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The KKK in photos
July 14, 2009 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Anthony Karen has photographed today's Klan for LIFE magazine.
posted by exogenous (149 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
For some reason I found the last photograph the most disturbing.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:27 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why is it always the dregs that are so full of "pride"?

Oh, and that photographer is a better person than me.
posted by notsnot at 11:29 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never quite heard the term "Church Lighting" before, so there's that.

Oh, and my new babysitter.
posted by cavalier at 11:29 AM on July 14, 2009


Anthony Karen lost me when he said he told someone that was being aggressive with him..."...I would take images of whatever I wanted, and if he touched my camera I'd break his arm." I guess I'm not seeing that as far away from "if you whistle at my woman, I'll kill you"

I'm wondering what his point is in taking these pictures.......
posted by HuronBob at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Why is it always the dregs that are so full of "pride"?

If you have nothing else, well...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


"The majority of people I've come across," Karen told LIFE, "you'd only know they were in the Klan if they decided to share that."

I guess that makes the guy with "racist" tattooed on his forehead a minority. He must hate himself!
posted by brain_drain at 11:32 AM on July 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Why is it always the dregs that are so full of "pride"?

I hope you exclude LGBT folk from your definition. of 'dregs.'
posted by ericb at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2009


This is an almost peculiarly neutral photo essay. I'm honestly not sure what the photographer thinks of the Klan. I haven't yet decided if I think that's a good thing or not.
posted by echo target at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The most heartening one is the black woman up in the KKK guy's face.
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is an almost peculiarly neutral photo essay.

A good photjournalist does not editorialize (or Photshop his/her images).
posted by ericb at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


This is an almost peculiarly neutral photo essay. I'm honestly not sure what the photographer thinks of the Klan. I haven't yet decided if I think that's a good thing or not.

No photo essay on the Klan requires handholding for the viewer to indicate that we ought to not like the Klan.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:38 AM on July 14, 2009 [15 favorites]


"I still approach the Klan members as I did during the first rally I attended," Karen told LIFE, explaining the unprecedented access he's been granted. "I keep my camera off to the side, and I go up and introduce myself, or catch up with people I know from previous events. But there’s no real secret to how I've gotten this access: it's all about honesty and being interested in what people have to say. People notice things like that."

....Of the children Karen has encountered while photographing the Klan, and what they might think or feel about their place in the group's legacy, he says: "I don't feel it's appropriate for me to get into discussions with someone's child. One aspect of my interaction is that I never ask names, or interview people. My information comes naturally from routine conversations. I think pulling out a pen and paper changes the relationship between photographer and subject -- especially in this case."
posted by ericb at 11:39 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


He pointed out several times that he has access by not asking questions. But was he really getting the whole story if he did not ask difficult questions?
posted by jb at 11:40 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly not sure what the photographer thinks of the Klan. I haven't yet decided if I think that's a good thing or not.

Have we really strayed that far from the ideal of journalism that impartiality is questionable? You decide ...
posted by ElvisJesus at 11:41 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


More of The Invisible Empire: Ku Klux Klan (with video).
posted by ericb at 11:41 AM on July 14, 2009


I was born in Alabama but moved when I was a child. My mother tells me about how the Klan was a common fixture in the towns. Despite their corrupt, incomprehensible beliefs, they would collect donations on town corners in full regalia like they were Girl Scouts.
posted by namewithhe1d at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2009


A good photjournalist does not editorialize (or Photshop his/her images).
posted by ericb at 2:37 PM on July 14 [1 favorite +] [!]


I guess then you don't think that Eugene Smith - who did both, and who is one of the most important photojournalists of the 20th century - was a good photojournalist.

Photojournalists are not archivists - they are journalists. That means that if the picture doesn't tell the story as they saw it, they can change the picture to do so - cameras are not our eyes, and are not more "truthful" than our eyes.

And as journalists, they will have a point of view. They editorialise to the truth and to the good, as best they see it. There isn't two sides to every story - there are rights and wrongs in the world.
posted by jb at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, um, why does the guy with "racist" on his forehead have two plumber's helpers framing the swastika on his chest?
posted by yoink at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sort of off topic: Richard Renadli is asked to photograph a morman group that supported Prop 8. (The dude is homosexual.)
posted by chunking express at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2009


Anthony Karen's website.
posted by ericb at 11:46 AM on July 14, 2009


He pointed out several times that he has access by not asking questions. But was he really getting the whole story if he did not ask difficult questions?

First, he never says he didn't ask questions. He says he didn't interview people with a pen and pad, and instead had regular conversations with people, during which he presumably asked questions from time to time.

Second, he was trying to get insider-view pictures, not the "whole story" on what these people are doing. He says if he had taken a harder-hitting approach, he wouldn't have gotten such access, and he's almost certainly correct about that.
posted by brain_drain at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]



I hope you exclude LGBT folk from your definition. of 'dregs.'

From the powerhouse Books Website, an interview snippet with Anthony Karen:

pHB: Describe the average Klan member.
AK: ........ Some hate, but some just prefer racial separation. I even know of one group with two open lesbian members.

Go figure.
posted by goml at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2009


Anthony Karen lost me when he said he told someone that was being aggressive with him..."...I would take images of whatever I wanted, and if he touched my camera I'd break his arm." I guess I'm not seeing that as far away from "if you whistle at my woman, I'll kill you"

I dunno, to me it seemed like a good way to deal with the situation; by making it about the camera, Karen avoids making it a personal thing ('Don't fuck with me, back off, etc.' would be more provocative, imo) or alienating his subjects ('Hey, I'm not with these bigots man, I'm just taking pictures...').
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:49 AM on July 14, 2009


Eugene Smith - who did both

Holy crap, he must have had the earliest release of Photoshop ever (seeing as he died in '78).
posted by yoink at 11:50 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]



So, um, why does the guy with "racist" on his forehead have two plumber's helpers framing the swastika on his chest?

Maybe the dude just relates to anyone who wears suspenders or overalls.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:50 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think these picture do exactly what they are set out to do. They show the Klan not as cartoon villians to be mocked and riduculed, but as normal people (with the exception of the dude with "Racist" tattooed across his forehead).

And to me, that's what is scary. These folks grew up in the same types of towns I did, they went to the same kinds of schools, they watched the same types of tv shows and listened to the same types of bands on the radio. They share a culture with me, not just because I'm a southerner, but as an American. In theory, they read the same history books I did and took the same tests I did. They had the same hopes and dreams I did as kid and an adult.

But somehow, they have diverged so drastically from what I can even think about considering normal. They are not normal, they are abominations, cancers on our cultural psyche. They believe something that is so very alien to me, but at the same time, I think, I might be able to understand how they get there. I think I might be able to see where our paths split. But it's a tiny insignificant moment. It's so small that it may only exist in my mind.

And that scares the shit out of me.
posted by teleri025 at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2009 [19 favorites]


The only female racist pictured in the article is the bride. Is he ignoring female Klan members (or ladies' auxiliary, whatever) or were there none to photograph?
posted by scratch at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2009


I consider photojournalism (with a premium on objectivity) to be different from editorial and documentary photography, just as I consider the news pages of a nespaper different from the editorial and op-ed pages.
posted by ericb at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how he says this:

The Klan members I've dealt with see how I work. I'm respectful of people’s privacy. I'm polite. I'm focused. I'm far from rigid, and maybe that's comforting for people."

AND this:

I started taking pictures of the anti-fascists, and they got extremely upset, and one started to get aggressive with me. I told him that, as we were on public property and it was an active demonstration, I would take images of whatever I wanted, and if he touched my camera I'd break his arm."

He's only polite and respectful when he needs to be to get the access he wants.

Karen spent four years photographing the Klan in cities and small towns in 25 states, Canada, and Germany.

There's a Klan presence in Canada?! Ugh, I never heard that.
posted by orange swan at 11:52 AM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


they would collect donations on town corners in full regalia like they were Girl Scouts.

That image really makes me want a racial-harmony cookie.
posted by educatedslacker at 11:54 AM on July 14, 2009


We have the National Front up here in Canada. I imagine you don't have to go looking to hard to find the straight up KKK.
posted by chunking express at 11:54 AM on July 14, 2009


So, um, why does the guy with "racist" on his forehead have two plumber's helpers framing the swastika on his chest?

I'd bet good money that it's a reference to the Abner Louima case.
posted by scratch at 11:55 AM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


The only female racist pictured in the article is the bride. Is he ignoring female Klan members (or ladies' auxiliary, whatever) or were there none to photograph?

Maybe either:
1- The Klan is also a little sexist and doesn't allow females "members" (dressed up in sheets style)
2- The females were hooded and you couldn't identify them.

