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'Keep our Community Pure: Join the KKK!' (12/1/06)
Sometimes local history surprises you. While many regions of the US had a strong KKK movement in the 1920s, I would never have guessed that they once had a strong membership base in the Northern Plains region of the US; that swath of land populated by cows and known as 'flyover country' to most people. The reason for my surprise is rather simple: They didn't actually have any minorities to oppress to speak of. Indeed, the Midwest was about as close to a white supremacist's dream as things came; the Chinese generally hadn't come that far east, the blacks generally hadn't come that far west, the Mexicans hadn't gotten that far north, and all the Native Americans were neatly herded up into quasi-genocidal reservations, where they were methodically stripped of as much of their own culture and language as we could pull off.
What possible appeal could the KKK have had to a bunch of white, Christian farmers who had recently (often within a generation) arrived from Northern Europe? What alien, untrustworthy, incompatible group were they trying to keep out of their communities? As it turns out...other white Christian farmers of Northern European origins. The KKK hated Catholics, and much of the local population was Protestant.
In retrospect it seems utterly absurd that two groups who's major difference was a disagreement about whether you should have a Pope and whether you can be forgiven by God directly or needed to go through the Church should be at each other's throats. Yet, the animosity between Catholic and Protestant was centuries old.
It's an odd example of how people who have been raised to be intolerant will always find reasons to hate and discriminate. Happily, the KKK at least is effectively dead, having fallen from its heights of perhaps six million members from all walks of life in the 1920s to a few thousand inbred rednecks today, but the basic psychology of intolerance of people who aren't like us still lingers on. Perhaps the real lesson of the KKK of the Great Plains is that in a society that accepts bigotry and intolerance, nobody is ever quite pure enough, quite similar enough, to please everybody.