The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 9/4/17 How White supremacy became the “alt-right”
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: September 4, 2017
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for joining us tonight. Really happy to
have you with us.
In terms of scandal and potential criminal liability even, the real
existential crisis for this young presidency, in this young administration
is the Russia crisis. The management handling of that crisis and the White
House has been sort of an unusual spectacle to report on that – the
frenetic pace of that the turnover of White House senior staff, the
colorful and profane cast of characters who the president has brought in
has these various lawyers on the issue. It`s been weird and sometimes
astonishing to watch in terms of the way this White House has handled this
scandal and its fallout already.
But when it comes to the more important question, when it comes to the
bottom-line question, when it comes to how the country is going to
determine the way this scandal will end, how the congressional committees
will conduct and conclude their investigations, how Congress will react to
its own investigations, as well as to whatever we eventually learn from the
special counsel investigation at the FBI, that ultimate response which is
the most important thing for the country that is not going to be determined
by what the White House does and it`s not going to be determined about what
the press does. It will be determined in a granular sense largely by
Republicans, especially if it happens soon while Republicans still control
If you think there are eventually going to be impeachment proceedings, if
you think the congressional investigations are going to be consequential
and their findings are going to be made known, all that kind of stuff will
be decided by the people who run Congress. And at least until the midterm
elections, that`s congressional Republicans. And that fact the fact that
at least you know until January after the next midterms the fate of this
presidency is in the hands of congressional Republicans, that if nothing
else makes the stream between the White House and elected Republicans not
just human drama in Washington, it makes it potentially an existential
matter for this presidency.
And of all the things that have driven this strain between the president
and elected Republicans, the most interest dynamic, the most persistent and
difficult problem for that relationship has turned out to be the
president`s expression of sympathy with the grievances of white
supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered for a rally and ultimately a riot
in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president proclaiming sympathy with
their grievances and solidarity with them over their affection for the
Confederacy, his declaration that some of those guys were very fine people,
that really has been a problem. Reportedly, it has been a problem for some
senior White House staff who are working for this president, although you
can take that as far as you can throw it since none of them have actually
resigned from the White House or threatened to resign in response to the
But congressional Republicans to have described this moment, this problem,
their discomfort with what the president said, they have described this or
sotto voce, as something that really bothered him, something that`s made
them feel like this presidency – maybe they`re not going to go to bat to
keep it going, if it comes right down to it. It`s been interesting how
much of a problem this has been, not just for the president`s standing, not
just for our soul as a nation, but specifically for his relationship with
Here`s what makes that supposed revulsion on the part of other Republicans,
that those comments from the president being a supposed breaking point.
Here`s what makes that at most a Shakespearean drama, at least a crock,
depending on how you look at it. White supremacist and neo-Nazis and white
nationalists did not start rebranding themselves as the alt-right because
Donald Trump got elected president. They didn`t also come into existence
because Donald Trump was elected president. The Heil Hitler, let`s make a
white homeland corner of America and white extremism, it didn`t suddenly
spring out of the toilet it usually lives in because this guy got elected.
But the white supremacist nightmare edge of American politics, they started
rebranding themselves as the alt-right years ago. And I hereby re-up for
discussion the fact tht well before this president moved on from reality
TV, it was the Republican Party in Congress before Trump that started to
insinuate these guys into otherwise mainstream Republican politics.
Don`t believe me? Watch this. This is what we did at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But we have to start tonight in Montana, at the headquarters of an
organization that likes to think of itself as America`s think-tank for the
white nationalist movement. They don`t like to say white supremacists
apparently. They like to say white nationalists. They think it sounds
better. You can judge for yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How stands for us?
RICHARD SPENCER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE: Have you
ever wondered why isn`t there an organization that works for us? From
African Americans to illegal immigrants, from lesbians to left-handers,
every ethnic and interest group has its own lobby or cultural foundation.
The exception, of course, is white Americans.