Probably #1.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:55 AM on July 14, 2009


I guess I'm not seeing that as far away from "if you whistle at my woman, I'll kill you"

I thought the problem with that kind of comment was that it was treating women as a possession. I don't think anybody objects to someone treating their camera as a possession, do they?
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


"They show the Klan not as cartoon villians (sic) to be mocked and riduculed (sic), but as normal people "

your definition of "normal" is very different than mine.
posted by HuronBob at 11:58 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The only female racist pictured in the article is the bride. Is he ignoring female Klan members (or ladies' auxiliary, whatever) or were there none to photograph?

The photos on Karen's website include a lot of women.
posted by brain_drain at 11:59 AM on July 14, 2009


It's amazing to see people up close you only hear about in disapproving, hushed tones. It has a cinematic quality to it because I can't picture anybody in my life involved in an organization like the KKK.
posted by glaucon at 11:59 AM on July 14, 2009


Wow. I'm amazed that some people can't accept these great photos at face value for their simple, documentary purpose without getting bent out of shape because there's no clear, hard opinion built-in. The assumption being, of course, that some want to see a veneer of disgust or disapproval baked-in.

These are windows into a world that most of us will ever see...and would never choose to see on our own. As such, for Karen to inject an editorial opinion into them would truly cheapen them and ruin the real impact they have on the viewer.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2009 [34 favorites]


I'm wondering what his point is in taking these pictures
Karen says: "I guess I prefer stories with a little edge to them. I find it extremely interesting to document a controversial belief system -- to capture people when they're in a vulnerable state, running on raw emotion. It's about being allowed into someone's personal space, respecting that trust, being grateful for the chance to see something that most don't get to see."
Seconding teleri025 and ericb, and the article itself: the photographer is "taking us deep inside a world we would otherwise never see." Most people would want to comment on raising your kids to hate and discriminate, but then you'd only get as far as they could kick you. These are normal people, for the most part. Some of them name their kids Hitler or get tattoos of Racist across their foreheads, but those are not the average member.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2009


"I thought the problem with that kind of comment was that it was treating women as a possession."... and here I always thought the problem was the actual killing that sometimes took place...
posted by HuronBob at 12:01 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Liquidwolf: I'll accept your point #1, but wouldn't there have been some women at the rallies to restock the beer coolers and fold sheets and stuff? (cf. outlaw biker rallies) My opinion is that you can't claim to document a subculture when you're only documenting some of it.
posted by scratch at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2009


HuronBob, by normal I mean that they don't look all that freakish not in their Klan robes. The guy with the kid, sure, he's got a bunch of freaky tattoos and so forth, but he's just hugging his kid like any Daddy does. And those guys standing around, if you took off the Klan crap, they'd look like any other dude. So by normal, I mean no visible horns or obvious markers that say "Hey I'm a crazy racist!" Again, except for the dude with all the tats.
posted by teleri025 at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2009


"I thought the problem with that kind of comment was that it was treating women as a possession."... and here I always thought the problem was the actual killing that sometimes took place...

Yes, you are right. Not wanting someone to break your very expensive camera is EXACTLY the same as lynching a black person because they may or may not have admired a white woman. There are no differences whatsoever.
posted by yoink at 12:05 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some hate, but some just prefer racial separation. I even know of one group with two open lesbian members.

Go figure.
I think that there are plenty of racist gay people, just as there are plenty of homophobic people of color, who haven't quite figured out the origins of the pink or black triangle symbols, or think that things will be different this time. See also: Ernst Röhm.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:06 PM on July 14, 2009


yoink... sorry, I don't remember saying it was "exactly the same"...

My point is that the photographer seems to see violence as a means to solve a problem... and, given that... where does that put him in terms of how he sees (literally) and records these people.. there is a kinship of sorts here.. violence is violence...they are on different points of the continuum, sure, but they are on the same road.
posted by HuronBob at 12:09 PM on July 14, 2009


"I started taking pictures of the anti-fascists, and they got extremely upset, and one started to get aggressive with me. I told him that, as we were on public property and it was an active demonstration, I would take images of whatever I wanted, and if he touched my camera I'd break his arm."

Yeah, well, speaking as an anti-fascist who has protested at dozens of Klan rallies over the years, let me explain exactly why we might get a bit aggressive when our pictures are taken: it's because if some guy on the Klan's side of the barriers turned around and started taking pictures of me, I would have very good reason to assume that those pictures might be used to identify and intimidate me, whether "merely" by threats or actual use of violence. In other words: you can pretend all you want that you are a neutral observer, but the documentation you create in that allegedly neutral process may or may not be used in a neutral manner. Capice?
posted by scody at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


I used to work in a fabrication shop with a Klansman. Then he got sober and found Jesus and went around apologizing to all his black coworkers. He was in his 50s or early 60s when this happened. It gave me a bit of hope that people can change.

His wife made the best macaroni salad I've ever tasted.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:15 PM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


Typical MeFi debating the exact amount of evil the KKK compared to the quantity found in the photographs and allocating some function of the remainder to the photographer. At least quantify your argument. I'll kick it off: I claim the KKK has an International Evilness Rating of 354 millihitlers. Can I get a second?
posted by DU at 12:19 PM on July 14, 2009 [25 favorites]


Yeah, well, speaking as an anti-fascist who has protested at dozens of Klan rallies over the years, let me explain exactly why we might get a bit aggressive when our pictures are taken: it's because if some guy on the Klan's side of the barriers turned around and started taking pictures of me, I would have very good reason to assume that those pictures might be used to identify and intimidate me, whether "merely" by threats or actual use of violence. In other words: you can pretend all you want that you are a neutral observer, but the documentation you create in that allegedly neutral process may or may not be used in a neutral manner. Capice?

I am sympathetic, but if you are going to act aggressively when someone takes your photo in public, you should cover your face, rather than confront the photo taker, who is behaving within his rights and the law. It is not their job to disguise you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [33 favorites]


My point is that the photographer seems to see violence as a means to solve a problem...

Being against racial hate does not automatically obligate one to be a pacifist.

The national guard had to be called in to desegregate schools in Little Rock, AR. Are we to say that "violence is violence" in order to condemn the use of force in that case?
posted by deanc at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


The first photo made me think of one of my favorite cartoons ever.
posted by Xoebe at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Capice?

Are you using "capice" as a threat?
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's a tiny insignificant moment.

I don't think it's that close to 'there but for fortune.' No single, small event would turn someone from a fair-minded, reasonable person into a racist activist. Where this kind of worldview is concerned there is more than one determining factor at play. It's not as simple as having been beat up one day while you went unharmed. It's messages at home, family outlook, friends, cultural bias, incidents of advantage or disadvantage in a social or work situation, intellect and reasoning skills, church, conversations with influential or compelling people, etc.
posted by Miko at 12:26 PM on July 14, 2009


My point is that the photographer seems to see violence as a means to solve a problem.

No, I'd say the photographer uses a threat of violence as a means to solve a problem, the problem being having his camera and/or person assaulted.
posted by kingbenny at 12:26 PM on July 14, 2009


there is a kinship of sorts here.. violence is violence...they are on different points of the continuum, sure, but they are on the same road.

Just because things fall in the same continuum (a very flexible concept), does not mean they have anything materially in common in any specific instance.
posted by Falconetti at 12:27 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you using "capice" as a threat?

Depends on how finely calibrated your irony meter is.
posted by scody at 12:28 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Xoebe, there's another of John Callahan's cartoons that I like even better. Can't find it for the life of me, so I'll just say that it depicts a couple of white robed KKK members shovelling coal in hell while Satan stands guard over them, and Satan is saying, "By the way, gentlemen, perhaps I forgot to mention that it's Black History month — forever!"
posted by orange swan at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


I would have very good reason to assume that those pictures might be used to identify and intimidate me

It's a legitimate worry, but one of the problems with the KKK is the masks - they want to hold and enforce an opinion, but don't want to be held personally responsible for it. The strongest picture in the bunch, in my opinion, is the one of the young black woman who is obviously giving a piece of her mind to a couple of hooded Klansmen. They really seem to be hiding behind their hoods. The people protesting the Klan should proudly show their faces.
posted by echo target at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


My point is that the photographer seems to see violence as a means to solve a problem... and, given that... where does that put him in terms of how he sees (literally) and records these people.. there is a kinship of sorts here.. violence is violence...they are on different points of the continuum, sure, but they are on the same road.

