Tag Archives: book

Westboro Baptist Church vs. the Klan: HNN Op-ed

So, it begins. Gospel According to the Klan officially arrives on the shelf a short two three months (math isn’t my strong suit) from today. In honor of its forthcoming publication, I have an op-ed up at the History News Network today on the protest and counterprotest at Arlington Cemetery on this past Memorial Day between the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church and none other than a Virginia branch of Ku Klux Klan. Before anyone asks, no, I cannot make either of these movements bend to my will, so I didn’t set this up. Sometimes, I just get lucky when the news cycle moves into my scholarly territory. The question driving the op-ed is: Why does the news coverage of this event need a moral authority/arbiter/winner in the jockeying between WBC and the KKK?

Here’s a preview:

What does make the recent Arlington protest newsworthy is the presence of surprising counter protestors, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  While WBC protestors held up signs proclaiming “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Mourn for Your Sins,” and identifying President Obama as the Beast of Revelation, the Knights of the Southern Cross (Virginia) passed out small American flags to mourners.  The Knights, led by self-proclaimed Imperial Wizard Dennis LaBonte, protested the WBC’s anti-troop message.  In a sense, some media outlets were stumped by the face-off of two derided, defamed, and unloved groups.  While WBC traces the history of the independent Baptist church back to 1955, the presence of the Klan in the American historical landscape can be traced back much further.  The KKK first appeared in the 1860s with the Reconstruction Klan and emerged time and again in twentieth (the 1910s-1920s, 1950s-1960s, and 1980s) and now the twenty-first century with the rising presence of white supremacists after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency (2008).  Unlikeability is perhaps the kindest way to discuss the WBC and the KKK, but that term obscures the violence, physical and rhetorical, that both enact.  Both are grouped under the label “hate movement,” which account for the surprise at the KKK’s stance against the WBC.

Yet, it is only on the surface that KKK and the WBC appear similar.  While the WBC gleefully notes the anger/hatred of God for the American nation in relationship to sexuality, the Klan, in each of its incarnations, embraces and promotes a white Christian nationalism.  The nation for the Klan is sacred, and it requires constant vigilance to guarantee America’s status as the nation among nations, divinely ordained and guided.  The 1920s Klan, in particular, further believed that God played an active role in American history, siding with white Protestants as the “true” chosen American people.  While WBC’s protests equate dead soldiers with divine punishment, my historical work on the 1920s Klan showcases the order’s long attachment to the nation as well as the fear, not glee, that Americans could face divine retribution for declining social values.  Of course, the Klan’s vision of nation still remains strictly limited to citizens with white faces, “correct” religious faith, Protestant Christianity, and heterosexuality.  Unlike the WBC, the order’s patriotism demonstrates its deep attachment to the nation and mythologized American freedoms and values.  Soldiers emerge as dually important for the Klan because of their role in the protection of the U.S. and the ability to honor individual Klansmen’s military service.

Continue reading here.

Gospel Available in September

University Press of Kansas now has an official website for Gospel According to the Klan, which will be available in September.

Here’s a preview:

To many Americans, modern marches by the Ku Klux Klan may seem like a throwback to the past or posturing by bigoted hatemongers. To Kelly Baker, they are a reminder of how deeply the Klan is rooted in American mainstream Protestant culture.

Most studies of the KKK dismiss it as an organization of racists attempting to intimidate minorities and argue that the Klan used religion only as a rhetorical device. Baker contends instead that the KKK based its justifications for hatred on a particular brand of Protestantism that resonated with mainstream Americans, one that employed burning crosses and robes to explicitly exclude Jews and Catholics.

To show how the Klan used religion to further its agenda of hate while appealing to everyday Americans, Kelly Baker takes readers back to its “second incarnation” in the 1920s. During that decade, the revived Klan hired a public relations firm that suggested it could reach a wider audience by presenting itself as a “fraternal Protestant organization that championed white supremacy as opposed to marauders of the night.” That campaign was so successful that the Klan established chapters in all forty-eight states.

Baker has scoured official newspapers and magazines issued by the Klan during that era to reveal the inner workings of the order and show how its leadership manipulated religion, nationalism, gender, and race. Through these publications we see a Klan trying to adapt its hate-based positions with the changing times in order to expand its base by reaching beyond a narrowly defined white male Protestant America.

Here are the blurbs:

“An original and sobering work. In the present age, when we may no longer pretend that the lines between violent fanaticism and religious fervor are clearly discernible, this book makes a timely and urgent intervention. Hatred may have more to do with religion than we care to acknowledge.”—David Morgan, author of Protestants and Pictures: Religion, Visual Culture, and the Age of American Mass Production

“An important contribution to Klan scholarship that gives sustained attention to the centrality of Protestant Christianity in the construction of the movement’s identity.”—Rory McVeigh, author of The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics

The book is now available for pre-order via Amazon, which has to be coolest thing I’ve ever seen.