MADDOW: This is the white supremacist think – sorry – the white
nationalists think-tank group. They call themselves the National Policy
Institute. Their slogan, you can see at the top there: for our people, our
culture, our future. And when they say “our”, they are being really,
really specific about who they mean.
SPENCER: As long as whites continue to avoid and deny their own racial
identity, at a time when almost every other racial and ethnic category is
rediscovering and asserting its own, whites will have no chance to resist
This is our challenge. This is our calling. Won`t you join us?
MADDOW: So, if you poke around on the Website of the white supremacist,
white nationalist think-tank, you can kind of see how they`re trying to
update the whole racist image. So, yes, some of them are still kind of
skinhead looking guys but they wear suits you know some of them have hair.
But this is an old-school kind of thing this is you know no interbreeding
protect the sanctity of whiteness from the inferior races. It is exactly
what you think it is with somewhat improved haircuts.
If you dig into the fine print, in their online Web presence, you`ll find
that they`re not just an online group they do hold physical conferences and
events and things. They also maintain a P.O. box in Whitefish, Montana,
and it turns out that that is the exact same address, the exact same P.O.
box for this online racist forum.
And I saw a bunch of links to this today we`re all the Wayback Machine, I
thought maybe it was down. But no, it`s all still there it is called The
Alternative Right, and it`s an online racist forum. It describes itself as
being founded by the won`t you join us white power guy who you just saw in
the think tank video. This, for example, is their post on Holocaust
Remembrance Day this year, this past January.
They call it holocaust Amnesia Day, and under a picture of a pile of dead
bodies from the holocaust that says, I can`t believe that it`s crept up on
me again. Today I discover that today is Holocaust Memorial Day and I`m
fresh out of onions.
The author goes on to describe has decidedly mixed feelings about
commemorating a supposed historical event and then he goes on to
magnanimously propose that we leave aside for the moment the question of
whether this whole Holocaust thing actually happened.
So, this is the real deal, right? This is alternative right, which lives
in the same Whitefish, Montana, P.O. box as the white supremacist think-
tank. This resinous, filthy, dank racist little corner of the Internet is
relevant and is at the top of the news today because it is suddenly front
and center in super mainstream American politics.
This Aryan Nations supremacy of the races crock is directly linked to the
legislation that finally started getting its big markup in the United
States Senate today, after months of buildup. Starting immediately after
the presidential election, there`s all this talk that the Republican Party
was finally going to go along, or they were they were finally going to help
see into law reform of our nation`s royally screwed up immigration system.
The writing was on the wall, right? After losing the presidency again and
losing seats in the House and losing seats in the Senate, the writing was
on the wall, the Republican Party had to get right with Latinos at least
with Latino voters and the way it was going to do it was by supporting
immigration reform finally.
And even though the beltway narrative is supposedly that Republicans see
the light and Republicans support this now, it is really not clear that
enough Republicans do support it that it`s going to pass.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama introduced separate amendments
to the bill today and that is not because he`s trying to help it along.
And the most powerful conservative think-tank in the country is really,
really against it. The Heritage Foundation is leading the conservative
opposition to anything getting done to fix the immigration system, and this
is where the white supremacist problem comes in.
So, yesterday, it was Dylan Matthews at “The Washington Post” who looked up
the credentials of the people who wrote the anti-immigration reform study
for Heritage, and they found that one of the co-authors for the big
Heritage study on this issue did his doctoral dissertation on American
immigration policy and specifically on the question of how we should shape
our immigration policy to account for the fact that Latinos are so dumb as
a race, I`m only barely paraphrasing.
The dissertation describes Latino immigrants is generally having an IQ that
is, quote, substantially lower than that of the white native population.
Quote: Immigrants living in the U.S. today do not have the same level of
cognitive ability as natives. Quote: No one knows whether Hispanics will
ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic
immigrants will have low IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to
So, not only are Latinos intellectually inferior to whites but, of course,
they breed. It`s disgusting, right?