That's kind of a crock. I mean, you may believe that all violence is on a continuum with the hate spewed by the KKK, but that's not at all a self-evident assertion. It's a philosophical stance. And you've taken that position and used it to impugn this photographer in a sort of sly, wondering, "when did you stop beating your wife," question begging way. It's a shitty rhetorical strategy because it takes as axiomatic the very thing that should be under discussion, and it's even more distasteful when coupled with hyperbolic moves like suggesting that protecting yourself and your possessions (and your right to public access on public streets) is somehow related to the motives for lynching Emmet Till.
posted by OmieWise at 12:31 PM on July 14, 2009 [13 favorites]


If anti-fascists are worried about bad people taking photographs of them maybe they need to wear some sort of costume that covers their faces.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:33 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


He's only polite and respectful when he needs to be to get the access he wants.

Good point. I withdraw my vote for his sainthood.
Or wait, that's irrelevant.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:35 PM on July 14, 2009


I guess that makes the guy with "racist" tattooed on his forehead a minority.

he probably wears a do rag in public to hide it
posted by pyramid termite at 12:37 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


My opinion is that you can't claim to document a subculture when you're only documenting some of it.

You do realize that LIFE chose these particular images for their article, right? Why don't you visit the photographer's actual website (posted by brain_drain) before declaring his claim invalid according to your specifications?
posted by oneirodynia at 12:38 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those are some ugly people.
posted by monospace at 12:38 PM on July 14, 2009


Cool photos.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:42 PM on July 14, 2009


As a side note, photographing people can be an aggressive act, or it can be taken as an aggressive act. I'm really careful in my neighborhood with all the day laborers—a lot of times, them lined up next to, say, huge piles of patio slate, would be a great image, but I feel like as a white guy, there's a fairly reasonable assumption on their part that I'd be trying to exploit them or do them harm. Because my Spanish is only good enough to communicate in restaurants, when I ask about taking pictures, I'm almost always turned down, even though we're in public and it's my right to shoot them if I want to.

But the other side of that, of the few times I've gotten to the verge of violence, it's almost always been cops, undercover or otherwise. I've gotten approached a couple times at pot rallies because cops send out narcs to photograph people doing drugs, but I can usually allay suspicions. It's when I get a cop in frame that all of the sudden we have to have our constitutional discussion about how I dream every day of being assaulted by a police officer and having my civil rights infringed, so that I can sue them and afford grad school.

I used to hang with Sharps too, but I also know that a fair number of them are violent assholes who have only by the grace of God found the side of moderate righteousness.
posted by klangklangston at 12:44 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I used to hang with Sharps too, but I also know that a fair number of them are violent assholes who have only by the grace of God found the side of moderate righteousness.

I've known some Sharps as well and that is pretty spot on. I've had this conversation before:

Me: All skinheads are racist.
Someone: But what about Sharps!
Me: Good point. All skinheads are assholes and a good chunk of them are racist.
posted by Falconetti at 12:48 PM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


I never understand why these guys are so beloved of Hitler: do they not know that guy lost?

Also: those rallies look kind of sausage-party. Just saying. Costumes and sausage. Good times.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:50 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Klan is not always a Southern thing, but it does show up quite a bit in small towns, the smaller the better. Unemployment doesn't hurt none, either.

I am visiting just such a town on a trip to see my best friend. He tends to work night shifts, so we usually run a little late. It's about two in the morning and we're both hammered and bored, having gone through red wine, bad movies, and our usual store of gossip about which acquaintances had gotten into trouble. He's also caretaking (translation: shoveling coal into the furnace on a regular basis, as well as some odd jobs) this awful old building for free rent, so we are naturally wandering through some of the odd rooms he keeps, which include such features as windows that open onto hallways, trap doors, and a sub-sub-basement the latest owners only recently discovered. We hit his junk room.

He says something like "Hey, I got some stuff at a garage sale. Got this for a quarter, figured it wouldn't fit me by the time I had it half unfolded. Give it a shot." He's always scavenging weird odds and ends at antique stores and garage sales for people who don't have cars, much less proper garages. He throws me a little off-white bundle of cloth, which I shake open; into it I shimmy, then inspect the outcome. It fit very strangely as I look in the cracked full-length mirror, open at the bottom, with what looked like a replacement belt made from a light, decorative cord. I became curious, and pulled bits of it up to my face for a closer examination:

Lacking a label? Check.
Hand-stiched? Check.
Made out of bedsheets? Check.

I think I got a couple of drunken blinks in before it hit: This is not a Halloween "least effort possible" ghost costume. This is not a crafty bathing robe. Is there a funny, half-assed fold around the neck, or is that just how it lays? There I am, in the mirror, and I'm wearing what I am about 90% sure is a Klan robe. A Klan robe.

There's no hood, but yeah, that's a gen-u-ine hand-crafted robe made for the good ole boys of the Ku Klux Klan. Waves of sudden liberal guilt assail me as my part of my self-image imploded: NO NO NO! I got in hot water for writing a pro-choice letter to the editor when I was sixteen! I read half of Roots as a kid! I am not standing here in a dirt town in a former slave state wearing a Klan robe! This cannot be happening to me! I watched SESAME STREET, dammit! When did I turn into Simon Fucking Legree?!

A part of me is in denial, a part is saying, "Hey, this is not your fault," and I have a huge panicky urge to flee. And there's as always that cackling voice inside me who finds everything awful hilarious, even if it happens to me. Perhaps even especially if it happens to me. I bolt for the door.

About two minutes later, my friend, a large but slow man whose main job involves handling unruly "residents," pulls up in his pickup and hauls me bodily off of Main Street, which, in that town, is named "the main drag" for more than one reason. This is probably a good idea, since I had been running along it howling things like "Unmask! Unmask!" and "I'm the Grand Wizard now!" in between laughing so hard I was hiccuping. Part of me thinks this was a Good Idea. I am cheerily waving at the few people awake in the town from the back of this pickup until we get home, after which my friend delivers a Stern Lecture about What Kinds of Spectacles I Am Permitted to Make of Myself, with a steaming side of You Know Folks In This Town Drive Around with Loaded Shotguns, Right?

I think the robe is still in a box somewhere. I run across it every so many years; it reminds me that while I am not personally responsible for the past, the Klan does not just appear in movies featuring characters named "Skeeter" who live in trailers near the swamp. Mostly it reminds me that people can be surprised at how they end up. I still haven't figured out what would make for a truly righteous disposal of such a thing, but I suspect I'll come up with something awful enough eventually.

But remember: he got it at a garage sale. Some people are still pretty comfy with just putting a used Klan robe out on a fold-out card table on a Saturday morning for the neighbors to pick over, even in states that mostly sent troops to the Union army during the Civil War. Think about that.
posted by adipocere at 12:51 PM on July 14, 2009 [21 favorites]


ericb: "Why is it always the dregs that are so full of "pride"?

I hope you exclude LGBT folk from your definition. of 'dregs.'
"

Oh, yeah. Sorry about that.
posted by notsnot at 12:55 PM on July 14, 2009


One of my black co-workers once explained to me why he prefers racists in the South; because here in Wisconsin, most of the ones he encountered were subtle and difficult to spot. You wouldn't even know it till you realized that you were being completely screwed by their hatred, whereas in the South, racist behavior is (apparently, this is his experience, not mine) much more open.

He explained that he prefers that because he can see it from a long way off and avoid it like the plague that it is.

In this respect, the guy with the "Racist" on his forehead is probably the most black-friendly one in the group. One look, and they know where they stand.
posted by quin at 12:55 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


The most heartening one is the black woman up in the KKK guy's face.

In that picture the KKK guy is pulling down on his mask. I wonder if he's afraid of having his face exposed.
posted by papercake at 12:58 PM on July 14, 2009


I don't want to look them up on Wikipedia at work, but can someone tell me why they hide their faces under the pointy head coverings? Seems cowardly.
posted by anniecat at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2009


I'm a bit surprised at the number of folks here that feel that a fair response to a verbal threat against an object is to "break an arm"..

I'm not going to argue with you folks on this one, I know for certain I won't convince any of you..

carry on... I'm going out on the boat....
posted by HuronBob at 1:02 PM on July 14, 2009


echo target:It's a legitimate worry, but one of the problems with the KKK is the masks - they want to hold and enforce an opinion, but don't want to be held personally responsible for it. The strongest picture in the bunch, in my opinion, is the one of the young black woman who is obviously giving a piece of her mind to a couple of hooded Klansmen. They really seem to be hiding behind their hoods.

If you notice, you can even see that he is pulling his mask down, to make sure his face isn't accidentally exposed. It seems like most of those 'robes' are just cheap, costume-rental nylon. One of the docs I watched about the Klan, they were all walking around with one hand on their mask the entire time, because when they didn't the things blew all over the place, which not only made it hard to see, but defeated the whole thing they were going for.

