Rev. Billy Graham's Neo-Fascist Christian roots.
The Cathedral of Light.
The personal minister of the famous burglar Richard Nixon and giggling murder Bush Jr. was the news tonight. Tonight's NBC news actually broadcasted from an arena where Billy Graham is holding his last public sermon. So I decided to do a little research on old Billy boy especially since he is said to have converted our cocaine-snorting president. Well, you’ll never believe what I found. I don’t remember learning any of this in Sunday school.[QUOTE] The Roaring 20s and the Roots of American Fascism Part 5: Preachers & Klansmen
In 1924, the Hearst papers, the American Legion, and the Ku Klux Klan led the charge for the Americanization" of schoolbooks, loyalty oaths for teachers, and harsher immigration legislation. These three organizations would become deeply tied to fascism in the following decade. Several members of the American Legion were involved in the fascist plot of 1934 against FDR. The Hearst papers would become an open propaganda outlet for the Nazis and fascism. The Klan would go on to form an alliance with the American Bund.
Hearst with Nazi officers
W.J. Simmons, a former Methodist circuit rider from Atlanta, established the second Klan in 1915. The original Klan had died out and disbanded. The second Klan would be disbanded later on, only to be reborn again. In the first four years of rebirth, the Klan was relatively small. Not until 1920 did it grow to mammoth proportions.
Two factors with roots in the late 1800s set the stage for the rebirth of the Klan. The first was massive immigration from Europe. The American Protective Association, formed in 1887, was virulently anti-alien. The group was particularly strong in the Midwest, where the Klan became strong in the 1920s. The other factor was the populist movement of the 1890s which sought to unite blacks and poorer whites against mill owners and the conservative elite of the South.57
The Klan remained relatively small through 1919. It wasn't until Simmons met publicists Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler in 1920 that the membership increased, peaking at around 4,500,000. The huge increase in Klan membership was largely a product of the Red Scare. Simmons had a contract with the two, giving them 80 percent of all membership dues. Clarke and Tyler promoted the Klan as rabidly pro-America, anti-black, anti-Jewish, antiunion, and most importantly, anti-Catholic.
The race riots in the summer of 1919 also contributed to the rapid growth of the Klan in 1920. In 1919, race riots occurred in Chicago, Washington DC, Elaine, Arkansas, Charleston, South Carolina, Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee, Longview, Texas and Omaha, Nebraska. Through the first half of the decade, the Klan would be a serious force in both the North and South.
The message from the new Klan was that it meant business. Many people believe the Klan was just a bunch of racist, hooded night-riders. The reality is that the Klan has always been closely associated with religion. Besides blacks, Jews, and immigrants, the Klan attacked bootleggers, dope dealers, nightclubs and roadhouses, violations of the Sabbath, sex, and so-called scandalous behavior.
The early 1920s saw a rash of lynchings, shootings, and whippings; the victims were most often a Black, Jew, Catholic or immigrant. Additionally, women of scandalous behavior, as determined by the Klan, were subject to abuse. In Alabama, a divorcee was flogged for remarrying. In Georgia, the Klan, led by a minister, administered 60 lashes to a woman for the vague charge of immorality and failure to go to church. In Oklahoma, Klansmen whipped girls found riding in automobiles with young men. In the San Joaquin Valley of California, the Klan flogged and tortured women for morality charges.58
In Chicago, Miss Mildred Erick was beaten almost into unconsciousness, and had crosses carved on her arms, legs, and back by Klansmen. The Klansmen's attack was provoked by her conversion to Catholicism.59
In November, 1921, a case in Asheville, North Carolina became the focus of the national media. The Reverend Abernathy, of the First Christian Church, sent a letter to city officials calling for a purity campaign and the arrest of two women, Etyln Maurice and Helen Garlington, and two black men, Louis Sisney and Maurice Garlington. The women were charged with prostitution, fornication, and adultery. Both women received a sentence of one year in the county jail.59 The campaign was similar to an earlier one in Athens, Georgia launched by the Reverend M.B. Miller of the First Christian Church. Miller headed the Klan in Athens.
