Those who ignore history . . .

As I’ve been working on my young adult historical, I’ve been doing a lot of research into the local area. This includes reading the local paper for 1924 – the year that most of my novel takes place. Since my protagonist, Nicky, is a bootlegger, I’m focusing especially on any articles that have to do with those issues – local stills being raided, etc.

But the KKK was also active in this area. There were, as far as I can tell, chapters of the KKK in Winfield (approximately 15 miles north), Newkirk (about 10 miles south), and Blackwell (about 35 miles southwest). I suspect there were numerous other small chapters for which there’s not much documentation. Heck, I even found this rather creepy advertisement in the Winfield paper:  klan barbershop

(This is actually pretty typical of Klan advertisements. A student even told me that there’s an abandoned building in her hometown that used to be a grocery store that still has a sign in the door that says “Klan Friendly!” I admit, as a historian, part of me wants to salvage it. Part of me wants to burn it at a crossroads.)

But there was one article that has continued to haunt me. I know it well; it features prominently in a major scene in my book. On February 7, 1924, Z.A. Harris, a ‘Klan lecturer’ (who knew there was such a thing, right?) appeared at the Fifth Avenue Theater to a “capacity crowd” and gave a rousing speech. The Fifth Avenue Theatre was THE theatre of Arkansas City in 1924 – it was the most upscale, the most lavish. Or, as my protagonist Nicky says, “Only four theatres in town, and I knew they wasn’t gonna be at the Rex. The Strand – maybe. The Isis – not big enough. That left the Fifth Avenue Opera House, and it was the biggest and nicest theatre in town and I reckoned the Klan didn’t do nothing by halves. They wanted to recruit people, they’d get the best.”

Though the article doesn’t quotefifth avenue theatre Harris verbatim all the time, it gives enough quotes to get the majority of the speech. So I want to post parts of this here. I put the actual quotes in italics. As you may pick up, the reporter wasn’t terribly keen on the guy. 🙂

‘Like any other secret society there are restrictions placed on membership. We have a right as Americans to form such an organization. Our membership is confined strictly to white, native born, gentile, protestant American citizens.’ He spent twenty minutes or so in defense of the organization . . . In his defense of the United States constitution and Americanism he directed his shafts, by innuendo or inference only, against Catholicism, the Jews, and another clement ‘constituting a membership of one and a half million,’ which probably alluded to the IWW or the Bolsheviks or perhaps the socialists.”

So far, not so bad. But! Wait for it . . .

“He pictured a big task which is to engage the attention of the Klan organization – ‘the preservation of American nationalism, American ideals, American institutions, the preservation of the flag and the liberty, freedom, and manhood for which the flag stands, as understood by the founders of the American government.’

AHA! Here we go! The usurpation of ‘American ideals’ and God help me, the ‘founders of the American government.’ Written clearly by people who don’t understand a bloody thing about the founding of America. I’m waiting for someone in Trump’s campaign to find and plagiarize this.

But it goes on!

“In the last twenty years we have been taking in more immigration than this country can assimilate. We have, according to the last census figures, 94,820,915 white inhabitants. Of these, only 58,421,987 are of native born parentage. There are nearly 15,000,000 of foreign born parents, 6,991,665 had one parent born abroad, while 13,712,754 were foreign born.

“He pointed out that laws passed to restrict immigration were evaded by reason of the fact that the nations restricted did not include Mexico and Canada. ‘Something like 750,000 foreign immigrants have found their way into the United States by the Canadian or Mexican route, being “bootlegged” into the country by law evaders for profit,’ Harris charged.”

See? Not much has changed. ‘Coyotes’ still charge outrageous fees to bring people across the border. Sometimes, those people are left to die in the deserts. But back to the program:

“‘Of these hordes who come, speaking a foreign language, many of them are so ignorant that they would never be able to learn the English tongue. The east is overflowing with foreigners. Eighty percent of the population of New York is made up of foreigners. To get into America, in fact, it would be necessary to come west of the Allegheny Mountains.'”

