The History Channel’s Ku Klux Klan: A Secret History is a fascinating but basic video consisting of the background information that encompasses the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, an American based terrorist group, is known not only for their repeated targeting of Blacks and Jews, but also of anyone not White Protestant; advocating “white supremacy, white nationalism and anti-immigration”. The Ku Klux Klan, one of the most well-known white supremacist terrorist groups, was able to emerge in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
“While its primary political purpose was to prevent newly ranchised black Southerners from electing Republicans to office in the Southern states, the secret organization opposed the exercise of all African American rights – including land ownership, work opportunities, educational advancement, and social equality – through violence and terror. 2 Founded after the Civil War in 1865, the Klan was formed in Tennessee by six former officers of the Confederate army in the form of a fraternity and as a source of entertainment. Although starting off quite innocently, the Klan was later re-shaped to reate a means for citizens to convey their unease and protest equality policies for the former black slaves, and to demand a political change to assure the whites were still in control.
The History Channel states that the purpose of the documentary is to “venture back to the days of the Reconstruction South and through the landmarks in Klan history to tell the complete story of the most famous hate group in America”, but the main argument in the video is to understand how the Klan has lasted for such a long period of time, and what makes its constant regeneration possible.
The video addresses the history of the KKK from its founding, through the Klan’s history in the civil rights movement in America where it was the most active because of its ideology against equal rights, to when it became known as a dangerous terrorist group in America, and finally to the modern variations of the group. The documentary provides basic information about the formation of the Klan focusing on the changes and differences of the Klan’s goals throughout the different periods of its history.
The documentary describes the ebbs and flows of the popularity of the Klan at ifferent points throughout American history, and explains the pressure points that cause the regeneration of the Klan during those times. The documentary explains that the Klan was never a stable or consistent terrorist group at any point. The strength of the group ebbed and flowed in cycles throughout its history, resurrecting itself continuously to promote “white supremacy” whenever possible.
The argument of the Klan’s constant regeneration was both intriguing and enlightening, and was well supported throughout the video. It is explained that the Ku Klux Klan will never totally disappear, and that there will always be people willing to use the Klan as an intimidating force to terrorize groups of people. Given a compelling leader along with cultural and social issues, the video provides strong proof that the Klan will continuously regenerate even as it morphs to assimilate new philosophies and ideas from different generations.
While the Ku Klux Klan is considered a terrorist group on account of their discrimination, violence and their actions towards political change, most historians do not consider the Klan to have become a terrorist group until the middle of the 19th century as the Klan had a simple and innocent start. “Klansmen also have a strong sense of victimization. Many Klan members are motivated to commit acts of intimidation, murder, torture, and terrorism and to rationalize these acts as “self defense” because of a twisted perception that they are under attack and have to protect their “way of life. In the minds of most Klan members, the Klan never attacks innocent victims-it simply responds with vigor and righteousness to encroachments on the God-given rights of whites. 4 “They used a variety of tactics to harass and intimidate blacks and sympathetic whites including putting burning crosses on the lawns of individuals, arson, riding in groups by horseback near communities they wanted to frighten, and beating, raping and lynching (hanging).
“5 A large portion of what made the Ku Klux Klan’s tactics so formidable and effective is the fact that “in many cases, local and state authorities were complicit in Klan activities”. Because of the bias of the situation and the skewed justice system, those defending against the Klan had little to no ptions available to them to protect themselves and deal with the situation in an effective manner. Only ‘higher ranked’ people than those of the Klan could bring down this terrorist group, and since the police were already involved with the group, this left few people able to intervene. Even President Johnson was left impotent according to the video.
As a documentary, the video appropriately used a good variety of primary sources such as pictures and seeking to get the story from the inside by offering revealing interviews with Grand Dragon Edward Foster and Imperial Wizard Jeff Berry, but quite lot of the information presented was not cited to properly justify the source as legitimate. Newspaper headlines of the time, and easily identifiable sources were strewn throughout the video, aiding its level of reliability, but on the whole, the video lacked proper support because of the absence of citation.
While the video noticeably gave both sides of the Klan’s historical story through interviews with not only Klansmen, but also lawmen and civil rights activists, it was more biased towards the idea of equality of all races, and the wording of the ommentary, more often than not, supported the idea that the Klan’s ideology was outdated and offensive. Though it is clear that the KKK used their terrorist acts to attempt to change the political structure that allowed non- whites equal rights, always showing their racism, “the specific targets and tactics of its propaganda and strategies have varied, reflecting societal change”.
Each change brought about a new Klan and new problems throughout the country, and the only possible way to put an end to the Klan was for the government to step in and take control of the situation. William Bruce Cameron, sociology professor at the University of South Florida, stated that the Ku Klux Klan is the classical example of a movement which has been reborn and that each rebirth has been marked by differences in purposes and in methods.. Consequently, Klan tactics have been altered to maximize support and to ensure a large following without forsaking the Klan’s mission”. In the case of the Ku Klux Klan, the documentary suggests that the media holds a large influence on the description and opinions of the public about the Klan as a terrorist group.
In the early 1920s, the movie “A Birth of A Nation” was produced about the Klan giving the impression of a well meaning group. However, it was President Wilson’s influence that inspired people to believe that the Klan was well-intentioned and not threatening to the general public when he supported the claims of the movie, stating that the movie was “also terribly true”. Compared to other Ku Klux Klan documentaries and journals, such as Klansville [KKK] – The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights, this documentary falls short in its understanding of the threat that he Klan felt with the equality given to other non-white races. The Klansville documentary was geared towards the common people within the Ku Klux Klan and what motivated them to join the Klan, and the Klan’s leaders and their value for the other members in the Klan.
While the History Channel’s documentary did touch upon this topic, it was only in passing, and this topic of understanding the member’s priorities and motivations is important to understanding how the Klan was able to form and function. While the underlying understanding of the KKK is the ame for most sources, and the majority of them have little to nothing good to say about the Klan, the History Channel’s documentary seemed to want to give a whole picture, but in doing so, was vague about most points that were supported.
The Ku Klux Klan has evolved over generations to adapt to society’s whims while keeping their motive of “white supremacy” the most important aspect of the group. 9 The documentary, while mainly accurate about the Klan’s information and description, is a basic background into the Klan, its formation and history. The documentary fully describes and reflects upon he argument of the Klan’s continual survival and resurrection.
Despite its age, the Klan has demonstrated amazing resiliency, adapting to different times and situations and outlasting other like-minded groups”10, however as long as any justice system set up in a country is actually ‘just’, (which according to the documentary United States wasn’t in the early 19th century with mainly white men assigned as jurists) the Ku Klux Klan should never have the same power that they had in the past. With the ability to prosecute the injustices with commensurate punishments, the power of the KKK can be avoided.