Off topic, but related: it always boggles my mind, just a little bit, how mangy looking Neo-Nazis are. They spend so much time watching Hitler speeches, and studying the Reich, and pretending to be the Fourth Wave, but they cover themselves in tattoos that Hitler would never have stood for, and dress in terrible, cheap, dirty, ill-fitting clothes, the exact opposite of the Reich.

I know Neo-Nazi isn't the same as Klan isn't the same as Skinhead, but still. The so-called keepers of the White Race should really make an effort not to look so disheveled and uncoordinated.
posted by paisley henosis at 1:09 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]



Have we really strayed that far from the ideal of journalism that impartiality is questionable?


This is not a new question. Scholars have seriously argued the merits of objective journalism for years. Some of the finest journalists to ever live did not practice objective journalism and before the 20th century objectivity wasn't really a big part of being a journalist. There are plenty of arguments against objectivity in journalism, both modern and historical. Your attempt at pithy humor is plainly outlined by your ignorance. Suggest reading more.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:10 PM on July 14, 2009


posted by orange swan There's a Klan presence in Canada?! Ugh, I never heard that.

It's the Ku Klux Klanada.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


My brother was a Sharp in high school. Then he became a marine.

My understanding of the Sharp movement was they just transferred their aggression from minorities to homosexuals and/or anyone who seemed like they could be intimidated.
posted by orville sash at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting Wikipedia links: KKK regalia and regalia, a rather cluttered page, notes that the first iteration of the KKK didn't wear white and pointy hats (but the included image does show three men with covered faces); and Pointy Hats: a history.

There is some speculation that the robes and hoods are to hide the fact that klansmen are actually lizard people of the non-shape-changing sort.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:16 PM on July 14, 2009


My grandfather was named Nathan Forrest after the Klan's first Grand Wizard, Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. But he was never a member as far as I know and certainly not within my twenty eight years. I don't believe I've heard anyone in my family say that his father or any of his several brothers were members either, though his parents clearly honored one of the group's most well known leaders.

Almost every member of my family was born and raised in the small towns of northwest Tennessee, including me to some extent. If there were klansmen around me in these communities, which there must have been, I didn't hear about them, know who they were, or ever encounter any of their activities. I'm not sure I ever want to know.
posted by inconsequentialist at 1:18 PM on July 14, 2009


This reminds me of a nearly 6 year old Mefi post of photographs by Jacob Holt.

I grew up in a part of of the Georgia that zealously rejected the KKK after decades of struggling under its influence. By the time I was in elementary school the Klan was only spoken in the most negative, boogieyman terms, though they marched in parades only a decade earlier. Everyone who had anything to do with the KKK was bad, bad, bad. Even the appearance of being a racist would be enough to get any kid beaten up in my town.

Yet, there were little bits of the KKK that peaked through here and there, like the "Don't Blame me! I voted for David Duke!" bumper stickers in the the train depot museum.

Still, there was never an explanation that made sense. If racism is clearly wrong, and beating and threatening people is bad news then belonging to an organization with a reputation for all that was obviously a screwy thing to do. Why where there people, people in my town no less, willing to be a part of one of the worst things ever? I couldn't wrap my child-sized brain around it.

I still feel like I don't really understand it, but I think Mr. Holt did a good job of capturing the deprived conditions that keeps organizations like the Klan functioning even today.

I wish the above photo essay was a little less about the photographer and a little more about the 'Why?' of it all.
posted by Alison at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2009


HuronBob:

I'm a bit surprised at the number of folks here that feel that a fair response to a verbal threat against an object is to "break an arm"..

What do you recommend as an alternative to the threat of someone breaking your very valuable piece of equipment which pretty much serves as your livelihood? I'm curious.
posted by enamon at 1:22 PM on July 14, 2009


The reason for their dishevelment and poor hygiene is the same reason they hide behind masks when showing up in public. Klansters are more swine than civilized people. They are the apostates of civilization and when I see one of these demi-humans wearing a hood, sporting a nazi tattoo, or shouting racist epithets from behind police lines, I wish I could put a round in every face, because what little humanity remains in them deserves an end to their hateful angry misery, and the rest of us deserve a world where such filth no longer contaminates our communities.

But I can't shoot them all. I can't even shoot some of them. Not because it's wrong, but because that course of action just would not work out well.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:37 PM on July 14, 2009


Also: those rallies look kind of sausage-party.

I have to say I find this term at once slightly homophobic/offensive and sadly sexist/misogynist. In a thread where my defenses are already up after seeing pictures of people who like to beat and kill people like me (LGBT folk), you might have picked something else to comment on.
posted by spitefulcrow at 1:37 PM on July 14, 2009


I claim the KKK has an International Evilness Rating of 354 millihitlers.

You know who had a thousand millihitlers?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:38 PM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


>I claim the KKK has an International Evilness Rating of 354 millihitlers.

You know who had a thousand millihitlers?


Mike Godwin?
posted by rdc at 1:45 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


But I can't shoot them all. I can't even shoot some of them. Not because it's wrong, but because that course of action just would not work out well.

Holy shit, dude.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:48 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm a bit surprised at the number of folks here that feel that a fair response to a verbal threat against an object is to "break an arm"..

The response to the verbal threat wasn't to break an arm, the response to the verbal threat was another verbal threat. Reading comprehension ftw!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:49 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


That picture of the little kid having the hat put really disturbed me. This innoent child is going to grow up knowing nothing but hate an violence, it is so sad.
posted by TonyDanza at 1:53 PM on July 14, 2009


I really liked these photos, especially the ones that make them look like regular, even vulnerable people.

I made me feel some kind of connection to them; it made me feel as though I could identify with them a little, even though if I met them in person I probably wouldn't be able to do that at all.

Like teleri025 (maybe), I grew up in a pretty rural area. I know very well the culture of places that are light-years away from anywhere remotely culturally significant. I know very well that there is an extreme sensitivity about cultural elitism and a vigilant wariness of being belittled. Everything is status, everyone is always trying to keep their fronts up, because they have so little. Which is not like people everywhere else in the world, but in my experience anyway the stakes feel higher because there is so little communication, so little information, so little back-and-forth. Socially speaking, compared to city life, very little happens, and so the relative importance of each interchange is magnified. If you lose face on account of some incident in January, there will be few opportunities between then and December to change your reputation. Incidents of social importance don't get buried under an overwhelming daily crush of same.

That's a description of life as I knew it when I was growing up, so if it seems unrecognizable to adults in rural areas, YMMV – and YMMV in any case.

But all this is to say that these photos makes me think about how when you're isolated like that, you don't think of yourself as a representative of the Extreme Right. You don't feel like you are in any way connected to all the million terrible and evil incarnations of intolerance, greed and fascism that in fact is mostly perpetrated by people much much wealthier than you who you can't even really conceive of. You just grow up where you've grown up and that is natural to you. And if the people around you say people who look different from you are evil and you should hate them, that might make sense to you. You might not have ever met or talked to anyone very different from you. You don't hardly know anything about the world. You see the same media we all see, but you might not have the same filters that allow you to take all that flash and bombast, all those images of sex and power, with a dose of skepticism. The world probably does like quite liberal and threatening.

People at first believe what the people around them believe, and then after that they believe what it makes sense for them to believe, and they have to judge what it makes sense for them to believe on sometimes very limited information.

My point is, even in these extreme cases, hate the belief, don't hate the believer.

Because if you hate the believer, if you insult or terrorize or talk about them as an inhuman object identified with their belief, if act as though they are an enemy of yours in a 'culture war' – and I'm not accusing anyone here of doing that by any means – then you are engaging in what is essentially a competition of hate.

Which is okay. If you're black, if you're gay, if you're any number of other things, you are threatened by these beliefs and it makes sense for you to want them destroyed. Me, I hate bigots and feel threatened by anything even remotely smelling like one with a vengeance. However, I just want to point out that if your response is to hate them back (and I'm not saying I'm not guilty of this), you are not 'morally superior' to them, as the liberal subtext would have it. You are just a primate trying to create a world that is more advantageous to yourself. Which, again, is okay, but just don't forget who you are and what you're doing. I'm okay with self-interestedness, which I think is generally unavoidable. But don't forget that you only seem morally righteous because your interests happen to align with the majority of the moment, and the majority of the moment always likes to create a narrative in which they are fighting the righteous fight.

This may seem like an unnecessary or harebrained point of view at this time in history, but I hope we can remember it when (God willing [actually an atheist]) the kinds of people in this picture would never dare to exhibit their beliefs so openly as they do now.
posted by skwt at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


See, that's the problem BigLankyBastard. I *want* to see them that way. I know the mindset and the worldview are damaging and deeply harmful to society and civilization. But I also think I may know some of those folks. Maybe they aren't, maybe they are, but they hide well. And the worst part of it is that I can see how they got there. Crappy little lives, continually undereducated and underemployeed with little understanding of how to do better, and fed a continuous line of hate and prejudice and the simple phrase, "It's not your fault."

