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Klu-Klux Klan 





Rev, James M. Gillis, C.S.P. 

New York 


120 West 60th St rest 

-*-0 9 x» 



HE most curious combination of comedy 
and tragedy, of melodrama and bur- 
lesque, of buffoonery and villainy that 
has appeared in America, is the Ku- 
Klux Klan. At this late date in the his- 
tory of the world, it is difficult to achieve distinction 
in the commission of crime. But the Klan has at^ 
/ least achieved peculiarity. It combines nonsense 
with murder. If one were to meet a mob of Klansmen 
leading their victim to a whipping party or a tarring 
and feathering "bee," one might imagine, from their 
appearance and their antics, that they were a class of 
sophomores hazing a freshman. Even as they built 
a fire and heated their irons, to brand their victim 
with the insignia, K. K. K., one might imagine that 
Ihey were still joking. The proceedings might be only 
an initiation into a college fraternity. When the jok- 
ers have frightened the candidate to "within an inch 
of his life," surely, one mJght think, they will suddenly 
laugh at him and let him go. Here and now, so far 
away from Fiji or Borneo or the Cannibal Islands^ 
and so long after Cotton Mather and the human bon- 
fires at Salem, it seems incredible that men could sear 
the flesh of a fellow human being, or actually burn 
him alive. Incredible, but it is true. One of the para- 
doxes of civilization is that in this land of libraries 
and schools and churches, in the era of the automo- 
bile and the aeroplane and the radio, it is still pos- 
«;i})lc for men to put a human being in a steel cage, 

1376623 / 


and roast him, while they dance around the fire, 
shouting, laughing, merrymaking as if at a barbecue. 
It is still more paradoxical — and more humiliating — 
that America is the only land in which such atrocities 
really take place. The Bolsheviki do not burn people 
alive. Canadian soldiers were not crucified by the 
Germans in Belgium. Even the inferential insult to 
Tahiti and Borneo must, on second thought, be with- 
drawn. No such things are done in the Cannibal 
Islands as are done in Texas and Georgia and Ala- 
bama, and in some more northerly States. The Ku- a 
Klux Klan is indeed a malignant phenomenon. ^^J[ 

But — again the curious combination — the Klan is 
none the less ridiculous. Even in the act of crime, 
the Klansmen act like clowns. The murder-gang mas- 
querades as a Halloween party. Therein lies its chief 
distinction. Therein, also, is one of the difficulties of 
dealing with it. We need a champion to fight against 
the Klansmen. But if we could choose our cham- 
pion, from the living or the dead, I hesitate to say 
whether we should summon Daniel Webster or Mark 
Twain. Webster would thunder at them. Mark 
Twain would make game of them. And — for the 
moment at least — I think that the humorist would be 
more efficient than the statesman and orator. One 
thing is certain. If we do not laugh at the Klansmen, 
the rest of the world will laugh at us. As a carica- 
ture of America, the Klan is infinitely more absurd 
than Main Street. Babbitt is not nearly so prepos- 
terous as William Joseph Simmons,^ the "Imperial 
Wizard." # 

As is always the. case with those who appeal to the 

1 William Joseph Simmons later was succeeded by a man named 
Clarke. Clarke was ousted and Simmons became a second time 
head of the order. In November 1922, Simmons was "kicked up- I 

fctairs," being given the title, "Emperor for Life." The present 
Imperial Wizard is H. W. Evans. 



sense of humor in others, without having any humor 
in themselves, the masters of the Klan are never so 
funny as when they are most solemn. Their ritual is 
claptrap. Their sacred ceremonies are extravaganza. 
Their oflBcial documents are "highfalutin," "bunkum." 
Witness this grandiloquent salutatory of the "Im- 
perial Wizard" to his worshipful underlings: 

The Most Sublime Lineage in all History, 

Commemorating and Perpetuating the Most Dauntless 
Organization Known to Man. 

Imperial Palace 

Knights of the Ku-Klux Klan 


Atlanta, Georgia 

To all Genii, Grand Dragons, and Hydras of 
Realms, Grand Goblins and Kleagles of Domains, 
Grand Titans and Furies of Provinces, Giants, 
Exalted Cyclops and Terrors of Klantons, and to 
all citizens of the Invisible Empire, Knights of 
the Ku-Klux Klan — in the name of our valiant, 
venerated Dead, I affectionately greet you. . . . 

And the conclusion of the same manifesto: 

Done in the Aulic of his' Majesty, Imperial 
Wizard, Emperor of the Invisible Empire, 
Knights of the Ku-Klux Klan, in the Imperial 
City of Atlanta, on this the ninth day of the ninth 
month of the year of Our Lord, 1921, and on the 
Dreadful Daj' of the Weeping Week of the 
Mournful Month of the year of the KljJn LV. 

