Did you hear the one about the Ku Klux Klan and the Democratic Party?
In light of Donald Trump's response to the support given him by former Grand Wizard David Duke, Rush Limbaugh on Monday claimed
David Duke is a hard-core leftist. He's an anti-Semite. The Ku Klux Klan is a function of the left. It was the military arm of the Democratic Party. Hello. ...
People at CNN think the Klan is far right, uber-right. They're not. The Klan, Jeffrey's right, they were the military of the Democrat Party back in those days. They were the armed forces of the Democrat Party, the segregationist South.
For crying out loud, do I need to give you the names? J. William Fulbright, Lester Maddox, George Wallace. Who are all these people? They're all Democrats!
J. William Fulbright, Lester Maddox, and George Wallace, all deceased (making it much easier to slander them), never were members of the Ku Klux Klan. But never mind; this thing about the KKK having been the "military arm" of the Democratic Party is making the rounds, including at CNN.
One of the network's contributors, Jeffrrey Lord, on Monday claimed on air "Donald Trump isn't playing the game, although he certainly denounced him. I mean, David Duke is a hardcore leftist. He's an anti-Semite." He added "Yes, Margaret, the Ku Klux Klan is a function of the left. It was the military arm of the Democratic Party."
The following night, during an argument (video below) with Van Jones about Trump and the KKK, Lord contended ."Don't hide and say that's not part of the base of the Democratic party. They were the military arm, the terrorist arm of the Democratic party according to historians."
Who are these historians? No one knows. When in 2013 a Virginia state senator (before he retracted his statement) said "The fact is that both the KKK and Planned Parenthood are creations of the Democratic Party," Politifact-Virginia found
"To say that the Ku Klux Klan was started by the Democratic Party -- it’s not the Democratic party of today," Martinez said. "(From the) 1930s until today, you think of the Democratic Party being considered the party of the disenfranchised."
Other historians had similar takes.
Carole Emberton, an associate professor of history at the University at Buffalo, wrote in an email that various "Klans" that sprung up around the South acted as a "strong arm" for many local Democratic politicians during Reconstruction. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest -- believed to be the KKK’s first Grand Dragon -- even spoke at the 1868 Democratic National Convention, said Emberton, author of "Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence and the American South after the Civil War."
But Emberton added a major caveat:
"The party lines of the 1860s/1870s are not the party lines of today," she wrote to us. "Although the names stayed the same, the platforms of the two parties reversed each other in the mid-20th century, due in large part to white ‘Dixiecrats’ flight out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By then, the Democratic Party had become the party of ‘reform,’ supporting a variety of ‘liberal’ causes, including civil rights, women’s rights, etc. whereas this had been the banner of the Republican Party in the nineteenth century."
Elaine Frantz Parsons, an associate professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh said that most post-Civil War southern whites were Democrats who were unhappy with Republican policies on Reconstruction while large numbers of newly-freed slaves were Republicans.
"So it is not surprising that the Reconstruction era Klan would have been very largely Democrats attacking Republicans," Parsons said in an e-mail. "But this simply does not map well at all onto the party structure we know today. Among other things, the Republicans (during Reconstruction) were condemned as the party of big government and as wanting to centralize authority on the federal level."
In 2013, Sarah Jones at Politics USA reminded us of the southern strategy initiated by Richard Nixon and perfected by Reagan adviser Lee Atwater, who
explained in an infamous interview that took place as he was serving under Reagan, “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni**er, ni**er, ni**er.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni**er”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract now; you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
During the Civil Rights era, when there still were Democratic members of Congress in the south, there was a clear split between the northern and southern wings of the Party. The northern wing was dominant, especially after South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond, responding to a speech (static in the original) by Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey supporting civil rights, led delegates out of the convention to form the Dixiecrat Party
On Wednesday, Limbaugh returned to deceiving his listeners, maintaining "It's a foreign language to them that the KKK was a bunch of Democrats. Even though you can them the names: Lester Maddox, George Wallace, Robert Byrd, all of that doesn't matter." LImbaugh can't help but know that in those days, the vast majority of southerners, of good will and otherwise, liberal and conservative, were Democrats: it was a part of the era of the "solid South."
In the 1940s Byrd, who grew up in a house with no electricity, running water, or bathroom, led a small-town, relatively inactive Klan chapter in rural West Virginia. Later, he would emphasize "I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times, and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened."
At least Senator Byrd would have erased his errors if it were possible. The likes of Jeffrey Lord and Rush Limbaugh takea different approach. They never will regret highlighting events following the Civil War and ignoring those following World War II, Humphrey to furious state-level attempts by the GOP to suppress voting rights. Their efforts to rewrite history are deceitful and venomous, and thus bound to continue.