There are thousands of examples of women receiving much harsher treatment than the Asheville case. What brought Asheville to national attention is that Asheville was the home of William Dudley Pelly and the Silver Shirts. Many of the regions in which the Klan were strong in the 1920s later became centers of pro-fascist groups in the 1930s. Pelly would later move his Silver Shirt organization to Indiana, an area that had a strong Klan in the 1920s.
With its anti-black, anti-union, anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-Jew, and extreme nationalist agenda, the Klan's platform was remarkably like that of the Nazis. By the 1930s, the Klan served as a bridge between nativist groups and fascists. On August 18, 1940, the Klan formalized an alliance with the American Bund at the Nazi encampment of Nordland, at Andover, New Jersey. Before this, a Nazi agent had offered former Klan Grand Wizard Hiram Evans $75,000 to control the Klan's voice. When James Colescott succeeded Evans, the Klan entered into its collaboration with the American Bund.
After the alliance with the Bund was formed, the Klan embarked on a plan to infiltrate unions in an effort to Americanize them. After Pearl Harbor, the Klan intensified these efforts, particularly in the Detroit area. Once inside the unions, Klansmen spread pro-fascist literature, and succeeded in provoking wildcat strikes to hinder the war effort. Their efforts went so far as to organize opposition to purchasing war bonds.
Probably the Klan's most successful effort to disrupt the war effort was the Detroit riot. This Klan-inspired riot was an attempt to prevent blacks from occupying their new homes in the Sojourner Truth Settlement, a housing project. The riot caused several deaths, and an interruption of war production. Amplifying its effect, the riot was of tremendous propaganda value to America's enemies. Germany and Japan seized on the riot, and aired lurid broadcasts of it to demoralize American troops.60
Today, one cannot understand the Detroit area without looking at the influence of fascism in the area. The riot was provoked by the Klan which was closely associated with fascism and the Bund at the time. However, there were many other fascist organizations active at the time within the Detroit are. The Black Legion, the Wolverine Republican League, Father Coughlin, and several other fundamentalist ministers of hate as well be shown later in this chapter. Michigan was one of the hot spots for fascism as several of the strongest supporters of fascism within the halls of congress came from Michigan.
Detroit was not the only riot inspired by the Klan designed to stop war production. Another Klan-inspired race riot occurred on June 15, 1943 in Beaumont, Texas. A mob of over 4,000 attacked the black section of the city, looting stores and burning buildings. Twenty-one people were killed, and production in the area was slowed for months.
Today's modern, or the third Klan formed an alliance with neo-Nazis domestically, and in England, Sweden, Canada, and Australia. An American sergeant stationed in Bitburg served as the Klan's recruiting officer in Germany. Currently, much of the hate and pro-Nazi literature in Germany (where it is illegal) comes from the United States.61
Klan-inspired lynchings and riots were common in the 1920s. Over 450 people were lynched; almost all were black.63 Lynchings became so frequent that Representative L. C. Dyer of Missouri introduced a bill in 1921 to make lynching a federal crime. The bill passed the house but failed in the Senate, due to a filibuster by southern senators. Lynching was not the only method the Klan used to dispose of blacks. On December 9, 1922 a mob in Perry, Florida burnt a black man at the stake after he was accused of murder.64
The most noted act of Klan-inspired violence was in Rosewood, Florida, which was chronicled in a recent film. In January 1923, the tiny town of Rosewood came under attack by a white mob. The mob was incited by a report of a white woman having been assaulted by a black man in the nearby town of Summer. The riot resulted in several residents of Rosewood being murdered, and the black portion of town being burnt to the ground. The black residents, fearing for their lives, fled into the nearby swamps and relocated. No charges were ever filed against the mob, which was reported to have had several Klansmen from outside the area.