To be clear this guy with the thesis that white people are just naturally
smarter, he isn`t some temp that the Heritage Foundation just bumped into
and it turns out he has this embarrassing past. He has a titled position
at the Heritage Foundation. He`s a senior policy analyst for the Heritage
And even as they tried to disavow his dissertation as if that, oh, that`s
in his student past, that`s the one little problem with him. Today, we
learned thanks to some digging by Chris Moody at “Yahoo News” that this
guy`s whole record of public output is the same kind of stuff. I mean,
here`s another byline article from him. This one`s from March 2010. Model
minority? It`s kind of a rhetorical question you get the implication,
Quote: Hispanics are in fact substantially more likely than whites to
commit serious crimes. These findings are not due to age differences or
immigration violations or other statistical artifacts, the reality of
Hispanic crime should be one of the many factors we consider when setting
That`s not from some dissertation that somebody had to dig out of the
Harvard Library. That`s on the online machine, specifically that`s on the
online machine at alternativeright.com, the place where they are cutting up
onions to make themselves fake cry over the fake Holocaust, where
Republicans are becoming the party of misspelled burritos, where the
Whitefish, Montana Post Office box lives with this guy and where the
Heritage Foundation`s author of its immigration study is expounding on the
inherent criminality of these brown people who we really ought to consider
keeping out of this country.
And when the Heritage Foundation, when the nation`s leading conservative
think tank was considering hiring him his most recent public output, the
thing he was doing online the month before Heritage hired him was writing
about the racial inferiority and criminality of Latinos as a group, and
this is the world where the Heritage Foundation went to, to find an author
for their study of immigration reform.
And wouldn`t you know it, it turns out their study concludes that it is a
terrible idea to reform immigration because these immigrants and you know
who we mean, these immigrants and their children and inevitably their
grandchildren everybody in their bloodline, they are low achieving
parasites who will feed on the native-born population and that would be
very expensive it`s not at all fiscally responsible.
And we learned all of this today, about the character of the opposition to
immigration in this country, we learned about who is leading the Republican
charge against immigration reform on the day that immigration reform
finally gets introduced in the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was our coverage back in May 2013 of the long-standing white
supremacist movement in this country rebranding itself as the alt-right and
the Republican Party`s willingness to dance with them for political
purposes even then.
President Trump`s kind remarks about the white supremacists among us may be
making elected Republicans now proclaim their discomfort. But there is a
recent pass for Republicans to reckon with on this, a recent past of
Republicans and conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation really
opening the door to those groups before Donald Trump was even known to be a
Republican, let alone a Republican politician.
I should also tell you that report that Hispanics are parasites report and
therefore we shouldn`t let them into the country, that report is still
tonight proudly displayed on the Website of the Heritage Foundation, it`s
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Before Americans who were shell-shocked by the election had
started watching TV news again, this was quite soon after the election, a
lot of people were still really in shock. This was actually so soon after
the election that really even the presidential transition hadn`t really
even gotten up and running.
So, before Thanksgiving after the election this past year, there was a show
of force in Washington, D.C., but when you look back at it now, it rings
like a bell in terms of what it foreshadowed for this new presidency.
SPENCER: To be white is to be a striver, a crusader an explorer, and a
conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward, and we recognize the
central lie of American race relations. We don`t exploit other groups. We
don`t gain anything from their presence. They need us and not the other
Two weeks ago, I might have said the election of Donald Trump would
actually lessen the pressure on white Americans, but today, it is clear,
his election is only intensifying the storm of hatred and hysteria being
directed against us.
As Europeans, we are uniquely at the center of history. We are as Hagel
recognized the embodiment of world history itself. No one will honor us
for losing gracefully, no one mourns the great crimes committed against us.