And who wouldn't be seduced by the idea that every single thing wrong in your shitty little life isn't your fault? That it's the fault of some Other that is somehow less than you and yet keeping you from your God given right to succeed.

I mean, rationally, I can say those folks are batshit nuts; but emotionally, I'm saddened that there are still so many people in this country that are that terrified and broken that they just can't see how things like the Klan and the line of hatred they are fed is what keeps them down.
posted by teleri025 at 1:56 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


A great, disturbing article. And a great post.

Now I feel sick. Really.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:58 PM on July 14, 2009


"I have to say I find this term at once slightly homophobic/offensive and sadly sexist/misogynist. In a thread where my defenses are already up after seeing pictures of people who like to beat and kill people like me (LGBT folk), you might have picked something else to comment on."

Eh… Dude. These dead-enders are photos, and the only homophobia in suggesting that a bunch of macho stump-humpers might be off in the woods to rub their dicks together is the homophobia that they represent.

I mean, it's a pretty long ride to the place where "sausage party" is misogynistic, and you may have your nerves to close to the surface in this thread.
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


... Which is not unlike people everywhere else in the world ...
posted by skwt at 2:00 PM on July 14, 2009


I have to say I find this term at once slightly homophobic/offensive and sadly sexist/misogynist.

If anything, the term "sausage party" slants misandrist. Obviously a gathering of gay men is not a sausage party, they're perfectly happy to have the company of other (gay) men. What "sausage party" represents is too many straight men who are giving off vibes of desperation and horniness, and too few women to temper the mood of the party or otherwise create a gender balance.

I'm not sure how a phrase that implies "too many (desperate) dudes" comes across as misogynist. It's also not particularly homophobic beyond the (perhaps correct) assumption that the men present are interested in women.

Strange derail for a KKK thread though, I suppose.
posted by explosion at 2:00 PM on July 14, 2009


... The world probably does seem like quite liberal and threatening. ...

(i'm at work, i obviously was a little distracted)
posted by skwt at 2:03 PM on July 14, 2009


Sometimes the white outfits are said to represent ghosts of Confederate soldiers.

This innoent child is going to grow up knowing nothing but hate an violence, it is so sad.

Plus ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:11 PM on July 14, 2009


Also, ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry.
posted by Falconetti at 2:24 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I never understand why these guys are so beloved of Hitler: do they not know that guy lost?

Back in the day, like mid-1970s, this was an issue: a lot of middle-aged klansmen of that era had fought in WWII against Hitler, and didn't like the idea of associating with neo-nazis in brown shirts and swastikas. It seems that the newer generation is a bit more, well, accepting, although that's obviously not really the appropriate word.
posted by gimonca at 2:27 PM on July 14, 2009


"You said ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry twice"

"I like ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry."
posted by yoink at 2:27 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


"This innoent child is going to grow up knowing nothing but hate an violence, it is so sad."

I wonder about this, I really do. I think that with each subsequent generation the technology to not-be-isolated becomes more and more ubiquitous. Fifty years ago, growing up in a poor area, other than a radio, you would be pretty on your own, but nowadays, you have cheap TVs, cellphones, internet, etc.

I believe that the power to strongly indoctrinate a child comes from one's ability to isolate them against contrary messages. If I as a hateful adult tell my child that all gays, Jews, and blacks are out to destroy us, and it's up to us to defend ourselves, well the kid is going to base his response on what he knows. If all he has is me, I'm probably going to succeed. But if he has movies, and people on the internet, and exposure to cultures that contradict what I'm saying is the truth, eventually he might get curious enough to find out how full of shit I've been.

There will always be a core of people that no amount of exposure is going to change. And there are those, that because of events in their lives, develop racial hatred as an adult, but I suspect that racism due to cultural isolation is going to be a thing of the past in the next few decades.

One can hope, anyways.
posted by quin at 2:32 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


No, I'd say the photographer uses a threat of violence as a means to solve a problem, the problem being having his camera and/or person assaulted.

Not to mention the threat to his right to document a public event, far more significant than a mere threat to the camera itself, and perhaps even on a par with a threat to his person.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:39 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Klan is not always a Southern thing

No kidding--the Klan was huge in Indiana, back in the day. See also: Illinois Nazis. In fact, as far as that goes, I think that you could extend the Mason-Dixon line further west, all the way to the Mississippi, if not further, and make a distinction between the northern (Great Lakes) and southern (Ohio Valley) halves of a number of "Union" states.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:39 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The guy with the "Racist" tattoo on his head has been in the news, apparently.
posted by jeremy b at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2009


"Racist" plumber's-helper-dude wears a shirt with "error machine" on it. Apparently he's trying to kill us all with irony.
posted by yoink at 3:08 PM on July 14, 2009


I actually have the word "CONSPIRACIST" tattooed across the side of my neck, but my shirt always covers up the "CONSPI-" part.

I get punched a lot.
posted by jeremy b at 3:12 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, he must have had the earliest release of Photoshop ever (seeing as he died in '78).
posted by yoink at 2:50 PM on July 14 [+] [!]


He did - it was called his darkroom. He was famous for burning in shadows, but he even went so far as to change the eyes of two women in this photo (they had been looking away when he came in the room, but looked up at the flash), and to add the silhoette of a hand and saw to this photo (to cover up damage to the original negative).

For Smith, truth wasn't just the photons which had been recorded by the film - it is the truth of the situation. Just like any reporter who works with words, and who choses their words to give more than a simple description, Smith didn't see how being a slave to the film (itself a medium that introduces its own distortions to what it sees) was any truer than reporting without evaluating.
posted by jb at 3:17 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have to say I find this term at once slightly homophobic/offensive and sadly sexist/misogynist

BAHAHAHAHA. I laughed for like 3 minutes at this, irl. Do you spend your time getting offended at off-the-cuff innocuous comments like this in real life too? Because I imagine that would make you pretty busy.
posted by dead cousin ted at 3:21 PM on July 14, 2009


The reason I questioned his not asking some questions was specific: he mentioned how he didn't ask questions about any of the kids, or why parents brought them there. In his effort to not alienate people, he actually missed out asking important questions which are part of the story, and I wonder what else he missed. I don't think he should have confronted them - that would be pointless and entirely against his purpose in being there - but worried that his sense of barriers limited what he could learn and thus share in his work.
posted by jb at 3:26 PM on July 14, 2009


About 25 years ago, give or take, I knew a Klansman at work and this post brought back some half digested memories. I don’t know why, but that guy wanted desperately to be my friend.

After about a year’s worth of redneck/collegial social maneuvering, I told him that I would never invite him to my house because he was crazy. And that was OK with him. Those guys know deep down that they’re crazy.
posted by Huplescat at 3:42 PM on July 14, 2009


For Smith, truth wasn't just the photons which had been recorded by the film - it is the truth of the situation.

That's a horribly slippery slope, though, isn't it? I mean, if this guy photoshopped his images to show the KKK guys spitting on a photograph of MLK would that be o.k., even if it never happened, because it's the sort of thing that they would probably be happy to do?

What if he photoshopped them pointing guns at the people who confront them at those rallies, because that would sure make an arresting image, and hey, it would get at the "underlying truth" of their hostility towards those people, wouldn't it?

Or what if he photoshopped them standing over the mutilated corpse of a lynched black child? That would certainly get at the deep "truth" of the evil consequences of their perverted credo. Right?

All in all, I'd rather photojournalists truthfully affirmed that there is nothing in the image that did not, in fact, take place at the time the photograph was taken. I'll give them a pass on adjusting the exposure, hue, tonal balance etc., and cropping the image, so long as it's not done in order to deliberately obscure some salient piece of information. Yes, I'm aware that it's always possible that reasonable people can disagree about what is and is not "salient" (does it matter which way those women were looking at the time Eugene Smith took his photo? Probably not. But then I'm not sure whose burial that is or what the context is. Provide more information and that could suddenly become an important alteration). But the fact that there are grey areas doesn't mean that there aren't areas that are clearly "white" and clearly "black."
posted by yoink at 3:50 PM on July 14, 2009


"But somehow, they have diverged so drastically from what I can even think about considering normal. They are not normal, they are abominations, cancers on our cultural psyche. They believe something that is so very alien to me, but at the same time, I think, I might be able to understand how they get there. I think I might be able to see where our paths split. But it's a tiny insignificant moment. It's so small that it may only exist in my mind."

