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Meet Ms. Ruth, Aryan Outfitter
April 20, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

"Ms. Ruth" is a seamstress who makes robes and garments for members of the Ku Klux Klan. Photojournalist Anthony Karen documents her work in this photo essay with audio of interviews.
posted by liketitanic (60 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Chappelle in me expected her to be black.
posted by perhapses at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


The banality of evil, distilled in 15 photos. I haven't had a chance to listen to the audio yet, but the last photo is particularly haunting.
posted by mosk at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The Nazis had awesome tailors, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2012


This makes me entirely very, very sad.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:28 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Coming from five generations of Ku Klux Klan members, 58-year-old "Ms. Ruth"

This is kind of sad. It's almost as if she had no chance to not be a bigot given her upbringing.
posted by timsneezed at 2:33 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


mosk: "The banality of evil, distilled in 15 photos. I haven't had a chance to listen to the audio yet, but the last photo is particularly haunting."

That picture was heartbreaking. All of the pictures were sad, really. And at the risk of sounding mean, I wish the photographer had a better eye for framing. So many of those shots could have been really amazing.
posted by dejah420 at 2:36 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am surprised at how cheap the red robe is; I would have expected her to be able to charge more.
posted by Forktine at 2:38 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know I guess it never really occurred to me where those robes come from. I guess I probably assumed there was like a big Racists 'R' Us store at an outlet mall somewhere and you just bought them off the big circular rack and if you were a little kid you'd duck in through the robes and make the open inner ring of the rack into a temporary fort and spy on your sister and stuff but then your parents would be all 'EUGENE COME OUT OF THERE, WE'RE GOING' and then you'd watch as the old lady at the register fumbled around with the robe for what seemed like forever trying to find the little tag to scan and you started getting antsy because your parents said you'd stop at Baskin Robbins on the way home.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:38 PM on April 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm just going to assume she is doing this:

Mitchell and Webb.

That way I don't have to be sad.
posted by poe at 2:43 PM on April 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm amused she is a Ms.
posted by srboisvert at 2:44 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


the last photo is particularly haunting.

Yeah. I was looking through the photos and thinking about how relatively frail she looks and she's got the disabled daughter to take care of and so forth, and then there's that freckled kid who looks so proud of her new robe. Yet another generation, I guess.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:54 PM on April 20, 2012


Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the Klan
posted by spicynuts at 3:02 PM on April 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Who's the politician (I think) above her daughter's bed in this photo?
posted by raztaj at 3:11 PM on April 20, 2012


I'm looking at the picture of the Exalted Cyclops' robe, and there seems to be a porblem - there are two eyeholes.
posted by subbes at 3:22 PM on April 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


From the audio for this pic:

"The people that I sew for, when they call me, they're so nice...they just call and ask me how my daughter's doin'...when she has to have surgery and they know it, they put through their whole group for prayers for her. They're good people, I don't care what people say about 'em...they're very caring people, they're very Christian people."

Oh, Ms. Ruth. You poor, deluded soul.
posted by magstheaxe at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Exalted Cyclops". So they're actually calling themselves dicks?
posted by howfar at 3:33 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm amused she is a Ms.

In much of the south, "Mrs." only has one syllable, and "Miss" is pronounced with more of a Z sound than a sibilant S sound. I'm willing to bet that she's not a Ms. at all, but that it sounded that way to a reporter who's not from these parts.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:45 PM on April 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


That makes sense, mudpuppie. I think I've seen that written "Miz'" or something.

Holy crap - I am amazed these things are being made and people are still in the KKK! And she blesses the thing by hugging it? Ludicrous upon ludicrous.
posted by Listener at 3:52 PM on April 20, 2012


One of the creepiest things I've ever seen was a Klan hood and robe for sale at a flea market in East Texas. It was stuffed into a gunny sack and somewhat hidden under the table, but still visible and obviously for sale. My blood ran cold when my eyes landed on it.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:54 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


poe, thanks for that video link. Hadn't heard of Mitchell and Webb, but that put the smile back on my face.
posted by Listener at 3:57 PM on April 20, 2012


To paraphrase Bono: The God I believe in doesn't "bless" KKK robes.
posted by tommasz at 4:03 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


And here I was, looking forward to a day free from the banality of evil, after yesterday. Why I thought I could pull that off in this reality, I don't actually know.

I am also vaguely appalled, in an "arson, murder, and jaywalking" kind of way, at how little she's getting for the amount of work she does. They're not just racist thugs, they're also cheapskates. And I can't help but question the wisdom of the "my husband goes to the flea market and sells racist paraphernalia" plan, in terms of economic strategy.