Harris claimed that in 1924, the Klan had membership of 5 million. That number might seem high, but it certainly was over 3 million members by 1923, so 5 million might not be too far off the mark. Today, we might think that these people were whites against blacks, but that’s actually not entirely true. As you can tell from this lecture, the Klan of the 20s was against everyone who wasn’t Just Like Them. Catholics, Jews, divorced people, men who were unemployed, Eastern Europeans (Commies, you know!) – and, of course, bootleggers. Sure, they lynched blacks as well, particularly in the South, and burned black churches and homes – but the major push of the Klan was pretty simple:  enforce Prohibition, keep ‘undesirables’ out of America, and keep America as white and Protestant as possible.

What scares me the most is not that we still have this crap going on – of course the Klan still exists, and so do neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups, each one as hateful and ignorant as the next – but that we have a presidential candidate that is spouting the same godforsaken nonsense.

Now Trump is encouraging his followers to go to the polling places on Election Day and ensure that there is no voter fraud. Hmm. The Klan did this, too, in the 1860s and 70s, and again from the 1920s – 60s. To ensure there was no ‘voter fraud.’ Dressed in their hoods and robes, grabbed their shotguns, and stood in front of polling booths. Imagine you’re a black man in the 1920s coming to vote for the first time, and that’s the first sight you see when you get there. Of course you’re going to turn around and go back home.

Because if you don’t, you’ll get a cross burning on your front yard – or worse.

What strikes me as I watch Trump and listen to his ignorant, fictional rhetoric is how very, very close he comes to being Z.A. Harris. How very, very close he comes to being the spokesperson for hate. You can tell from the original speech that Harris 100% believed every word he said. Though the Klan of the 1920s attracted all kinds of people for all reasons, one thing remained the same:  the purpose of the organization. Which, of course, boils down to just one thing:


The same hatred Trump shouts in every single speech.

The same hatred his followers seem to embrace.

Just like people did in 1924.




Dear Trump . . . What’s Your Game?

Dear Trump:

What is your game?

No, seriously. I don’t get it, and I’m not the only one.You don’t want to be President. You’ve never shown the slightest indication – before last September, anyway – that you gave a damn one way or the other about America. Even if America fell tomorrow to ISIS, you would survive, cockroach-like, because that’s the only thing you care about:  yourself. You’d probably start building a series of poorly-made mosques, in fact.

You remind me of Sam Adams and John Hancock, and not in a good way. Like you, they were rabble-rousers. Too rich and too dandy to get their hands dirty, they helped create the Sons of Liberty. They inflamed the populace with rhetoric designed to turn them against the British Parliament and, eventually, King George III. Why? Because it suited them and their business interests to do so. They were smugglers. Businessmen, like yourself (except they didn’t go around screwing people by declaring bankruptcies on debt that they were perfectly capable of paying off). And so to protect those interests, they incited riots. Created propaganda. Encouraged their followers – the uneducated, illiterate, blue-collar workers of Boston and the area – to set fire to British customs houses, attack British soldiers, and tar and feather anyone who stood in their way.

In short, they were terrorist leaders. Only we won, so we call them patriots.

You terrify me, because you are everything that is WRONG with America. You can’t be President if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about – and YOU DON’T. Here’s some examples:

The Mexican Wall. Let’s see. You want to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and make Mexico pay for it – which, by the way, the Mexican President has already said ‘fuck no’ to doing. Literally. Tell me:  how do you plan to make Mexico pay for it? There’s not one legal thing you can do to force them into it. You want to wage war against Mexico? Fine. Let’s spend billions of dollars and kill thousands more American soldiers to force Mexico to pay for a wall. That’s brilliant.

(And by the way, you might want to Google a dude called “El Chapo.” Walls mean nothing.)