No matter how odd or brutal other people appear, what is often shocking is that they are us. Not to say we are racists, but that all human behavior is human, not alien. If you think the Klan is brutal, well, it's nothing, really. And I think understanding this is the key to understanding the causes of all these aspects of the "shadow self," the other side we don't like to acknowledge (no matter the POV), to know this as an aspect of ourselves, rather than to think this is not really human. It really is. We don't have to like it, but we shouldn't see it as alien. This is us.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:52 PM on July 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


"The reason I questioned his not asking some questions was specific: he mentioned how he didn't ask questions about any of the kids, or why parents brought them there. In his effort to not alienate people, he actually missed out asking important questions which are part of the story, and I wonder what else he missed. I don't think he should have confronted them - that would be pointless and entirely against his purpose in being there - but worried that his sense of barriers limited what he could learn and thus share in his work."

I'm curious about something. Are you a photojournalist, or have you done any sort of photography professionally? Have you ever studied photography and photojournalism? I only ask because your questions seem a bit naive. No offense, just seems like you never considered the role of the photographer in journalism.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:54 PM on July 14, 2009


"I wish the above photo essay was a little less about the photographer and a little more about the 'Why?' of it all."

I kind of like the Errol Morris approach, where you just set the camera up, let people be themselves in front of it with as little distraction as possible, and let the viewers come to their own conclusions.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:07 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]



I mean, rationally, I can say those folks are batshit nuts; but emotionally, I'm saddened that there are still so many people in this country that are that terrified and broken that they just can't see how things like the Klan and the line of hatred they are fed is what keeps them down.


This. My perspective on the Klan is, I think, probably odd. Before I knew what the Klan was or really what racism was, I knew someone who was at the time fairly big in his state's Aryan Nation organization. His mother was a family friend, and she and all the other family members were completely horrified by his beliefs. But they didn't want to alienate him completely from the family, hoping maybe he'd find his way back however he'd found his way there, so he was still allowed around the family. I didn't know any of this, and whatever bizarre tattoos he might have had he kept covered around me, so to me he was just our friend's son, who was nice to me even though I was shy and taught me to pick out tunes on the piano.

Years later I figured out what had been going on in that family. By then he was out of the AN, partly because he hadn't been completely cut off. He's had an extremely difficult life since then, I'm sure partly because there's no way to erase that part of his past and it's pretty much impossible to get and keep decent employment and friends and lovers once you have to come out with the incredibly horrifying, unforgivable shit you used to believe. He's been in trouble with the law in non-race-related ways since then, and I'm guessing will be for the rest of his whole life. I suspect once you're that marginalized and terrified and fucked-up you never entirely learn how the hell to behave right, and I don't know how you ever find your way back. I'm not sure he's ever going to find any kind of peace, and maybe he deserves that, because how do you ever get past this shit? I've Googled him to find some of the news articles written about the Aryan Nation that he was quoted in when he was still a member, and it's shocking and revolting and almost impossible to reconcile with the guy I remember from when I was a little kid.

But it's hard for me to completely dismiss any worth in his life and the half of it he's spent trying to somehow move past the horrific shit he did at twenty. So despite my gut reaction to those photos, I have to figure each of those people has someone in their lives who knew them and loved them before they got this broken, and has hopes that they're not completely lost - and I know maybe they're not, because I know that guy who got out.
posted by Stacey at 4:25 PM on July 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


No matter how odd or brutal other people appear, what is often shocking is that they are us.

It's so very important to remember this, and it's one of the lessons that we as a society seem to be forgetting from the Holocaust: the banality of evil. The more insidious part of evil is that these people are, in most ways, exactly like us. They are normal people. The attempt to segregate evil -- to say, "Oh, those people are evil, they're weird and different -- I could never be evil!" -- is, paradoxically, the root of the worst evil: because we all, all of us, have this in us.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 4:37 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Well, okay, except for that dude with the "RACIST" tattoo . . . he's not really that normal).
posted by Frobenius Twist at 4:38 PM on July 14, 2009


"My point is, even in these extreme cases, hate the belief, don't hate the believer."

Yeah, but you can't hit the belief with a brick.
Ah, just smartassing there. You're right of course.

But I do find the wannabe tough guy stuff laughable. And seems to me 98% of this stuff is jacking each other off congratulating each other on how hard ass they are. It's the guys without the tats who believe in the ideology you have to watch out for.
Buddy of mine who looks Jewish, mostly 'cos he is Jewish, had a guy make a crack at him outside a pancake house a while back. 'Kike' or some such. Not loud, under his breath really, but he had said something, clearly not nice, and he was with three of his buddies, also bald, and he had a visible swastika tattoo.We were out in Evanston for something with Rick Sollo or someone, tourney or some such I forget I was just a wingman. Whatever the case - Evanston is pretty close to Skokie (which has a high Jewish population), so what this skinhead guy was thinking even being there, I don't know. Like walking down Halsted in Chicago past the rainbow pylons and calling someone a 'fag.' No conception of reality.

And they had the hard-guy t-shirts on and the boots and whatnot. So my buddy (who teaches Krav Maga) goes over and hands the guy his head. Very, very uncharacteristic of him, he's normally very low key. Anyway, he throws the guy a beating and stands there and says "call a cop." He went off on a rant in the car. He'd just had it with that kind of crap generally and that one incident pushed him over. Sounded like it'd been building for years.
Anyway, no one called the cops.

But the point mostly being - you throw down a challenge, even if it's just with tattoos, at some point the wrong guy, or maybe the right guy on the wrong day, is going to answer.
And ultimately, that self-imposed isolation is going to be self-destructive and lead to injustice.

I'm not at all saying it makes it right. Merely that those are the realities. Some guy with a Nazi tattoo calls the cops on a Jew for beating him up just outside Skokie? Outnumbered us 3 to 2? Good luck with that.
But the provocation of that kind of response is necessary to breed solidarity and dependence within the group. Which is why you see a lot of the low level schmos with the tats and the higher up types with not a lot of ink.

Which is why it is a better idea to tackle the belief and embrace, or at least positively engage, the believer.
...I'm sure the guy my buddy beat on went home (after he got out of the hospital) with the realization that there are some seriously bad-ass Jews out there and maybe he should keep his mouth shut.
But I doubt the guy went home with a greater understanding and tolerance of ethnic relations.
So it gets perpetuated. Which is what the smooth bastards in the suits behind the scenes soft peddling the ideology want.
They want the 'dregs' full of that kind of pride. They want that milieu control, isolation, violent air, etc. Hell, look at the door that noose is hanging near. The light is gone. Shabby surface. Which circumstance ya think precludes the other?

I'd say their followers need to be deprogrammed, but that's a heavy word with a lot of entanglements. They need their eyes opened, certainly. Tougher work than straightforward violence, although perhaps, I'll admit, not as personally gratifying in some cases.
Still, exit counseling? Yeah, maybe.
Some people you can show them the manifest and obvious flaws in their beliefs and their allegiances and they won't relent.
Although typically it's easier to separate their allegiances from within their belief system.
But like battered domestic partners, you don't want to get someone out of the situation, then leave them without economic and social support.

A lot would be served by deploying a few counselors rather than waiting until the problem heats up to be bad enough to be addressed by law enforcement.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:43 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait..."sausage party" is homophobic? I thought it just referred to a large group of men without any women. Good thing I never speak in slang in public. Cripes.
posted by DU at 4:51 PM on July 14, 2009


During my 11 years heading a daily newspaper photo department ending in 1987, I shot three Klan rallies in central Maryland.

I also shot a "business meeting" of the local Klan officers at a nearby Denny's restaurant. This was what convinced me that Denny's wasn't discriminatory (as alleged at the time), it was just plain bad no matter what color you were.

Interestingly, it turned out that I went to high school with one of the local chapter's members.

To me, the second most scary thing about the Klan was the number of guns present at the rallies. Tensions ran high at these events with a heavy police presence at the perimeters.

The first most scary thing was the guy who became (in the mid-1980's) the Imperial Grand Wizard, or whatever the local divisional leader was called then. This was because, unlike virtually every Klan member I'd ever encountered, he was a well spoken gentleman who was completely the opposite of virtually every other Klansman I'd ever dealt with.

Also, several of the Maryland State Police officers patrolling had one of their plain clothes officers buy Klan t-shirts for them while policing the first rally I covered.

As a result of my experiences, I think Anthony Karen's photographs are as objective coverage of Klan rallies as I've ever seen.

...arguably more objective than my own and that of the reporters who covered them.