Duly signed and sealed by His Majesty, 

(Signed) William Joseph Simmons, 

Imperial Wizard. 


Is this lunacy or charlatanism? Or both? It is so 
silly, and yet so serious. Chesterton has remarked, 
with his usual acumen, that those who take them- 
selves most seriously are the insane. Perhaps, then, 
the Imperial Wizard should be committed to a mad- 
house rather than a jail. The Kleagles, and Klexters, 
and other nabobs should go with him. The rank and 
fire — the Klanfools — might then be sent to sanitar- 
iums to undergo treatment for gullibility. 

But let us made no mistake. William Joseph Sim- 
mons may be as "mad as a March hare," but he is as 
shrewd as P. T. Barnum. He knows his America as 
well as Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford. We shall see 
this presently. But, meanwhile, let us have a bit of 
Klan melodrama. 

"After fourteen years of preparation" (it is the 
original Imperial Wizard who is speaking), "on 
Thanksgiving Night in the year 1915, thirty-four in- 
trepid spirits made their way to a mountain near At- 
lanta, and there on the mountain top, at the midnight 
hour, while men braved the surging blasts of the wild 
wintry mountain winds, and endured a temperature 
far below freezing, bathed in the sacred glow of the 
fiery cross, the Invisible Empire was called forth from 
its slumber of half a century." 

O sacred recollections of the good old guileless days 
of melodrama! "It's a hard night on the banks, boys! 
Heaven help those who go down to the sea in ships on 
such a night as this !" "It's a hard night on the moun- 
tain top, boys ! Heaven help the 'intrepid spirits' who 
brave the wintry blasts of a Thanksgiving Night in 

Picture those patriots of the peak leaving the open 
fireplace, or the barber-shop stove, or the Union Sta- 
tion radiator, pressing on fearlessly by trolley to Stone 



Mountain, twelve miles away, and climbing in a "tem- 
perature far below freezing" even to the very tip, 
reaching the dizzy altitude of eighteen hundred feet. 
How insignificant, by camparison, are the exploits ol 
Peary, or Amundsen, or Robert Scott! 

Unfortunately, at this point in the record, the Im- 
perial Wizard's English becomes a bit blurred. We 
cannot tell whether it was the Invisible Empire, or the 
intrepid thirty-four, or the mountain top, that was 
"bathed in the sacred glow of the fiery cross." But 
though the syntax be somewhat scrambled, the story 
is, none the less, graphic and thrilling. Under the 
spell of the Wizard's words, the Invisible Empire be- 
comes visible. We can see it, awaking like Rip Van 
Winkle, from its long sleep, stretching its arms, 
blinking in the light of the fiery cross, stiffly and la- 
boriously rising to its feet, yawning wearily: "Ho! 
ho! there's bloody work to be done, negroes to be 
burned, solitary men to be tarred and feathered, 
women to be stripped and w'hipped. Yea, there's 
work for 'intrepid spirits' to do! Fe, fi, fo, fum!" 

Or course, this sophisticated generation, which only 
laughs at melodrama, will ask irreverently: "Had the 
intrepid spirits no homes? Are there no halls to be 
hired in Atlanta? Would not the landlady let them 
use the back parlor for the evening? Or could they 
not have assembled on a vacant lot, safe and warm 
behind the billboards? Why should they go to the 
top of a mountain, far, far away in the suburbs?" 

The Imperial Wizard has not recorded the message 
delivered that terrible night on the mountain top, but 
very probably it was in substance the same that he has 
frequently delivered ever since: "This great nation, 
with all it provides, can be snatched away from you 
between the rising and the setting of one sun ... in 



the space of one day, and that day of no more than 
ten hours; when the hordes of aliens walk to the bal- 
lot box (!) and their votes outnumber yours, then 
that alien horde has got you by the throat. Ameri- 
cans will awaken from their slumber and rush out 
for battle. The soil of America will run red with the 
blood of its people. "- 

I confess that I cannot visualize that scene as vividly 
as the scene on the mountain top. The description is 
rather puzzling. The "aliens" walk to the ballot box. 
But if they are aliens and walk to the ballot box, they 
will simply have to walk right home again. Aliens do 
not vote in the United States. If the "aliens" vote, 
they have been naturalized, and if they have been 
naturalized, they are no longer "aliens," but citizens. 
Are we to understand that the Klan is opposed to all 
naturalization? And are they, then, opposed to the 
Constitution, which legalizes naturalization? 

