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January 6: Not the First Time White Supremacists Have Marched on Washington

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Trump’s coup attempt may not have included robes and hoods, but it might as well have. The coup was not the first time that white supremacists have marched on Washington, as scholars of the Klan have shown.

What did the attack on the Capitol remind you of historically?

It reminds me of some of the actions of the 1920s Klan, where they are marching on Washington in hoods and robes and carrying flags and crosses to show their dominance and presence in American life.

This was the largest order of the Klan in American history, millions of members in all 48 continental states. Usually the estimates are four to six million. Folks were bankers and dentists and lawyers, pastors and politicians. This involved both white men and women. They stood for, explicitly, white supremacy and white Protestantism. Arguably, it is an evangelical movement too. For membership you were supposed to be a white Christian. You had to be supportive of nationalism and patriotism. They actively encouraged members to go to church. Their language was definitely influenced by evangelicalism, the way they talk about Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

At the time, what was going on with white Christians who were not members?

The Klan was kind of a dramatic example of what a lot of other white people would understand: the importance of Christianity, patriotism, that there was tacit agreement about white supremacy.

There are people that are counteracting these white people that are doing this, but white supremacy wasn’t a controversial topic. The Klan was really upfront and honest about using this term. So a lot of other white Christians might have the same beliefs that they did, but the Klan took it up to 11. These are folks who were picking up the hood and robe to say that America needs to be saved, from immigrants, from people of color.

Did this combination start in the 1920s? Where does it start?

Arguably we can talk about how the combination of Christianity and white supremacy goes to the American founding, with early folks like Puritans showing up and claiming they’re the nation upon a hill and that this is now their land and they have dominion over it. It’s not like we can say that the Klan came from the Puritans. But a variety of different movements in different time periods pick up the same ideas and rhetoric and practices.

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