Never forget the nationalist past of the American Midwest


Dr. Michael Ryan

On October 22, 2018, Donald Trump announced that he was a nationalist. Most people thought that meant he loved his country. This is not the meaning of nationalism.

Others remembered that Hitler and Mussolini had come to power on a nationalist platform. But few remember that 100 years ago America’s most powerful political party was nationalist. This party was the Ku Klux Klan.

Around 1915, the Klan realized that if it changed from a racial organization to a nationalist organization, it could expand into the north. In America, the central belief of nationalism is that “all Americans are equal, but some people are more American than others”. For the clan, this meant that only Protestant white men were true Americans.

Reverend Mel Perry, right, of Nashville is confronted by a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan as he protests alone at their wedding and rally on Route 64 near Pulaski, Tennessee on July 12, 1980.

nullThe Clan presented itself as a Christian fraternal organization that promoted morality. A Klan essay said “America must close the doors to the sickness of the minds, bodies and souls of people in foreign lands. The immigrant invaders are made up of Italian anarchists, disaffected Irish Catholics, Russian Jews and other undesirable groups.

The Midwest was particularly sensitive.”

Michigan State was ranked eighth among clan organizations in the nation with 93 chapters. Membership estimates ranged from 80,000 to 260,000. However, due to its secrecy, exact information about the Michigan Klan is not available. Indiana, which had the largest and most powerful northern branch of the Klan, gives more information on how the Klan operated.

In 1925, 30% of all native white males in Indiana were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Much of this was due to the charismatic leadership of a narcissistic Texas shoe salesman, DC Stephenson, who left two wives to come to Indiana.

DC Stephenson, former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, once wielded power and influence in politics.  He raped women and got away with it.  Except once.

Stephenson quickly saw the great potential of the Ku Klux Klan. He hired Protestant pastors to sell memberships to their parishioners. Ministers who resisted lost their jobs.

Stephenson’s next step was a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. He used lies and misinformation to smear anyone who opposed him and replaced them with KKK puppets. Harassment and threats of violence were also used.

The Klan shunned established rulers and took control of state and local governments. In 1924, Republicans were powerless to prevent the Klan from controlling both houses of the state legislature and the governor. DC Stephenson happily announced, “I’m the law in Indiana.”

The Ku Klux Klan was finally exposed when its most powerful leader, Stephenson, was arrested and convicted of kidnapping, torturing, raping and murdering a young woman. At this point, the atrocities of the Klan were exposed and good people quickly gave up their clan membership.

The parallels between Trump and Stephenson are obvious. Both are crooks who have used lies and misinformation about minorities and their opponents to gain power. They both hijacked the Republican Party and the Christian Right. Moreover, they both promoted hatred and violence to suppress democracy. This was particularly evident in Donald Trump’s attempt to discredit and nullify the valid 2020 election results.

These efforts discredit and cast doubt on our democratic electoral process and therefore on our democracy itself. Attempts by Trump and his aides to pressure local election officials, their efforts to incite violence against our Congress, and to disrupt the democratic process are illegal and a travesty.

Right now they are trying to install their puppets in many branches of our government. The only qualification most of these candidates have is that they have sworn unwavering loyalty to Donald Trump. The January 6 Commission and the Country First movement have mobilized to stop the destruction of our democracy. It is essential that they succeed!

“Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” —George Santayana

— Dr. Michael Ryan is a clinical psychologist in Grand Rapids.


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