It seems also that while the "aliens" are voting, the 
"100 per cent Americans" are slumbering. Do the 
"aliens" outnumber the Americans at the polls be- 
cause the Americans take advantage of the holiday to 
remain in bed? And are they who remain in bed on 
Election Day one hundred per cent. Americans? Is it 
blameworthy for naturalized citizens to exercise their 
constitutional right to vote? It is all rather confus- 
ing. However, the aliens seize the sleeping patriots by 
the throat: the patriots awake: the soil of America 
runs red with their blood. So much, at least, is clear. 

1 have, perhaps, insinuated that Simmons is insane. 
But "though this be madness, yet there is method in 
it." He is "but mad north-north-west: when the wind 
is southerly," he knows "a hawk from a handsaw." 
He knows which side of his bread is buttered. And 

2 The Searchlight. William Joseph Simmons. April 30, 1921. 




he knows how to get the bread and butter. While 
he was still occupying the position of "Imperial Wiz- 
ard," he claimed that there were two million members 
of the Klan. The initiation fee is, or was, $10.00 per 
head. For regalia, the Klanfools pay $6.50. But the 
regalia consists only of a nightgown and a mask, and 
is worth, perhaps, $1.50. Therefore, two million initi- 
ations produce a profit of thirty million dollars — 
and all this in five or six years. I have compared 
Simmons with Barnum and with Get-Rich-Quick 
Wallingford. But, after all, compared with the Im- 
perial Wizard, Barnum and Wallingford were only 
tyros. Even the editors and owners of the Menace 
were, likewise, amateurs at money-making. Earl 
McClure made $100,000; W. L. Phelps made $300,000; 
Marvin Brown made $50,000. But what are the 
paltry sums of $100,000 or even $300,000, in fifteen 
or twenty years over against $30,000,000 in five years? 
But let us not fail to notice that there is always a 
mine of religious bigotry, here in America, and that 
those who work it are sure of quick and substantial 
profits. Wallingford made his money on carpet tacks. 
Others go in for patent medicines. Still others invent 
a "sure cure for baldness." Recently, bootlegging 
has become the favorite path to sudden wealth. But 
of all frauds and "fakers," the "brewers of bigotry" 
are the shrewdest. They make money faster and 
more abundantly than any other kind of charlatans; 
and while they grow rich, they have the added conso- 
lation of being reputed patriots or saints, or both. 
Barnum was right. "The public loves to be humbug- 
ged." And Ben Franklin was right. "A fool and his 
money are soon parted." But the Imperial Wizards 
are not the fools. Nor the Grand Goblins, nor the 
Titans, nor the Kleagles, nor the Exalted Cyclops. 



They are "getting theirs while the getting is good." 
The fools are those who pay $10.00 for initiation and 
$6.50 for a sheet. 

However, it is time to be serious — though not too 
serious. There is always a tendency to maintain that 
any contemporary evil is "the worst ever." But there 
have been far worse outbursts of bigotry than that of 
the modern Ku-Klux Klan. It may be that the Klan 
has not yet reached the peak of its pernicious activi- 
ties. Conditions may get worse before they get bet- 
ter. But it is a fact that thus far the Ku-Klux Klan 
has not accomplished nearly so much villainy as the 
"Native American" Movement, of the thirties and 
forties, or the "Know-nothing" Movement, of the fif- 
ties, in the last century. In those troublous times, 
when Catholics were as few all over the United States 
as they are now in the Southern States, they suf- 
fered more persecution than the Klan can possibly 
inflict today. Mobs were formed and ran riot every- 
where, burning or dynamiting churches, convents, 
academies, and even hospitals. 

In Philadelphia, in 1844, two Catholic churches 
were burned to the ground. Catholic worship was 
suspended, the homes of Catholics were invaded and 
destroyed and their occupants deliberately murdered. 

At Cincinnati, a mob of six hundred, with firebrands 
and ropes, attacked the Cathedral, with intent to 
burn it and to hang a papal nuncio, who was the guest 
of the bishop. Similar disturbances, and worse, took 
place in dozens of other cities and towns. From 
Louisville, Bishop Spalding wrote in August 1855: 
"We have just passed through a reign of terror, sur- 
passed only by the Philadelphia riots. Nearly one 
hundred poor Irish have been butchered or burned 
and some twenty houses have been consumed in the 



flames. The city authorities, all Know-nothings, 
looked calmly on, and they are now endeavoring to 
lay the blame on the Catholics." 

