Susanna and Meryl react strongly to a post by David Simms on the Ku Klux Klan. David’s thesis is that there are many “otherwise rational, pleasant people” who join the Klan for reasons other than racial animus. This sparked a very long string of comments on both David’s post and Susanna’s response to it. (Presumably, there would be many on Meryl’s site but, alas, it contains no comments section.)

This is a very raw topic and Dave’s thesis seems silly on its face. Indeed, I had a student once who did an oral report on Hugo Black who, noting that Black had been a member of the KKK, offered that, at the time, it was a social club like Rotary. Much ribbing ensued and we never let an opportunity to bring that one up pass.

Still, there is some truth to it. Clearly, all manner of people join large organizations for all manner of reasons. Some of those reasons have little to do with the founding purposes of the organization. Many prominent Southern politicians joined the Klan, notably current Senator Robert Byrd and the late Justice Hugo Black. Byrd is a jackass and Black authored several opinions that I disagree with. I don’t think either qualifies as “evil,” though.

The Nazi Party was evil, as was the Communist Party of the USSR. Many otherwise decent people joined those organizations for reasons other than murdering Jews, committing purges, or even freeing the Proletariat from the chains of the oppressors.

A goodly number of young black males in urban areas join street gangs like the Crips and the Bloods. These gangs are vile organizations whose modus operandi consist of murder and drug dealing among other heinous acts. And, yet, we readily accept that many of the individual gang members are not evil but rather just confused, scared, or looking for protection from the world around them.

It’s not inconceivable to me that there are some number of people who join the KKK for similar reasons.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Cam says:

    As someone’s who’s done some stories and spent some time around white supremacists, I tend to believe that if you join the KKK, you agree with the philosophy. There might be some people who hang around with kluckers without believing in the seperation of the races or the superiority of pink skin, but I don’t think you’d find a wide variety of viewpoints on race relations once you started lifting up hoods and taking a poll.

  2. When I was in my early twenties I belonged to a Marxist organization–one of the many “communist parties” operating in NY/LA at the time, though not *the* CPUSA.

    I retrospect, I think I joined because I hoped it would save my live-in relationship at the time. (And because all the events they hosted involved large amounts of alcohol, which was attractive to me during that era.)

    Not that I didn’t believe the airy-fairy claptrap. Sort of.