Moreover, having been around a lot of nice handmade stuff while in Irish step dance, I'm also not impressed with the quality of her workmanship.

And don't get me started on how tacky the robes are (before even analyzing the ugliness they're meant to provoke in the wearer and audience.) Racist thugs and cheapskates with a poor sense of fashion. They offend the entire universe before getting out of bed in the morning.
posted by SMPA at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


....
posted by jonmc at 4:29 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


but that it sounded that way to a reporter who's not from these parts

Contemporary news outlets consider "Ms." to be the default honorific, whatever parts they're from.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:38 PM on April 20, 2012


That's true, but I don't know of any contemporary news outlets that honorifically pair "Ms." with the subject's first name.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:50 PM on April 20, 2012


That is a totally Southern thing. Many of my great-aunts in Kentucky insist on being Ms. FirstName.
posted by SMPA at 4:52 PM on April 20, 2012


I thought I remembered seeing some of these before, but the link from this previous Metafilter post is dead.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:54 PM on April 20, 2012


Yet another generation, I guess.

Considering that Lynx and Lamb, the preteen pop duo of Prussian Blue, are now pot-smoking liberals, I wouldn't be too worried.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:01 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yay, silver lining re: Prussian Blue! I saw those girls in the Louis Theroux meets the Nazis documentary, and while they didn't seem that well indoctrinated (ie they didn't seem that sincere about their racism, nor did they remember the stories that well that their mom taught them so they could learn to be racist; it kind of reminded me of young kids who totally don't get the point of the bible), I got the feeling they'd slowly adopt their mom's beliefs.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:29 PM on April 20, 2012


Oh, but on review, they still believe some crazy things, ie they're skeptical of the holocaust...

I guess they're liberal from the Nazi worldview...
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:31 PM on April 20, 2012


[ancient internet joke]: Does she make the robes for this group, too?
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2012


I remember reading about a seamstress who sews patches for outlaw biker clubs. When asked about it, she said "Their money is as good as anyone else's."

FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 5:49 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


About 20 years ago, my (at the time), employer found some industrial equipment for sale up in Cecil county, Maryland. Though it's right up against the mason-dixon line, it's long been a hot bed of klan activity. While we were loading the truck, we mentioned these rumors to the seller, but he dismissed them, saying that that stuff was all in the past. But on the way home, about 20 miles down the road, there were a couple klansmen in full robes and hoods, handing out flyers at a crossroads. Very excited to see one of the mythical creatures, my boss said, "Roll down your window and grab one one of the those flyers". It was a single sheet of copypaper with the caption "Keep on Ku Kluxin' " and had the iconic R. Crumb figure dressed in a robe and hood.
posted by 445supermag at 5:56 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went to a museum once that had Klan outfits. One was for an infant.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:59 PM on April 20, 2012


"hate couture" = good one.

I am surprised at how cheap the red robe is; I would have expected her to be able to charge more.

She knows what her market can bear. Those ignorant crackers ain't exactly rolling in dough.

I went to a museum once that had Klan outfits. One was for an infant.

Baby's comfort comes first!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2012


Wasn't it Freakonomics that discussed how the key to the KKK's domination was through control of information? I think ritual - intrinsic elements of theater and religion - is a powerful method of controlling minds and I love articles like this that document the banality of ritualistic evil, because out of context, the symbols of hate and fear that are key to creating fear just look ridiculous.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:34 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


*gasp* Long pointy hat, golden Aryan locks, penchant for swords and horses...

Link, how could you?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:10 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Nazis had awesome tailors, too.

A Mr. Hugo Boss, if I remember my history correctly.

I'd like to take this moment to shout-out to another, different Ms. Ruthie who lives in the southeast and makes Roller Derby uniforms instead, because ending 4/20 on a downer is such a buzzkill.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:58 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was talking to a co-worker recently about our Klan ancestors (we are both from the South and have squicky feelings about this). She, a former archivist for the state of Mississippi, had inherited her grandfather's robe and donated it to the state archives. She has a theory that the robes (from then, at least), were manufactured at the same place as old choir robes, based on the label inside the one she had.
posted by donajo at 8:00 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


She has a theory that the robes (from then, at least), were manufactured at the same place as old choir robes, based on the label inside the one she had.

Sunday-go-to-meetin' robes. Saturday-night-go-to-lynchin' robes.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:16 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of good Klan stories. There's Wade Watts, who the Klan tried and failed to terrorize. Famously, they accosted him eating chicken and told him whatever he did to the chicken, they would do to him, so he kissed the chicken.