Politically, too, the Know-nothings were active. In 
Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, and 
San Francisco (to say nothing of scores of smaller 
cities), mayors were elected on anti-Catholic plat- 
forms. Fifteen States elected Know-nothing gover- 
nors. In the Thirty-fifth Congress, which sat from 
1857 to 1859, one hundred and thirteen representa- 
tives out of two hundred and thirty-six, were either 
actual members of the Know-nothing Party or Re- 
publicans who had been elected to office after an open 
declaration of their anti-Catholic convictions. 

In the national election of 1852, the Know-nothings 
claimed to control 1,500,000 votes — half of the grand 

But the Know-nothing Party collapsed as suddenly 
and as mysteriously as it had originated. When, in 
1856, it nominated Millard Fillmore for the Presi- 
dency, he was ignominiously defeated, receiving only 
eight electoral votes, all of which were cast by one 
State, Maryland. There is consolation in that fact 
for those who are now worried about what may be 
the future for Catholics if the Klan continues to grow. 
Organized Bigotry, above all things else, is spasmodic. 
It comes in waves, but the waves finally — and sud- 
denly — break. The Ku-Klux Klan, up to the present 
has had no such political success as the Know-noth- 
ings. It has voted the parochial school out of exist- 
ence in Oregon, and elected a Senator from Texas, but, 
beyond that, it has achieved no very important results 
by the ballot. 

As for crimes of violence attributable to members 
of the Klan, the New York World, which conducted a 



thorough and painstaking investigation, reports that 
in one year, October 1920, to September 1921, there 
were 4 murders, 1 "irreparable mutilation," 1 brand- 
ing with acid, 41 floggings, 27 cases of tarring and 
feathering, and 5 kidnappings, by cloaked and hooded 
law-breakers in the United States. 

In the year 1922, conditions were worse. Senator 
D. I. Walsh, of Massachusetts, addressing Attorney 
General Daugherty, quotes from a letter written to 
him by a lawyer in Texas : 

"I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say 
that Texas has had, within the last eighteen months, 
five hundred tar and feather parties and whipping 
bees, not to mention a number of homicides, assaults, 
and other offenses directed against the person; threat- 
ening letters by the score have been given to the vic- 
tims of this huge criminal conspiracy, ordering them, 
in many instances, to leave their homes; women have 
been tarred and feathered and old men in their dotage 
have not been spared their vengeance; young girls 
in their teens and not hardly in womanhood have been 
the victims of these letters, and, in many instances, 
they have been forced to leave their homes on ac- 
count of the slander and ignominy heaped on them. 

"So far as I know, not one of these criminals has 
been brought to justice. At Waco, the home of the 
Governor of Texas, police officers arrested three 
masked and hooded men with their victim, covered 
with hot tar and feathers, in their possession. The 
Grand Jury of McClennan County voted 'No bill.' In 
Dallas, a Klan stronghold, it is reported that at least 
fifty men have been whipped at one place. One man, 
prominent in the business life of the city, ^as taken 
from his home and away from his little motherless 
girls, and beaten. One of his children, a girl, was 



knocked down and injured while trying to defend her 

"At Teneha, a woman was tarred and feathered and 
beaten with a wet rope, because she had married a 
second time. At Austin, the capital city of the State, 
numbers of outrages have been perpetrated upon in- 
dividuals. Every little town, hamlet and city in the 
State, with but few exceptions, have had their little 
'patriotic fetes,' featuring hot tar, feathers, and wet 
ropes. It would astound the people of the United 
States if the truth about this organization in Texas 
could be given." 

The Governor of Louisiana thought it necessary 
to make a personal visit to President Harding to ask 
federal cooperation in a campaign against the outrages 
of the Klan. While the Governor was at the Capital, 
alarming accounts were printed in the newspapers, 
declaring that "the invisible Empire" had grown to 
such an extent, and had so far usurped all power that 
the administration of law and order had become 
''negligible" in certain parts of the State of Louisi- 
ana. Governor Parker denounced these reports as 
exaggerations. But the actual seriousness of the situ- 
ation, which led him to make his visit and his appeal 
to Washington, he did not deny. 

The conditions existing in Texas and Louisiana 
fairly illustrate the state of the case throughout the 
South and Southwest. In the North, the Middle West, 
and parts of the far West, the Klansmen are equally 
virulent, and perhaps w^ould be equally violent were 
it not that in these sections Catholics are too numer- 
ous to be seriously molested. Right there is a hint 
as to the principal characteristic of the Klansmen— 
their cowardice. 

