Multicultural, Intersectional, It’s not Your Daddy’s KKK

by Corey Robin on November 11, 2014

So I know I wrote this in The Reactionary Mind:

Beyond these simple professions of envy or admiration, the conservative actually copies and learns from the revolution he opposes. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.”

This is one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of conservative ideology. While conservatives are hostile to the goals of the left, particularly the empowerment of society’s lower castes and classes, they often are the left’s best students.


Sometimes, their studies are self-conscious and strategic, as they look to the left for ways to bend new vernaculars, or new media, to their suddenly delegitimated aims. Fearful that the philosophes had taken control of popular opinion in France, reactionary theologians in the middle of the eighteenth century looked to the example of their enemies. They stopped writing abstruse disquisitions for each other and began to produce Catholic agitprop, which would be distributed through the very networks that brought enlightenment to the French people. They spent vast sums funding essay contests, like those in which Rousseau made his name, to reward writers who wrote accessible and popular defenses of religion.

Even without directly engaging the progressive argument, conservatives may absorb, by some elusive osmosis, the deeper categories and idioms of the left, even when those idioms run directly counter to their official stance. After years of opposing the women’s movement, for example, Phyllis Schlafly seemed genuinely incapable of conjuring the prefeminist view of women as deferential wives and mothers. Instead, she celebrated the activist “power of the positive woman.”…When she spoke out against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), she didn’t claim that it introduced a radical new language of rights. Her argument was the opposite. The ERA, she told the Washington Star, “is a takeaway of women’s rights.” It will “take away the right of the wife in an ongoing marriage, the wife in the home.” Schlafly was obviously using the language of rights in a way that was opposed to the aims of the feminist movement; she was using rights talk to put women back into the home, to keep them as wives and mothers. But that is the point: conservatism adapts and adopts, often unconsciously, the language of democratic reform to the cause of hierarchy.


Still, I was surprised to read this in the International Business Times:

White supremacist organisation, the Ku Klux Klan is rebranding as the “new Klan” by trying to increase membership to Jews, black people, gays and those of Hispanic origin.



Some black people have already expressed an interest in joining, after John Abarr organised a summit with civil rights groups.


Abarr, who has claimed that he is a former white supremacist, told the Great Falls Tribune, “The KKK is for a strong America. White supremacy is the old Klan. This is the new Klan.”


Abarr has organised a peace summit with religious groups and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) next summer.


The KKK organiser from Great Falls, Montana told the Associated Press that he filled out a membership card to NAACP, not only paying the $30 enrollment fee but also adding a $20 donation.


Jimmy Simmons, a president of the Montana NAACP chapter, said that while he questioned the use of the letters KKK, if the peace summit took place, he would “take a strong look” at joining the Rocky Mountain Knights.


“If John Abarr was actually reformed, he could drop the label of the KKK,” said Rachel Carroll-Rivas from the Montana Human Rights Network. “They know that their beliefs aren’t popular, so they try to appear moderate. I think it’s just a farce. Our mission for the last 24 years has been to shine a light on hatred.”


However, the more traditional elements of the organisation were unhappy about the direction Abarr is heading in.


Bradley Jenkins, Imperial Wizard of the KKK, said: “That man’s going against everything the bylaws of the constitution of the KKK say. He’s trying to hide behind the KKK to further his political career.”


In 2011 Abarr, describing himself as a former KKK organiser, ran as a Republican for Montana’s seat in the US House of Representatives, reportedly believing there would be a backlash against President Obama’s re-election.


According to an Associated Press report at the time, Abarr’s manifesto included “promises to legalize marijuana, increase mental health programs, keep abortion legal, abolish the death penalty… and ‘save the White Race.’”


At the time mainstream Republicans denounced Abarr as a racist. ”There’s no room for racism in our party,” said Rich Hill, a former Republican congressman who lost the 2012 election for Montana’s governor. “That is not what we are about, and we have never been about that.”

{ 33 comments }

1

Rich Puchalsky 11.11.14 at 2:29 am

Something like this concept appeared in the U.S. TV show _Sons of Anarchy_. The protagonist / motorcycle gang leader is doing a drug deal with the local neo-Nazis, and they chide him for his cooperation with non-white gangs. He smiles and says that he’s a white guy, but he doesn’t want to pretend that it’s still 1956, or something like that. So he’s modeling being cool, tolerant, and contemporary for the TV audience that is supposed to see him as a sympathetic, relatable character, but of course the motorcycle gang he leads is still all white and exists within a criminal subculture in which all the gangs are mono-racial.

