Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lessons from when the terrorists won: The Ku Klux Klan

Yesterday's terrorist attacks in Mumbai have been expected for years. Expected in India, expected in America.

It's only been six years since a single deranged American veteran and a young accomplice terrorized the US capitol. Even Israel, a small state with the world's most extensive security network, has seen several comparable attacks.

Some of these have been stopped by police and intelligence work, but some will get through. Reducing the number that get through is a long process, not a war.

It requires intelligence and police action. It especially requires reducing fund raising. In retrospect 9/11 ended both the IRA and the Tamil Tigers by reducing the funding stream from the American diaspora.

Beyond reducing the flow of money anti-terrorist actions also need to reduce the flow of people. We now believe people join terrorist organizations for the same reasons they join political parties, bowling leagues, Moose lodges, any group-focused religious entity, the NRA and Greenpeace. They join for reasons of social solidarity and tribal identity. Part of the modern anti-terrorist strategy is to give men and women alternative movements to join.

That will be important to remember as the Obama administration turns its attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban are the problem.

The Taliban, which, pathetically, in English, rhymes with Ku Klux Klan.

I'm reminded of the Klan, as, after a pause of a few years, I return to the History of the United States audio tape series. There were two distinct incarnations of the Klan, and the thing most of us forget is that the first incarnation of America's "greatest" terrorist organization was victorious ...
Ku Klux Klan -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia

In the summer of 1867, the Klan was structured into the “Invisible Empire of the South” at a convention in Nashville, Tenn., attended by delegates from former Confederate states. ...Dressed in robes and sheets designed to frighten superstitious blacks and to prevent identification by the occupying federal troops, Klansmen whipped and killed freedmen and their white supporters in nighttime raids...

The 19th-century Klan reached its peak between 1868 and 1870. A potent force, it was largely responsible for the restoration of white rule in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia...

... In United States v. Harris in 1882, the Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Act unconstitutional, but by that time the Klan had practically disappeared.

It disappeared because its original objective—the restoration of white supremacy throughout the South—had been largely achieved during the 1870s. The need for a secret antiblack organization diminished accordingly...
If I remember the recording correctly, in Louisiana the Klan eliminated about 80-90% of black voters from the rolls during their successful reign of terror.

The Klan 1.0 won a fantastic victory. One that certainly lasted until the Civil Rights struggle eighty years later, and if you count the GOP's "southern strategy" the legacy of the Klan 1.0's victory lasted until 2008. A victory lasting 126 years is staggering.

The 19th century Klan teaches us that terrorists can win, and win big. They also teach us that when it comes to terrorism, America has a rich and under-appreciated history.

Now, when we work against terrorists in Mumbai, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we need to think about how the Klan won, and how their modern incarnations can be controlled on a global front.

The good news is that we will soon have a rational, thinking government for the United States of America, and that we've learned a lot about terrorism.

Now we have to put that learning to the test.

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