There's Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Klan, and then turned the their codes and ritual details over to the writers of Superman radio show. When they were broadcast, it effectively painted the Klan as villains, and made a mockery of their secrecy.

But my favorite is the story of Larry Trapp, a former KKK grand dragon who engaged in a campaign of terror against a Lincoln, Nebraska canton named Michael Weisser. Trapp was very sick, and tended to go through nurses at an alarming (and unsurprising) rate. One winter, an enormous storm approached, and knowing that Trapp was liable to be alone during it, Weisser called him and asked if he needed anything.

Trapp was unexpectedly moved by this, and the two began a troubled but increasingly friendly relationship. When Trapp's illness grew worse, Weisser took him in and his family nursed him. By the time Trapp died, he had converted to Judaism, and is now buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Hate becomes a habit. It's a habit that can be broken.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:31 PM on April 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


cantor. canton is a delicious style of chicken.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:32 PM on April 20, 2012


canton is a delicious style of chicken.

Or a member state of the federal state of Switzerland.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:38 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why I don't wear pyjamas.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:32 AM on April 21, 2012


Come on now. These people are job creators.
posted by sneebler at 7:12 AM on April 21, 2012


Maybe it helps that I didn't click on the audio links to hear Ms. Ruth's interviews, but I have trouble criticizing a 58 year old woman who sews twelve hours a day, seven days a week in addition to caring for her quadriplegic daughter. Either of those alone would be harder than I've ever worked.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:28 AM on April 21, 2012


Re the Ms. argument, I believe one of the pictures shows her husband coming home from his stall at a market.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2012


I'll bet she's been really busy since Obama got elected.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:56 AM on April 21, 2012


The framed photo of Nathan Bedford Forrest was a nice decorating touch.
posted by workerant at 9:18 AM on April 21, 2012


I'll send this link to my local police department so they can make sure they're not paying too much for their off-duty outfits. Thanks!
posted by porn in the woods at 10:38 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe it helps that I didn't click on the audio links to hear Ms. Ruth's interviews, but I have trouble criticizing a 58 year old woman who sews twelve hours a day, seven days a week in addition to caring for her quadriplegic daughter. Either of those alone would be harder than I've ever worked.

Actually, I don't think you would have changed your mind much. After listening to the audio, you find that shes not really that racist. Listen to the last pictures audio to hear her talk about how in the beginning of the clan, it didn't matter if you were black or white.

(Not that I believe the history, I just thought all the audio was an interesting whitewash of the whole Klan)
posted by jopreacher at 11:11 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


After listening to the audio, you find that shes not really that racist. Listen to the last pictures audio to hear her talk about how in the beginning of the clan, it didn't matter if you were black or white.

I also thought that was very interesting. I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find that she believes in this completely made-up alternate history.

But it still kind of boggles my mind that you can make a KKK robe with a confederate flag on it, stage cross burnings, and still be all "What? We're not racist!"
posted by jcreigh at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2012


I would be really curious to know the content of her blessing. "May you go on to terrorize everyone you hate really well?"

And, of course they have to be in Louisiana. Can't Mississippi take this one?
posted by Leezie at 2:01 PM on April 21, 2012


That house looked exactly like Napoleon Dynamite's house.
posted by gjc at 7:11 PM on April 21, 2012


Yes, that mythology about the integrated Klan really ?!?!? But of course it fits in with the whole "the Civil War was just about states' rights and the real evil was Reconstruction" legend.

Remember that one of the ways Ashley Wilkes displays his "heroism" in the novel of Gone With the Wind is by being one of the founding Klansmen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:43 PM on April 21, 2012


KKK in Tokyo.

It's actually a construction company, I think.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:40 PM on April 21, 2012


But it still kind of boggles my mind that you can make a KKK robe with a confederate flag on it, stage cross burnings, and still be all "What? We're not racist!"

Yes it does boggle the mind but it does happen.
posted by rdr at 11:01 PM on April 21, 2012


I always think of Andres Serrano's work with the Klan.
posted by evilDoug at 8:56 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aside from everything else, I will note that I was not aware that "Exalted Cyclops" is a term for a Klan leader. It makes John Goodman's character from "O Brother Where Art Thou" make even more sense, in fact, it almost makes the eye-patch he wore to be gilding the lily a bit for those who missed the reference (like, well... me, apparently.)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:22 AM on April 23, 2012


We got nothing to hide
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:37 AM on April 30, 2012


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