2

Anderson 11.11.14 at 2:58 am

Dang, my phone won’t let me paste here. What giveth?

Google “Jordan Gollub.” A persecuted persecutor, run out of the Mississippi Klan for being a Jew.

3

cassander 11.11.14 at 3:56 am

This has nothing to do with ideology, it’s simply institutions trying to perpetuate themselves, the iron law of bureaucracy in action.

4

Billikin 11.11.14 at 4:23 am

FWIW, my impression of Schlafly and other right wing activists, politicians, and pundits is not that their older views have been modified, necessarily, as that they have learned not to express them, because they are not well received. Instead they adopt different language, molding it for their purposes. For instance, instead of crying, “Segregation now! Segregation forever!”, they practice and promote racism but vehemently deny doing so and take offense at the suggestion that their actions are racist. They claim that they are not racist, so how could their actions be racist? Their rhetoric has changed, but has anything else?

5

ponfed 11.11.14 at 4:38 am

From the minds of the geniuses on Mr Show :

6

Alan White 11.11.14 at 5:48 am

The cunning “naysaynayers” have taken my state of Wisconsin by storm. Limit union influence and penalize/demonize public workers by introducing “taxpayer reforms”, restrict access to reproductive resources by “enacting women’s health care legislation”, suppress lower-income voters by ID “measures to increase confidence in the democratic process”, and so on. And it definitely worked to convert what was mere years ago a progressive blue state to red Wississippi. Here it is not “say what you mean” anymore–it is “be-conservative-mean-but-not-seemingly-mean-spirited in what you say”. Naysaynayers. I am beyond any comprehension of their nerve–and their success, except that obviously phraseology trumps meaning in contemporary media politics.

7

gianni 11.11.14 at 6:01 am

it’s like a bad Zizek argument for the ends of liberal tolerance

8

dsquared 11.11.14 at 6:32 am

I very much hope that someone will have a go at resurrecting the Knights of the Flaming Circle, the Order Of Anti-Poke-Noses, the Royal Blues and all the other anti-Klan societies that used to be a feature of American life in the first half of the twentieth century.

9

Palindrome 11.11.14 at 7:49 am

You know, it’s tough. I agree with the Latin Kings on social issues, but fiscally I’m more of an Aryan Nation guy.

10

dsquared 11.11.14 at 8:18 am

I think his choice was either this, or to claim that the KKK had always been misunderstood and that what they were really about was ethics in video game journalism.

11

areanimator 11.11.14 at 9:26 am

This isn’t very surprising in light of how extreme right parties in Europe are adopting traditionally leftist rhetoric of supporting the worker class and happily admitting immigrants sufficiently critical of “multiculturalism” and migration policy into the inner circles in order to point at them whenever accusations of racism come up. Also similar to the way Russian ultranationalist parties and organizations are rebranding themselves as a diaspora – “Putin has sold Russia out (here the racist factions like to add “to the Central Asian migrant workers”) and the Russian state doesn’t represent the ethnic group of Russians anymore, so we must take it back”. The KKK wants a “strong America” like the Front National wants a “strong France” and Ukraine’s Svoboda wants a “strong Ukraine”. Ultranationalism and fascism is becoming cosmopolitan and diasporic.

12

gianni 11.11.14 at 9:54 am

9 & 10 both get a gold star for providing an ample supply of chuckles to myself before bed.

13

Ze Kraggash 11.11.14 at 10:05 am

European right-wing parties thrive on the backlash against neoliberalism; this is what makes “strong France” or “strong Hungary” popular. Liberalism is more or less the same thing as neoliberalism, and the marxist (especially trotskyist) left, whatever’s left of it, has to support neoliberalism as the force creating the “proletariat of the world”. And so, nationalist right is the only place for the ordinary people to express their opposition to neoliberalism.

14

Diogenes Onionpants 11.11.14 at 10:48 am

In South Carolina that rebranding has been long on-going in ways outrageous (the KKK calls itself the “first civil rights organization,” claiming that it’s not anti-black, just pro-white) and endemic (the refusal to recognize the political shifts that make the claim that ‘[southern conservative] Democrats opposed the Civil Rights Act’ irrelevant to today). Our general refusal to come to terms with our collective sins still makes discussion of race impossible.

15

dsquared 11.11.14 at 10:52 am

Of course they are following the example of Pim Fortuyn, who before his death seemed to be well on the way to establishing a strong political coalition in the Netherlands behind the view “we must chuck out these Muslims, they’re such homophobes”. The bigotry of anti-bigotry is potentially a potent combination.