For us, it is conquer or die. This is a –
This is a unique burden for the white man that our fate is entirely in our
hands and it is appropriate because within us, within the very blood and
our veins as children of the sun lies the potential for greatness. That is
the great struggle we are called to. We were meant to overcome – overcome
all of it because that is natural and normal for us.
Because for us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See what he did there? When we are great again, we European make
white people great again.
Also, did you notice the white people are children of the sun, do you
notice that line from him? I mean, I would just – I`m no expert – but I
would think that children of the sun would be more tan, you know what I`m
saying? This was not a tan group.
But now that we`ve got this new president-elect, this is the new cycle on
the Monday of Thanksgiving week because this is part of our national
politics now with this new president-elect and with the way he got elected
and with who he is bringing with him to Washington, this is the kind of
thing that we`re all getting used to covering now. And so, honestly, the
view from inside today`s news cycle, you know, trying to figure out how to
do an evening news show about what`s going on in politics and in our
country right now, had to today include a big serious, not at all self-
conscious earnest and debate inside news organizations about whether the
white supremacist who gathered to celebrate the election of this new
president they love, there was a huge debate today about whether when they
got together, they were saying Heil Trump or whether they were saying hail
Trump. It was a big debate today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPENCER: Because for us as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are
great again. Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Big discussion today within the news business as to whether that
was Heil, like German, or was that hail which is English and is that.
So, that was the sort of first part of the news day, trying to figure out
how to cover that. And then late this afternoon, we got tape of that event
from a different angle which I think settled conclusively the question of
Heil versus hail. We got this better camera angle where you see the guy at
the podium saying hail Trump, but then you take the wide shot and you can
then see how the room reacted. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPENCER: Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Gathered in that room responding to hail Trump with the straight-
arm Hitler style salute. There`s no use arguing about what`s going on
there, and what particular vowel that genius bought at the end of his
All right. It`s not just like one guy in the room doing this is a joke.
It`s kind of cropping up all over the room. And once you see those salutes
with your own eyes, you know, I`m not no longer all that hung up on whether
they`re saying hail in English or Heil in German, they know what they mean
and we do, too.
The leader of this children of the son, white people are the center of
history, conquer or die convention, NBC News called him tonight much to his
deep delight and he told them that his mission as he sees it is to
professionalize this movement that he`s part of, so that they will have
more influence in this country. And so, yes, maybe there was some Heil
Trump, people given Nazi salutes and all that, but he told NBC News tonight
that people were giving that salute in that room in response to the cries
of hail Trump simply out of, in his words, out of exuberance. So, we
therefore shouldn`t read too much into it.
You know, we know this kind of stuff exists in our country. It`s always
existed in our country under one rock or another. This specific guy giving
the hail Trump speech that earned all this straight-arm salutes, we`ve
actually covered him on and off over the years on this show because every
once in a while, in real politics, real politics butts up against the guys
like him who are literally trying to turn America into a whites-only ethno
state. We`ve been covering this guy on and off for a few years.
What we`re not used to is covering the whites-only ethno state guy as a
relevant part of our presidential politics which is what it has now become.
And because the followers of this white nationalist, white supremacist
racist agenda came into this D.C. conference on Saturday from all over the
country, that does mean that folks with this agenda or out there all over
the country, and we know from what`s just happened in presidential politics
that they are feeling super-empowered by what just happened in this
election and they feel like they`ve got a guy at the top.
MADDOW: They feel like they`ve got a guy at the top and the new
administration soon took steps to prove them right. This whole thing, this
did not come out of nowhere. More ahead.
MADDOW: Before the current presidency, we spent a long time on this show,
years really, covering extremism, and covering extremist politics in the
United States. And in particular, we spent a lot of time tracking the
surprising inroads made by extremists into the political right, into what
passed for normal conservative politics even – into even what passed for
normal Republican politics.
But when Donald Trump brought in to run his campaign, the purveyor of a
conservative Website that called itself the platform for the alt-right, we
knew then that the far-right had taken those mainstream – had taken those
mainstream inroads to all new territory.