It is conceivable that a mob may sometimes be a 




random aggregation of heroes. But a masked mob 
is always an aggregation of cowards. The French 
revolutionists, who stormed the Bastille, in the days 
of Louis XVL, were risking their lives. They were a 
mob only because they could not be an army. They 
wore no masks. The mob that came by night with 
swords and staves into the Garden of Gethsemane to 
apprehend Jesus Christ, wore no masks. Even Judas 
did not conceal his countenance. But a mob of men, 
who cover their faces with hoods and their forms with 
sheets, is a mob of cowards. When a man is afraid 
to show his colors, it must be because he is "yellow." 

Furthermore, the Klan, in its attacks, never allows 
a man to have a fighting chance. One man never 
fights one man; the man must fight the mob. A mob 
that attacks an army, like the mob that precipitated 
the revolution in Russia, is certainly courageous. It 
is no lark to go armed only with pikes or pitchforks 
into the face of machine guns. The Bolsheviki may 
be savage, but they are not cowards. But the mobs 
of Klansmen that attack one solitary defenseless per- 
son are obviously cowards. If one gang of street boys 
attacks another gang, there may be "fair play" be- 
tween them. But if a whole gang attacks one de- 
fenseless boy, the gang is despicable. If there were 
even an iota of chivalry in the heart of a Klansman, 
he would recognize that obvious fact. 

They have no courage. Likewise they have no 
logic. They claim to be "100 per cent. American." 
The truth is that they would ruin America. There 
could not possibly be a more dangerous anti-Ameri- 
can society than one which is a law unto itself. 
Obedience to law, observance of the established 
means of obtaining justice, acceptance of the decisions 
of the courts, are a sine qua non of the existence of 



our form of government. But the Ku-Klux Klan 
makes itself a police force, judge, jury, attorney, exe- 
cutioner, mayor, governor, supreme dictator in all 
matters pertaining not only to government, but to 
manners, morals, and religion. This arrogant society 
has taken the duty upon itself to warn gamblers, adul- 
terers, "joy-riders;" to teach editors what they may 
write or publish; to dictate to judges on the bench 
about their decisions. It has violated the habeas 
corpus act. With the alleged purpose of punishing 
crime, it has been guilty of more serious crimes — 
unlawful seizure, abduction, punishment without trial. 
It is a state within the state, or rather a state above 
the state. Indeed, it claims to be that most dangerous 
of all institutions, an Invisible Empire. Being invis- 
ible, it is likewise intangible and irresponsible. If 
Louis XIV. ever said, "L'Etat c'est moi," he spoke like 
a tyrant. The Ku-Klux Klan repeats the words at- 
tributed to the King, "I am the state." 

The only possible justification of such a society 
would be the utter absence of law and order, a condi- 
tion of anarchy with which the State is unable to 
cope. The Vigilance Committees of early days in 
Calfornia were necessitated and justified by the 
chaotic social conditions incidental to the rush for 
gold. No such conditions prevail now in any Ameri- 
can State. So long as there is no condition of an- 
archy, there is no call for a Vigilance Committee, and 
still less is there any justification for a "Klan." The 
Klan will cause anarchy, not cure it. 

Again, the K. K. K. is a menace to the peace of the 
country, because its wicked and violent methods 
might easily lead to retaliation. If the Klan antago- 
nizes and persecutes Catholics, Jews and negroes, then 
Catholics and Jews and negroes have at least equal 



right to antagonize their antagonists, and to persecute 
their persecutors. This will not be done — at least 
Catholics will not succumb to the temptation to cor- 
rect crime with crime — but if the day does come when 
the Ku-Klux Klan becomes strong enough to nullify 
the administration of justice in any State, or in the 
Union, the Catholics, Jews and negroes will have to 
defend themselves in the most effective way possible. 
When the Know-nothings, in 1854, threatened to burn 
St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Bishop Hughes 
asked his legal advisers the question: "Does the State 
guarantee compensation for damages done by riot- 
ers?" The lawyers replied that the State makes no 
such guarantee. "Then," said the Bishop, "the State 
intends that the citizens shall defend their own prop- 
erty." And he published a declaration, saying that, 
"in case all other protection fail," Catholics should 
"defend their property even with their lives. In this, 
they will not be acting against, but for, the law." 

That principle of self-defense is, of course, inde- 
feasible. It may be brought into effect once again if 
the Ku-Klux Klan gets out of hand. 

Catholics will not be driven to retaliation. But 
they may be driven to self-defense, even to the extent 
of bloodshed. It is natural, therefore, that governors 
and magistrates generally should bestir themselves 
to anticipate and to prevent the anarchical condi- 
tions that will prevail if the Klan is not soon inter- 
rupted in its dangerous and un-American campaign 
of disseminating racial and religious animosity. 


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