The KKK: White America's primal scream

Rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment, the Ku Klux Klan and its bigotry changed policy and introduced refugee quotas

Published October 31, 2017 12:15PM (EDT)

 Members of the Ku Klux Klan (Getty/Henry Guttmann)
Members of the Ku Klux Klan (Getty/Henry Guttmann)

The Ku Klux Klan's power over American policy cannot be overstated. The truth is, "it had an enormous influence," historian Linda Gordon told Salon's Amanda Marcotte on "Salon Talks."

Gordon is the author of the new book "The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition," which documents the resurgence of the American terrorist group in the 1920s. Fairly unknown, Gordon explained that this "second Klan" operated above the Mason-Dixon line and had a forceful hand in mainstream American politics.

One example, she said, is the United States' first federal immigration restriction law, authorized in 1924. "That law wasn't just a general restriction of immigration," Gordon said. "It set quotas for people of different groups, and what those quotas did was they enacted into law exactly this hierarchy of the races that the Klan promoted."

She described how Catholics and Jews were particularly targeted by these quotas. "We also have to remember that this law stayed into effect until 1965," Gordon said. "So this is 40 years in which the '20s Klan influenced American policy towards immigration."

According to Gordon, something similar is taking place today.

"Just as that law is probably one of the contributing factors to the fact that the United States had such a bad record at refusing to accept Jewish refugees from Nazism — because of these quotas. Well the same thing is happening now," she said. "The quotas make it very difficult for Americans to help these refugees from violence or from climate change, or all the things they're running from."

Watch the full "Salon Talks" conversation on Facebook.

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By Rachel Leah

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