If you want to encounter the epitome of the real dregs of society to see how bad it gets, attend your local Klan rally.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:01 PM on July 14, 2009


My grandfather was named Nathan Forrest after the Klan's first Grand Wizard, Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Would you describe him as a long distance runner?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:30 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great photos, and aye, a sausage party..
posted by the cuban at 5:47 PM on July 14, 2009


I shot three Klan rallies in central Maryland.

"Cool!" I thought. Then I read the start of the sentence. Oh well.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:49 PM on July 14, 2009


I find it odd that folks who join the KKK aren't bored stiff by all the lame rituals, cross burnings and weird incoherent shit. I mean, who wants to get out of the house at night, put on ill-fitting sheets and do whatever it is that they do with pieces of wood and fire. From this I conclude that they are the kind of folks who have nothing going on socially in their lives, and the klan is just a way of getting some kind of group identity, mind-numbingly stupid though it may be. Really, they are outcasts, and I think they know it.

I have a strong feeling that the klan would disappear if the economy was such that it could absorb these folks into meaningful jobs. Everywhere you go, Europe or wherever, with few exceptions, it seems these are the lumpen proletariat (East Germany - usually the chronically unemployed, France - blue collar workers displaced by the new economy etc.).

It seems not very productive to analyze them in ideological terms. It would be better to see them as an underclass, economically displaced and socially isolated from the mainstream. Of course there are exceptions, but that seems to be what most of the membership is. Hence their rather unkempt appearance.
posted by VikingSword at 6:25 PM on July 14, 2009


I find it odd that folks who join the KKK church aren't bored stiff by all the lame rituals, cross[es] burnings and weird incoherent shit. I mean, who wants to get out of the house at night dawn, put on ill-fitting sheets Sunday bests and do whatever it is that they do with pieces of woodand fire wine, consecrated bread, and whatnot. From this I conclude that they are the kind of folks who have nothing going on socially in their lives, and the klan congregation is just a way of getting some kind of group identity, mind-numbingly stupid though it may be. Really, they are outcasts, and I think they know it.

(Yes, I understand VS structured his post for something like that. Nevertheless.)
posted by Glee at 6:52 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting you should mention East Germany, VikingSword. I'll agree it's much, much worse over there but I was shocked to see on three or four occasions skinhead teens roaming round villages in the West. I guess where the economic conditions are good, it is hard to reach a critical mass that creates a real organization, but where there are misfit teenagers looking for an excuse to shock people and get into fights I think you will find skinheads and other hate-based groups.

Which, as a side note, is when I found out what my boyfriend meant when he meant he said he used to be "punk." We saw a group of idiot skinhead boys yelling and breaking glass bottles and just generally being ridiculous in a village near where he grew up in southern Germany. He said when he was younger he and his friends from school would have beat the shit out of those boys. I asked why he would beat up some teenagers who weren't actually hurting anyone and he said it was because he and his friends were punks, and that's what they did for fun. I was slightly horrified because I tended to take a more pacifist approach to racist idiots growing up in the American south. It struck me as supremely ironic to use violence against such deeply ignorant and hate-filled people; but the way he saw it, he was keeping his society from backsliding into the horror of the Third Reich.

Now he realizes that he was just full of testosterone and needed a reason to punch someone in the face while feeling morally justified, which is kind of a sick version of what these boys were acting out. I DON"T think that the two are equivalent in theory or in degree at all, but I still think that there is a similar element to most gang-related violence.
posted by ausbürgern at 7:11 PM on July 14, 2009


I find it odd that folks who join the KKK church aren't bored stiff by all the lame rituals, cross[es] burnings and weird incoherent shit. I mean, who wants to get out of the house at night dawn, put on ill-fitting sheets Sunday bests and do whatever it is that they do with pieces of woodand fire wine, consecrated bread, and whatnot. From this I conclude that they are the kind of folks who have nothing going on socially in their lives, and the klan congregation is just a way of getting some kind of group identity, mind-numbingly stupid though it may be. Really, they are outcasts, and I think they know it.

I'm as "anti-religion" (for lack of a better term) as anyone, but this is just dumb. For one thing, churchgoers as outcasts? How about apple pie eaters and mothers? Also wildly unpopular on your planet?

For another, you could do this with just about anything. "I find it odd that folks who join Metafilter aren't bored stiff by all the lame injokes and weird incoherent shit." "I find it odd that folks who join library lending programs aren't bored stiff by all the lame books and weird incoherent fellow patrons." Etc.
posted by DU at 7:20 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


During my 11 years heading a daily newspaper photo department ending in 1987, I shot three Klan rallies in central Maryland.

How many of the bastards did you hit?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:20 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


DU, sorry, but that was my point. VS's argument in the first part of his post could be used against anything, so it might not be a great argument. (I just used the first thing that I don't "get" that lept to mind: church. I had no intention of equating the two.)
posted by Glee at 7:29 PM on July 14, 2009


Whoa.
posted by zinfandel at 7:53 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


DU, sorry, but that was my point. VS's argument in the first part of his post could be used against anything, so it might not be a great argument. (I just used the first thing that I don't "get" that lept to mind: church. I had no intention of equating the two.)

Oh, I see. This was so silly, that I didn't understand your point, so I didn't react (in fact, my reaction was the same as DU's). Now that you explained it, its stupidity is plain enough. Here's what you missed: these folks, unlike churchgoers, are out of the mainstream. They are outcasts - which point I made. So your analogy breaks down instantly. So this argument could not be "used against anything". Plus, I wasn't making any argument "against" in the first place, which is a whole 'nother pile of ain't gettin' it. It was not a polemic. It was descriptive. I'm afraid you read all sorts of things into that post, which were not there.
posted by VikingSword at 7:57 PM on July 14, 2009


I'm curious about something. Are you a photojournalist, or have you done any sort of photography professionally? Have you ever studied photography and photojournalism? I only ask because your questions seem a bit naive. No offense, just seems like you never considered the role of the photographer in journalism.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:54 PM on July 14 [+] [!]


No, I'm a historian, and therefore congenitally nosy.

I have thought about the role of the photographer in journalism - I'm a big fan of Eugene Smith. I just happen to think that it can go beyond just taking photos, to acquiring more historically useful data.
posted by jb at 8:02 PM on July 14, 2009


This is as good a time as any to say that the feature length documentary Blood in the Face is on Google Video. Well worth a watch.
posted by dobbs at 8:18 PM on July 14, 2009


That picture of the little kid having the hat put really disturbed me. This innoent child is going to grow up knowing nothing but hate an violence, it is so sad.

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught
"You've got to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught..."
posted by ericb at 10:38 PM on July 14, 2009


zinfandel: "Whoa. "

Double whoa. That shit is seriously bananas.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:53 PM on July 14, 2009


Here's what you missed: these folks, unlike churchgoers, are out of the mainstream. They are outcasts - which point I made. So your analogy breaks down instantly. So this argument could not be "used against anything".

The first part of your argument led you to conclude that these people are just outcasts with nothing else in their life. And if they only got jobs the klan would go away. I was disagreeing with that conclusion. (I did a shit job of it too, sorry. In hindsight, unable to sleep at 4 in the morning isn't the setting for posting online. At 4 am the first part of your post looked familiar enough I even thought you wrote it like that on purpose. Guess not.)

You said the Klan was just some way to create group identity. Isn't that the point of most rituals, and symbols? To an outsider they might look bizarre. To one of the members they're meaningful and reinforcing, no matter if they're on the fringes or the mainstream.

Here in Sweden, a political party (Sverigedemokraterna, Sweden Democrats, SD) share some of the core beliefs of the Klan. SD's roots are in various white power/Nazi groups. They were on the fringes and used some pretty overt symbols and rhetoric ("Keep Sweden Swedish"). Today their party symbol is the hepatica and they're running for Parliament. Nowadays the party program is preserving Swedish culture and "fundamental Western and Protestant ethics" and they wear suits.
posted by Glee at 5:27 AM on July 15, 2009


I never understand why these guys are so beloved of Hitler: do they not know that guy lost?

There's a joke in here somewhere about the Civil War, the American South and racism, but I'm having trouble putting the pieces together...

I mostly just wanted to point out that within my living memory, the field that Bonnaroo is held on every year had hosted a few Klan rallies. In my alternate universe, during one of the sooper-sekrit rituals, one of the rally's participants had a momentary blinding vision of drugged out hippies, blissed-out music geeks and fun-loving frat boys of all races dancing under the oaks in the none-to-distant future, and that is the reason that they stopped the rallies.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is an almost peculiarly neutral photo essay. I'm honestly not sure what the photographer thinks of the Klan. I haven't yet decided if I think that's a good thing or not.