ISIS and terrorism. As far as I’m aware, you have one plan:  carpet bomb ISIS. Again:  HOW? It would be like saying, “I’m going to kill all the Baptists in Kansas City by carpet-bombing them.” It doesn’t work that way, and if you knew the first damn thing about ISIS, you’d know it. There are approximately 35,000 ISIS members in the world. They embed themselves in cities like Aleppo and Baghdad, among the civilians. You can’t bomb them without killing civilians. Thousands of civilians. Civilians who hate ISIS as much as we do. Which will accomplish – let me think. Oh, yes. Not a damn thing that’s good for us. It’ll piss off the civilians. It’ll piss off the governments of the countries we’re bombing. It’ll piss off our allies. ISIS will use it as a recruiting tool. And how many ISIS members will we kill by carpet-bombing these cities? Hardly any. Certainly not enough to make the fallout worthwhile. How many people will flock to ISIS, though? Thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Good luck with that plan.

Prejudice Against Muslims. Here’s a fact:  no one ever called you personally, or your offices, on September 11 to report that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering as the Twin Towers fell. Know how I know that? Because why the hell would they call you to report such a thing? The fact is, most Muslims hate ISIS. They hate everything it stands for. They hate how it twists the Q’ran and the hadiths, putting words where they don’t exist, trying to justify their takeover of the Middle East by making up their ‘religion’ as they go. And again, if you knew anything about Islam or ISIS, you’d know that. But that doesn’t further your agenda, does it, to educate yourself? Where’s the fun in that?

White Supremacy. Maybe you’re unaware of this little fact, but America has a long history with race problems. It started when we bought and kidnapped close to 12 million Africans, put them in chains, and forced them to come ‘work for us’ in America (to paraphrase a Texas textbook). And even after we abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment, it didn’t change things:  every single southern state passed Jim Crow laws that kept blacks segregated, kept them from voting, and kept them from exercising their legal rights – like protesting things they didn’t like.

I don’t care who you are or how bad your earpiece is:  when someone uses the words ‘white supremacy group’ in a sentence, you don’t equivocate by saying “I know nothing about white supremacists.” There’s no hair to split there. It’s a very – sorry to use this term – black and white issue.

Unless you truly do support white supremacy, that is.

And when I watch your rallies on TV, what do I see, time and time again, but your white supporters beating up black protesters. You claim to denounce David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, but here’s the fact:  you are courting white supremacists. You are courting them the way Hancock and Adams courted those who hated the British. It suits your purposes, just as it suited theirs. You can claim to disavow them all you want. I can disavow any number of  things, like peanut butter. Doesn’t mean a damn thing. Because I still like peanut butter.

You don’t want to be President; you don’t want to work that hard. You don’t want to think that much. But you’re sure as hell having a grand time dividing this nation, stirring up old prejudices and hatreds that most of us thought were long gone – or at least, on their way out.

So again.

What’s your game?


A Nation Divided . . .

When I started this blog, I felt it would never be a platform for my personal politics. It would be about writing, mostly. Helping others.

But that was before this election year. That was before Donald Trump.

I’ve been quiet, but I can’t be quiet anymore. In large part because I want this post, and any subsequent ones, to stand as evidence that I need Britain to grant me political asylum when I apply for it in a year or so.

The Founder Fathers are rolling over in their graves. Right now. At this very moment, they’re all conferring with each other, wondering how the hell things got so out of hand and if they could have done a single thing more than institute the Electoral College to prevent this mishmash of crudeness and humiliation.

You know that’s why they did that, right? The Electoral College? That antiquated voting mechanism that no one understands, not even the Electoral College itself? THIS IS WHY. The Electoral College was put in place as a safeguard. Because the one thing men like John Adams and James Monroe feared above all was the idea that the crude, uneducated masses would rally behind someone so equally uneducated and crude, so thoroughly, that he might actually be propelled to the Presidency. They needed to be able to stop that from beyond the grave. That’s why the Electoral College has the power to not vote for the candidate that wins their state.

(Yes, they were snobs. That doesn’t make them wrong.)

