A powerful piece on a troubling topic:
“This pathetic letter—filled with obvious misspellings and misinformation—represents the impotence and irrelevance of the contemporary Ku Klux Klan. The FBI penetrated the Klan during the last several decades, gutted it as a domestic terrorist organization, and left its remnants to rot. In my many years of living in the South I have never seen a public or even semi-covert endorsement of the Klan. My students (many of whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers were undoubtedly active members) consider it so queer, distasteful, and repulsive that it has absolutely no appeal to them. But let’s retain some perspective: There was a time when the Klan controlled massive amounts of American political and social life. Lest we think of it as merely a Southern problem, let us remember that the Klan’s most numerous, powerful, and vicious branches were in Wisconsin and Indiana.
How could such a vicious and anti-American organization have come to wield such power of the minds and actions of so many Americans? As a scholar of the Constitution and the Founding, perhaps I have a tendency to view American life and history through the “high-end” dimensions of the thoughts and writing of the Framers. It is the very sobriety of the Founders that is relevant here. Madison knew that we—even we Americans—are not angels. Moreover, he never expected that the constitutional system would turn us into angels. All the Constitution can do (and has done, I would argue) is to contain and moderate as best possible the occasionally illiberal and bigoted elements of society in a framework of liberty, law, and political leadership. But they are still out there.
Despite these reflections, I still feel a “sting” born of the fact that, even though we never met, I am this man’s enemy. As a Jew and academic, there’s a bit of the Socratic expectation of “dialectical openness” on my part to any human mind who will listen, a bit of Mishnaic willingness to confront and embrace the thoughts of those with whom one disagrees. But between this man and me that can never, never happen. I only exist as his enemy—and an enemy of the human race.”
Several years ago, I received a personal letter from the Ku Klux Klan of Upstate South Carolina. A colleague of mine in my colleges Religion Department had asked me to conduct a model Seder for…
Read it all: A Letter from the Ku Klux Klan | First Things