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“And These Are the Children of God”: Fears of Homegrown Terrorism in Cold War America

Although Cold War-era fears often focused on Communism and atomic warfare, the following 1949 editorial in the popular magazine Collier’s showed concern about a broader threat to core American values posed by extremism, terrorism, and indoctrination of the country’s youth. The editorial appeared beneath a photograph of a group of hooded Ku Klux Klan members, including at least three women. One of the women carried a young girl shrouded in a hood. Formally known as the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group, founded in Atlanta in October 1915, took its name and inspiration from the vigilante organization in the Reconstruction South that terrorized blacks and Republican political leaders in order to restore white supremacist governments and black economic and social subordination. While the Klan of the 19th century died out as white supremacists regained power, the virulently anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-foreigner, and anti-black 20th-century “Empire” flourished in the nativist atmosphere of the early and mid-1920s. Although the Klan declined drastically following scandals and internal battles, it revived intermittently in the following decades. As the Collier’s editorialist feared, the Klan again became “a serious threat to our democracy” following successes of the modern civil rights movement, as they perpetrated acts of terrorism against African Americans and their white supporters, most notoriously in 1961 attacks on Freedom Riders in Alabama, the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, that killed four young girls, and the murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, during “Freedom Summer” in 1964. The editorial does not address cultural reasons for the Klans' persistence—historians have explored antielitism, fear of community domination by outside powers, and repugnance to modern, secularist morality as motivating factors in addition to white supremacy and nativism.

This is a portrait of the present and future generations of America’s would-be Master Race. It is a shocking picture, and a revealing one. For the masks cannot hide the minds of this stupid woman and her pathetic child.

The mother who swaddles her child in this shameful garment has also weaned her on the poison of bigotry. Of that we may be unhappily certain. The little girl already knows that she is a member of the self-anointed.

She has been taught that the self-anointed are superior people. She has learned that Negroes, Catholics, Jews, foreigners and meddlesome Yankees are an alien tribe which is somehow in league against them. She knows that these aliens are to be mistrusted and feared and sometimes “put in their place.”

The little girl hears a great deal about God and the Constitution and Americanism when her mother takes her to the gatherings of the hooded hoodlums. She listens solemnly to the mumbo jumbo of the Ku-Klux ritual, for she has been taught to revere and believe it all—the blasphemy, the foul hypocrisy, the childish nonsense.

But there are some things that the little girl will not learn beneath the fiery cross or at her mother’s knee. She does not know that her father and his fellow Klansmen are frightened bullies who do not dare act openly or alone. She does not know that they run at night in cowardly, faceless packs to terrify or strike down a defenseless victim. She is not told that they flout the law in the name of law and order and pervert the Constitution under pretense of defending it.

She must be told these things, and soon. For this child is a symbol of the continuing threat to American progress, freedom and strength that the Klan represents. Unless the Klan is unmasked and stamped out now, she and thousands of other hooded youngsters will grow up to perpetuate the poisonous philosophy that they have already inherited. This is not a job just for the South, or for the authorities, or for the schools. It is a job that can only be done properly if it is backed by an aroused public opinion.

We cannot be complacent about Klanism any more than we can about Communism. The Klan is not dying, it is growing. Twenty-five years ago it flourished in an atmosphere of indifference until it became a serious threat to our democracy. It can be again if we persist in turning our backs to it while we concentrate all the fire of public indignation on the extreme left.

Source: "And These Are the Children of God," Collier’s, 6 August 1949, 74.