Trump is dangerous. I believe him to be the single most dangerous man in America. There are jihadists, living right now in our borders, who aren’t as dangerous as Trump. It’s not that he’s stupid – though he is – or that he can’t spell Wichita or Oklahoma or even Tulsa, for that matter – but because he fails to see the reality of the situation he’s created.

Or maybe he does see it, all too clearly.

It isn’t the mudslinging. It isn’t the lack of vision or answers. It’s not even his lack of basic knowledge about world affairs or the fact that the rest of the world, including our allies, can’t understand how the hell he’s gone so far in this election.

It’s the fact that he’s cultivated a certain kind of follower. He calls them ‘angry.’

They are not angry.

They are frightening.

They are frightening in their hate. They are frightening in their ignorance. They are frightening in the way that they will blindly follow anyone who says exactly what they want to hear.

They are exactly like the people who joined the Nazis in the 1920s. And those who joined the KKK in the 1920s. Hitler knew the people of Germany were starving, without jobs, angry, scared; he knew they’d follow anyone who told them what they wanted to hear. (Some argue that Trump is exactly like Hitler. If Trump starts to trot out plans, real plans, I’ll totally agree.) The KKK knew the same thing. Take that bit of discontent that the American people were already feeling – the racism of the South against blacks, the resentment in the North against immigrants coming to find jobs, the cultural clashes – mix it with a little bit of rhetoric, and voila. Instant mob mentality. Tell them what they want to hear – even if it makes no sense whatsoever – and let the people and their imaginations and their hatred do the rest.

The thing is, Hitler gave his people a scapegoat – the Jews. And the KKK gave theirs several scapegoats – immigrants, bootleggers . . . anyone, really.

Trump follows that second pattern.

And that’s the scariest part.

Trump doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing when he talks about world affairs. But he knows exactly what to say in his rallies to get his followers riled up. He has the catchphrases down pat. There’s no substance there at all. It’s all hot air. Smoke and mirrors. But I think he’s doing it for a very specific reason.

I think he wants to divide our nation.

I think he wants to return to an ‘us versus them’ mentality.

Look, I totally get that Trump has supporters from all nationalities. I just heard a Mexican immigrant support him on NPR the other day. But when this man stands up in a rally and tells his followers I’d like to punch that guy in the face – referring to a protester – then something’s Very Very Wrong. The only group Trump for sure hates are Muslims. Any Muslims. Even Muslim-Americans. Even Muslims who are third- and fourth-generation American. Listen to him talk – he paints them all with the same paintbrush, ignoring the fact that most Muslims hate terrorism and terrorists as much as anyone.

Here’s what I want Trump supporters to explain:  if Trump is right, and you’re angry, what are you angry about? Jobs? The economy? Syrian refugees? What? Be specific.

Now tell me this:  what is Trump going to do about it? In all of his speeches, in all of his rhetoric, in all of his Tweets and Facebook posts, what has he specifically said about your problem and what he’ll do to solve it if you elect him President?

I’ll tell you what:  not a damn thing. Because he doesn’t care about you and your problems.

So tell me this, then, if you’re a Trump supporter:  why do you like him? Why are you following him so blindly? It’s not that he’s good-looking. That, I could at least understand. But the man wears a dead squirrel on his head. And don’t tell me he’s a true American; he had to import the current wife. Is it the whole “he says what he thinks” thing? News flash:  that’s what five-year olds do, and we find it so annoying that we eventually make them stop. We outgrow that. We have to. It’s called being an adult.

This man, if – God forbid – he becomes President, will be the leader of America. Do you really want him to walk into the United Nations, get into a fight with everyone, and demand they have a penis-measuring contest? He’s already insulted a Saudi prince on Twitter. Britain already had a serious discussion about banning him from their country. We can’t afford to lose our allies because he can’t behave like a normal 50+ year old man.

But we will.

And we’ll see ISIS grow stronger.

And we’ll see our nation divided in a way it’s never been divided before.