation and its symbols. As useful as MacLean's work into the Klan's demographics is, indicating how popular it became by masquerading as a civically-minded fraternal organization, MacLean's sexual hangup presents serious baggage. Seeing sexual undertones in every relationship is one of the more tiresome aspects of the modern mind, and does not serve this history well. She also uniquely targets white men as being the reactionaries, as if their wives (enlisted in a Women of the KKK) or black men didn't share those concerns about their children's futures.

While she does offer some provocative insights and excellent data, some of her attempts at expansion to the national level are not reflective of the focus of my research in Texas.

She demonstrates how although we like to write off the Klan as white trash and aberrations, the Klan was made up of the middle class and routinely surfaces in US history during times of distress and ebb of the Left in US life.

  • English

  • History

  • Rating: 3.66
  • Pages: 336
  • Publish Date: July 13th 1995 by Oxford University Press, USA
  • Isbn10: 0195098366
  • Isbn13: 9780195098365