I thought the same thing. I'm not saying he necessarily shares their "ideas" or is sympathetic to their cause, it's just that I honestly can't tell. Now I completely understand a photojournalist trying to remain neutral while shooting his or her subject matter (although some of the most iconic pictures of the last seventy odd years were captured by photographers who were trying to expose what they felt was wrong), but Mr Karen seems to go out of his way not to criticize these people in any way (which again is fine...I guess) while passing judgment on the counter-protestors. Not so fine.

And when I went to his site, I must admit the preamble to the skinhead/KKK gallery (below) raised my eyebrow a little bit; referring to their fuckwaddery as a "struggle" and calling the movement "white nationalism" really falls into lipstick-on-a pig territory. Again, I'm not saying he's on their side but he's sufficiently ambiguous to make the reader/viewer wonder about his position.


white nationalism
The struggle of a White Nationalist is a campaign for the redefinition of white national identity, as opposed to multiculturalism. The movement in the United Sates is a reaction based on census projections on the eventual decline in white demographics, politics and culture. Supporters see themselves defending the civil rights of white people against society's alleged double standards.

Nationalists feel the demographic shift in the US towards non-whites brings a new culture that is intellectually and morally inferior. By challenging established policy on immigration, civil rights and racial integration, they seek to build a platform with conservative white citizens.

White separatism and supremacism are two smaller subgroups within white nationalism. The former seek a separate white nation-state, while the latter add ideas from Nazism to their ideology. Some white nationalists are in neither category. They avoid the term "supremacy", saying it has negative connotations.

posted by Devils Slide at 10:24 AM on July 15, 2009


calling the movement "white nationalism" really falls into lipstick-on-a pig territory

I take it you think that Leonard Zeskind, (lifetime member of the NAACP, president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights and author of Blood and Politics The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream) is a closet Nazi, too?
posted by yoink at 10:58 AM on July 15, 2009


Yes, exactly. That's what I think -- Zeskind is a jack-booted minority-hating thug. *eye roll*

I went out of my way not to call Mr Karen a racist--or anything as specific as a "Nazi", closeted or otherwise--I said I can't really tell either way. And it's so nice of you just to latch onto one point and suggest my wondering about this guy is solely based on him using the expression "white nationalism". Nationalism has often been used as a euphemism for xenophobia/racism, but I don't automatically assume anyone who uses the word or self-identifies as a nationalist (again, not that Karen did so) is inherently racist. But in this case, three or four different things have given me pause and made me wonder about his personal ideology.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:33 AM on July 15, 2009


Devils Slide, you specifically called out his use of the term "white nationalism." You said it was "lipstick-on-a-pig territory." I think the appropriate response would be "I apologize to Mr Karen for my ignorant suggestion that using the term 'white nationalism' implies some kind of sympathy with the movement's aims."

Seriously, if you're going to make defamatory suggestions based on sheer ignorance you should have the grace to apologize when your ignorance is corrected.
posted by yoink at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2009


Now I completely understand a photojournalist trying to remain neutral while shooting his or her subject matter (although some of the most iconic pictures of the last seventy odd years were captured by photographers who were trying to expose what they felt was wrong), but Mr Karen seems to go out of his way not to criticize these people in any way (which again is fine...I guess) while passing judgment on the counter-protestors. Not so fine.

I see what you're saying, but I think that the most I'd accuse Mr. Karen of is overcompensating.

Assume Karen is naturally and personally opposed to the KKK. And yet, somehow he wants to do a piece about what it is like to actually be IN the KKK. What is it like to BE that person? How does growing up with that in your life affect you? What pressures do you face each day, what challenges befall you, how do you see the world?...In order to even do that, Karen had to put himself into their mindset a little -- or, try to get US to put OURselves into that mindset a little.

Now, I think that's a very good thing, in general, to do -- a lot of people have counselled others to "know thy enemies". I do think this is wise -- if you know what your rivals are thinking, you can either know better how to protect yourself from them, or see exactly what lead them to the state they're in so you can explain your own side better and reach a detente, or maybe even discover that "oh, is THAT why you feel that way? Wow -- okay, that's a legitimate problem, but here's a different solution..." etc. Anything that increases our understanding of what it is like to be another person in this world, I think, is good.

And that is, I think, what Karen is trying to do. We think people in the KKK are racists and Nazis -- but they don't think that about themselves, and being able to disconnect ourselves from the "KKK=racist" response is probably good if we want to attain an in-depth understanding of "what is it like to be in the KKK". Karen, maybe, just went a little overboard in trying to paint that picture for us.

As for the critique of counter-protestors -- well, hell, there are shits on both sides of any argument. Just because you're arguing on the side of the angels doesn't excuse you being a shit about things, if that's what you're doing, and I see no problem with calling someone out on being a shit if that's what they're doing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus H. Christ. That wasn't the only thing I called out, was it? In the context of other pause-inducing behavior, the decision to refer to them as white nationalists struck a nerve. Now he explains why they don't all want to be called "white supremacist" or "separatist", so how about "white racism". They do all admit that they're racist, correct? Or would that be too offensive to their delicate sensibilities?

Someone who's a member of the NAACP and is a tireless human rights activist can use the term in the title of his book, and lo and behold, I don't for one second have the vaguest notion that he was in the Waffen SS. Do you see the distinction?

I'm ignorant about a lot of things, but perhaps you should work on your tunnel vision and lack of reading comprehension as you've ignored my other points again. BTW, what do you want me to do? Take out a full page ad in the paper apologizing to someone who may or may not be racist because I made a comment on a website questioning his ideology? Someone who doesn't seem particularly considerate himself?
posted by Devils Slide at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2009


That was directed at yoinks btw.
posted by Devils Slide at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2009


That's a very valid argument, EC. Point taken.
posted by Devils Slide at 12:13 PM on July 15, 2009


Someone who's a member of the NAACP and is a tireless human rights activist can use the term in the title of his book, and lo and behold, I don't for one second have the vaguest notion that he was in the Waffen SS. Do you see the distinction?

It's not just that Zeskind happened to use the term in one book. The point is that the term is widely and uncontroversially used by a vast majority of those discussing this phenomenon from an academic and human-rights perspective. The point is that your specific claim that Karen's use of the term is in some way suspicious is utterly and demonstrably false. (As for all the "other" evidence you supposedly amassed that I'm "ignoring"--it amounts to his use of the word "struggle" to describe their, well, struggle).

And where should you apologize? How about in the thread where you offered the insult?
posted by yoink at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2009


Read my original comment again and maybe, just maybe, you'd see a couple of other points. I realize "white nationalism" is used by a lot of people including scholars, but in the context of everything else blah blah blah. We're just going round and round at this point.

Suffice it to say, I will not apologize for saying that I can't decide either way about this person based on the available information and as far as I'm concerned the jury is still out, although I do see the other side of the argument as presented in a civil fashion by EC.

Meanwhile it's a nice summer day. There are plenty of other interesting threads. So why don't you call me another name and then be on your way to one of them?
posted by Devils Slide at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2009


So why don't you call me another name and then be on your way to one of them?

I didn't "call you a name," I called you "ignorant." You were clearly ignorant (of the fact that the term "white nationalist" is not some kind of pro-racist code-word) or else you would not have made this false claim:
calling the movement "white nationalism" really falls into lipstick-on-a pig territory.
Now I see that you continue to cling to the idea that there's something suspicious in his use of the term ("in the context of everything else"--which context, as I say, amounts precisely and solely to his use of the word "struggle") I guess it would be more accurate to call you "proudly and obstinately ignorant."
posted by yoink at 12:45 PM on July 15, 2009


The sad irony is that this particular legacy of hatred and intolerance could finally be erased if we as a country could get over our bizarre need to maintain a permanent underclass.

Not to discount the terrible history of the KKK, but I feel like looking at these pictures drives home the point of just how different times are now. These people do not look like the descendants of the small-town sheriffs and landowners who once used the cover of the Klan to reinforce a racist status quo. It's like the generals moved on and the footsoldiers were left with little else but the uniforms to pretend they're fighting a war that's been over for a while now.

I don't say this to excuse their beliefs or actions. But if you go to any area where people are living lives of institutional and cyclical poverty, it doesn't matter what color the people are, you'll find frightening violence,intolerance, and dysfunction clung to as tradition.

And it's just so damn easy to deny these people access to to "normal" society, and then turn around and use them as targets and excuses for our failure as a society. The "racists" are holding the Blacks down, and the "welfare queens" are the reason we can't have decent public assistance, and the "illegals" are the reason we cant have sensible immigration and labor laws, and on and on...

I'm glad the photographer doesn't editorialize. What makes these pictures so powerful is that I, as a Black person, can look at them and not feel threatened or angry. I just feel sorry for them.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:46 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


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