16

Barry 11.11.14 at 2:13 pm

I think that this has frequently been the case. However, back in The Day the framing was one which we don’t see now. The classic US example (see ‘Birth of a Nation’) was of the Klan being a purely defensive organization, fighting for civilization and suchlike. Now, we don’t see that this was a powerful framing. Similarly, antisemitism was framed defensively.

17

jake the antisoshul soshulist 11.11.14 at 2:57 pm

Don’t forget the Tea Party embrace of Saul Alinsky’s tactics.

18

Stephen 11.11.14 at 3:22 pm

Billikin@4: of right-wing extremists “not that their older views have been modified, necessarily, as that they have learned not to express them, because they are not well received. Instead they adopt different language, molding it for their purposes”.

That seems true. But is it not also true, in some cases, of their left-wing counterparts?

19

Anarcissie 11.11.14 at 4:04 pm

Stephen 11.11.14 at 3:22 pm @ 18:
‘Billikin@4: of right-wing extremists “not that their older views have been modified, necessarily, as that they have learned not to express them, because they are not well received. Instead they adopt different language, molding it for their purposes”.
That seems true. But is it not also true, in some cases, of their left-wing counterparts?’

What would be a left-wing counterpart of the KKK or the Tea Party?

20

Stephen 11.11.14 at 5:27 pm

In terms of USA mass politics: none. Outside the USA, well, there were rather a large number of admirers of and apologists for Actually Existing Democratic Socialism, admirers of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao …

21

Anarcissie 11.11.14 at 6:04 pm

So who are we talking about, then? Unless we consider ordinary, law-abiding, capitalism-tolerant social democrat / Welfare statist types to be ‘extremists’, on the Left I observe only a handful of radicals, most of whom are anarchists not fond of the Usual Suspects you name, and not very shy of professing their beliefs. I’m curious who you see as these counterparts.

22

Billikin 11.11.14 at 8:22 pm

Billikin@4: of right-wing extremists “not that their older views have been modified, necessarily, as that they have learned not to express them, because they are not well received. Instead they adopt different language, molding it for their purposes”.

Stephen@18: “That seems true. But is it not also true, in some cases, of their left-wing counterparts?”

Well, consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Conservatives are generally concerned with protecting national sovereignty. Left-wingers could attack the TPP on the grounds that it weakens our sovereignty. I believe that that is so, but the point is that the left-winger does not actually have to want to protect national sovereignty to make the argument.

23

cassander 11.11.14 at 9:54 pm

@Anarcissie

>What would be a left-wing counterpart of the KKK or the Tea Party?

In the specific context Billikin’s formulation, start with Walter Duranty winning a pulitzer for denying the Holodomor, and continue with everyone who denied the crimes of and defended the USSR, Cuba, PRC, North Vietnam, or other nominally communist countries. Noam Chomsky, for example, seems to still largely believe the same things today that caused him to say, at the height of the cultural revolution, “But I do think that China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step.” but he definitely phrases them rather differently now.

24

Anarcissie 11.12.14 at 4:19 am

cassander 11.11.14 at 9:54 pm @ 23 —
I thought we were talking about contemporary radical activists. Walter Duranty and the people who gave him the Pulitzer Prize have been dead for decades, and Noam Chomsky seems to have evolved into an entertainer for progressives who substitute attending his lectures and reading his writings for actually doing anything.

Left examples of contemporary radical activists would be the people who started Occupy Wall Street. In spite of the charges of right-wing propagandists, it turned out they were not cats’-paws for Obama or the SIEU or some other ‘secret masters’*, but entirely explicit and sincere about their beliefs. So who and where are the leftist radical wolves in moderate sheep’s clothing corresponding to this multiculti polychromatic KKK?

*Slavoj Žižek’s amusing term and fable.

25

cassander 11.12.14 at 6:58 am

@Anarcissie

ah, I thought you were talking more historically. for a contemporary version, just look at those on the left who fell over themselves praising hugo chavez while he ran venezuela into the ground.

>In spite of the charges of right-wing propagandists, it turned out they were not cats’-paws for Obama or the SIEU or some other ‘secret masters’*

I’m not sure which right wing propagandists you’re referring to, but this is not a criticism I ever heard much of. In my neck of the woods, they were largely derided for being silly, spoiled children who were entirely sincere in their nonsense. if occupy had had some of the electoral success of the tea party, you probably would have heard the more of the sort of thing you say (following a similar path to the tea party in that regard, from silly teabaggers to dark Koch brother conspiracy) but they never got that far.