Although Rosewood is the most widely known race riot of the 1920s, it was not the bloodiest. The Tulsa, Oklahoma riot of 1920 was far more horrific. A mob of over 10,000, some wielding machine guns, attacked the black section of the city, destroying thirty-five square blocks, and leaving over 300 dead. The mob used at least eight airplanes to spy on the blacks and may have even used the planes to bomb some areas.65
The listing of all the race riots and lynchings of the 1920s would fill several volumes. Many, such as Rosewood, were reported nationally. The Nation reported that the state of Florida was unconcerned about the fate of Negroes. A few northern newspapers decried the massacre, but most adopted a more apologetic view of the Klan and its violence. The Tampa Times justified it by proclaiming that blacks "are anything but a Christian and civilized people." The Gainesville Sun went even further, stating that lynchings would prevail as long as criminal assaults continue on innocent women, and closed the editorial equating the massacre with the death of a dog.
Today, most peoples' image of the Klan is one of a violent gang of racists clothed in bed sheets, and view the Klan as a pariah of some sort. Even with the rise in membership since 1980, the Klan is still a shadow of its former self. However, the real legacy of the Klan is not related to hooded nightriders or cross burnings. Rather, the real legacy is the role the Klan played in developing what now constitutes the religious right.
It was common place in the 1920s for ministers to lead the local Kaverns. The same holds true today. One such example is the Reverend J.M. Drummond, who was the keynote speaker at a Klan rally near Estill Springs, Tennessee on July 7, 1979.66 Drummond is an Identity minister, as is Pete Peters, another minister closely associated with the Klan.
The Identity religion teaches that Aryans are the true Jews of the Bible, and that Jews, Blacks and other minorities are children of Satan. Two of the more influential developers of the Identity religion began their ministries in the 1920s.
The Red Scare of 1919 resulted in the purging of anyone holding even the mildest liberal views, clergy included. With few liberal clergymen remaining, the result was a gigantic chasm into which the Klan and the radical right moved, shifting the spectrum to the far right. The result can still be seen today in the linkage between racism and religion. A study conducted in the 1960s detailed this linkage, and will be presented in a later chapter. Since that study, the linkage has become even more pronounced, with the rise of the Identity religion in recent years.
The evolution of the present religious right from the 1920s Klan can best be shown by the careers of Gerald Winrod and Gerald Smith. In November, 1925 in Salina, Kansas, Winrod established the Defenders of the Christian Faith. The Defenders were extremely conservative, and in April, 1926 Winrod began publishing a monthly magazine, The Defender. Winrod supported prohibition, and was rabidly opposed to the theory of evolution.
The teaching of evolution, as well as the Scopes trial, was one of those issues that become a watershed event in shaping later movements. The teaching of evolution would define what has evolved into the religious right. Although there were fundamentalists before the 1920s, the fundamental religious movement was revitalized and defined by the Scopes trial. In fact, the term "fundamentalist" was coined in the 1920s. Many early fundamentalists, such as John Franklyn Norris, were openly supportive of the Klan. Norris was a Baptist preacher from Texas, and also had a parish in Detroit, flying between the two cities. Norris also ran a seminary, one notable graduate of which was John Birch. Birch's death at the hands of Chinese communist forces in the late 1940s spawned the formation of the John Birch Society in the 1950s.
In 1926, Winrod led a campaign to ban the teaching of evolution locally, as well as in California and Minnesota. He appointed a committee to examine textbooks, and in Minnesota he helped William Bell Riley draft the bill which was introduced in the Minnesota legislator.
Riley was a force in the conservative wing of the Baptist Church during the 1920s. Like Winrod, Riley was rabidly opposed to the teaching of evolution, and was also extremely anti-Semitic. In 1934, he published the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and an article on communism, attempting to show they were part of a conspiracy at work in Roosevelt's New Deal. Riley preached:
"Today in our land many of the biggest trusts, banks and manufacturing interests are controlled by Jews. Most of our department stores they own. The motion pictures, the most vicious of all immoral, educational and communistic influences, is their creation."68
The above quote, from one of Riley's sermons, is indistinguishable from Hitler's propaganda. It is a clue that, if Riley was not outright pro-Nazi, he certainly harbored sympathy for fascism.