Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The real ACLU/KKK paradox

Every once in a while people try to treat ACLU representation of the KKK as somewhat paradoxical - that a "liberal" group is representing a reactionary organization.

Framing it like a paradox of course opens the discussion up to those old cliches that its not the speech that everybody approves of that needs protecting etc., etc.

That's all fine to motivate grade school discussions of the first amendment, but I'm always a little surprised that there's not more discussion of what I think is the bigger paradox here: isn't it strange that the KKK is OK with the ACLU representing them????

The ACLU is supposed to be one of those groups involved in that big leftist globalist multicultural conspiracy they always worry about, right? Not to mention the history with the Jewish and black communities. I understand perfectly why the ACLU would be interested in having the KKK as a client. How in the world do they ever manage to get them as a client?

Not that racists have ever been sticklers for logical consistency, of course.

Anyway, that thought was provoked by this news item.


  1. Or do they basically toss in amicus briefs?

    I thought they actually had a history of representing them, which I would have thought required the assent of the KKK.

  2. This might sound a little Jonah Goldbergish but its actually Paul Krugmany (really, its from a book that he says is critical reading). Civil Rights is the one major issue in American History that does not align to the Left - Right paradigm.*

    We choose to categorize White Supremacists (Dixiecrats, KKK, etc) as Rightwingers by definition, but historically their various movements never cleanly aligned to the larger Rightwing.

    The three most prominent former Klansmen were Harry Truman, Hugo Black, and Robert Byrd. Not exactly a roll-call of prominent Conservatives. The truth is that White Supremacists have long couched their poison within the language or "rights" and liberalism. States Rights is only the most prominent example. But '48 Dixiecrat platform also included "Separation of Powers".

    Likewise, one of the KKK's central doctrines was "separation of church and state" (due to anti-catholic bias). So maybe they want to be associated with a real constitutional rights group, despite all the obvious contradictions.

    *I'll elaborate on the book I'm referencing later (it has to do with politicians and ideology, not the Klan).

    1. Truman was never actually a member of the Klan:

      "In 1922, Truman gave a friend $10 for an initiation fee for the Ku Klux Klan, but later asked to get his money back; he was never initiated, never attended a meeting, and never claimed membership."

      Nor did he choose to affiliate with them in his early political campaigns.

      Also, I think we need to distinguish between the Klan in the 20s, which was nationwide and a major player in the Democratic Party in many states (such as Black's native Alabama), and the Klan of later years, which was the fringe regional group we have in mind when we say the name. I don't believe that civil rights is uniquely hard to place in a historical left-right framework. "Left" and "Right" have no eternal content, but are fairly vague tendencies of thought, and their specific movements and commitments vary considerably with circumstances, popular narratives, group affiliations, and so on.

    2. Will, I know that Truman's affiliation with the Klan was rather peripheral...but that wiki entry seems fishy and is contradicted by another wiki entry (about famous klan members).

      I'll have to look into what the David McCullough bio says about the matter.

      Re: ideology and White give you few more datapoints, Wilson (arguably the most progressive US President) helped jumpstart the 2nd Klan via his advocacy of Birth of a Nation. The turn of the century Southern Progessive movement was deeply entwined with racist ideology (Historian David W. Southern has written the best text about this) and found common cause with the Klan via prohibition.

    3. Or, to move the date up a bit, check this out.

      Below, the vote on censuring Joe McCarthy on Dec 01, 1954...restricted to all known votes for the 22 Senators from the 11 fully Confederate States. I'm pretty sure they were all White Supremacists (with the possible exception of Kefauver...and yes, I know LBJ's name is on the list)

      AL Aye [D] Joseph Hill
      AL Aye [D] John Sparkman
      AR Aye [D] John McClellan
      AR Aye [D] James Fulbright
      FL Aye [D] Spessard Holland
      GA Aye [D] Walter George
      GA Aye [D] Richard Russell
      LA Aye [D] Russell Long
      LA Aye [D] Allen Ellender
      MS Aye [D] John Stennis
      MS Aye [D] James Eastland
      NC Aye [D] Samuel Ervin
      NC Aye [D] William Scott
      SC Aye [D] Olin Johnston
      SC Aye [D] Charles Daniel
      TN Aye [D] Carey Kefauver
      TX Aye [D] Lyndon Johnson
      TX Aye [D] Marion Daniel
      VA Aye [D] Absalom Robertson
      VA Aye [D] Harry Byrd

      Not exactly how you'd expect conservative Rwingers to go.

      Which brings me to the Krugman endorsed book...I'll get to that.

  3. All fascinating - but why would the KKK go for ACLU counsel??? Isn't that weird??? Why doesn't anyone remark on that paradox?

    1. Well, I'm saying its not that least not anymore weird than the deep-south voting for Kennedy or Stevenson.

      I don't know why they did it, but the klan does wrap their ideology around the language of rights. I find this no more tortured a reasoning than a slaveowner pushing for the bill of rights.


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