26

gianni 11.12.14 at 7:27 am

Or maybe the fact that they never got that far was related to what their actual beliefs were, and their failure to achieve electoral success is related to their lack of a desire to pursue an electoral strategy? I’m just spitballing here, but maybe the content of their politics (or even lack thereof!) is what precluded this possibility, and it isn’t fully explained by them being “silly, spoiled children” engaged in “nonsense.”

27

Layman 11.12.14 at 12:14 pm

“just look at those on the left who fell over themselves praising hugo chavez while he ran venezuela into the ground.”

By all means, let us look at them.

Which way must we look?

28

Ze Kraggash 11.12.14 at 12:37 pm

I think the problem is that western mass media routinely disseminate lies of Goebbels’ proportions. People like Duranty, Chomsky, etc. get enraged and try to fight it. Naturally, things are taken out of context, and they are portrayed as those who “denied the crimes of and defended”. That’s life. Ideally, no one, left or right, should learn not to express their views because they are not well received.

29

J Thomas 11.12.14 at 1:19 pm

#28 Ze Kraggash

I think the problem is that western mass media routinely disseminate lies of Goebbels’ proportions. People like Duranty, Chomsky, etc. get enraged and try to fight it. Naturally, things are taken out of context

Naturally. If the mass media routinely disseminates lies of Goebbel’s proportions, and somebody calls them on it, *of course* they will lie about him. Why would anybody expect otherwise?

30

Anarcissie 11.12.14 at 4:34 pm

There was some debate about Chávez on the actual Left. On the one hand, it seemed clear that he was opposing the US drive for total global domination, so he was good. On the other hand, he was accused of various kinds of thuggish behavior at home, so he was bad. However, neither of these attitudes corresponds to the multiculti KKK. That would require someone who ardently favored Chávez to pretend to take a ‘balanced’ or oppositional view. Maybe there are such, but I haven’t observed them, and there seems to be little profit in such a performance. No more Moscow gold!

I usually don’t bother with the boss media, but at the time of Occupy Wall Street I was curious to see how it was playing in the square world. I discovered that there was an amazing amount of completely fictional assertions of the kind I alluded to above. It was so variegated — Obama, SEIU, ACORN, Palestinians, Jews, Putin, Soros, dirty hippies, escaped mental patients, etc. etc. etc., that it more or less neutralized itself, and it vanished after OWS was suppressed. I probably should have made a collection. Yes, had OWS gotten involved in customary electoral politics they would have been corrupted, absorbed, or destroyed, and there would have been plenty of the customary lying and obfuscation and double-dealing as they went down the drain. But they didn’t.

31

Rich Puchalsky 11.12.14 at 4:40 pm

“Yes, had OWS gotten involved in customary electoral politics they would have been corrupted, absorbed, or destroyed, and there would have been plenty of the customary lying and obfuscation and double-dealing as they went down the drain. But they didn’t.”

This was, of course, a purposeful decision of OWS from the start, and a good part of the reason why they were derided from both left and right with the “silly, spoiled children” nonsense.

My usual link to what I’ve written about Occupy.

32

Minor Heretic 11.16.14 at 6:27 pm

Much of U.S. politics has more to do with symbolism than substance.

Various polls showed that most people who supported Ronald Reagan disagreed with most of his policies, point by point. Likewise with G.W. Bush. Either they weren’t aware of the positions of the man they supported or they engaged in some internal spin doctoring to make the two opposing ideas stick together. These two manifested as members of a particular tribe, and that was good enough.

It’s all about the paint job, like gay-bashing with a rainbow painted baseball bat. Many people just see the pretty colors on the bat. Somehow, magically, promoting the politically/socially/economically dominant ethnic group doesn’t mean denigrating others. The bigots just have to use the right language and symbolism. Read George Lakoff on this.

33

Anarcissie 11.17.14 at 12:26 am

I recommend Louis Menand’s 2004 New Yorker article The Unpolitical Animal for an at least seemingly intelligent overview of why people vote for whom and what, which may be more than you’ll get out of Lakoff. According to Menand, or rather, the research he reviews, the great majority of voters do not vote for ideology, character, or policies; they vote for image, immediate material self-interest, tradition, tribe, and (quite a few) for things completely unconnected to politics like the weather and the success of athletic teams, or for no accountable reason whatever.

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