This summer at the Republican National Convention, Steve Bannon told
reporters Sarah Posner at “Mother Jones,” that at his old job running a
website called Breitbart.com, he had created, quote, the platform for the
alt-right. Alt-right is, of course, a euphemistic term that has not been
around very long. Breitbart.com interestingly, under Steve Bannon, they
ran a long, sympathetic profiler, self-explainer, last year, where they
described the constituent parts of the alt-right movement and its leading
Again, Steve Bannon describes his own Website, describes breitbart.com as
the platform for the alt-right. In their explainer about what the alt-
right is, the Breitbart Website describes this guy with the trendy haircut
as the, quote, center of alt-right thought.
This is a man named Richard Spencer who we`ve also covered a number of
times on this show. Richard Spencer and other leading lights of the alt-
right movement, they held their own press conference in September in
Washington, D.C., to clarify for everybody what the alt-right is and what
they stand for.
Steve Bannon at Breitbart.com had given the alt-right all of this new
publicity, all of this attention that comes with having somebody who
represents you who says they run the platform for the alt-right, having
them operating at such a high-level of national politics, right?
Steve Bannon, new senior counsel to the president elect, describes himself
as having created the online platform for the alt-right. So, that
platform, his publication describes, Richard Spencer is at the center of
alt-right thought. Richard Spencer freely admits that his goal as the
center of the alt-right thought, his goal is to create a whites-only
homeland in the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER BRIMELOW: Richard is probably the most radical of any of the three
of us here. He just said he wants to a white homeland. A white identity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A lot of mainstream publications today are having a hard time
coming up with the right way to describe who is going to be this Karl Rove
figure in the Trump White House – the senior counselor who President-elect
Trump has named to be his top adviser and, again, they are being explicit,
equal in status with the White House chief of staff.
You can sort of feel, viscerally feel the discomfort in the Beltway media
referring to him as a white nationalist, or a person who comes from the
white nationalist corner of conservative media and conservative propaganda.
But that really is true. That is documented. That is in his own terms the
way he has characterized his own work, up until the point where he left it
to go run the Trump campaign.
MADDOW: Steve Bannon, of course, has now left the Trump administration.
He`s back at “Breitbart”, the platform for the alt-right. But if the
current proclaimed discomfort between elected Republicans and this
president on issues of white supremacy and his coziness with that faction
of white extremism in America, that didn`t come out of nowhere. That
behavior on the part of the president is part of something that`s been
brewing for a long time, it`s part of a plan and it`s a plan that has a
deep, deep past, as well as a scary future. And that`s next. Stay with
MADDOW: In 1915, Woodrow Wilson became the first president to screen an
American movie at the White House. It was a movie based on a book that had
been written by the president`s old college buddy, Thomas Dixon Jr. It was
a movie called “The Birth of a Nation”. “Birth of a Nation” was a
sensation at the time in part because of the president`s high-profile
endorsement of it and praise of it. It was also a landmark cultural moment
for American white supremacy.
“Birth of a Nation” is an epic and false depiction of slavery in the civil
war, one were the emotional climax of the film what`s supposed to be the
cathartic get up from your seats and cheer moment is when the Ku Klux Klan
rides in to save the day.
After he screened “Birth of a Nation” at the White House, President Wilson
was reported to have said, quote: It`s like writing history with lightning
and my only regret is that it is also terribly true. That quote has since
been disputed by some historians, but President Wilson`s endorsement of
“Birth of a Nation” screening at the White House that year, that was an
early sign of the Klans soon to be resurgence not just in American
terrorism but in American politics. And that story`s ahead, no pun
intended. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The Democratic Party needed to pick a presidential nominee to run
against Calvin Coolidge and they knew it was going to be hard. Coolidge
was fairly popular. He had become president when Warren Harding keeled
over and died in office. Harding`s Vice President was Coolidge. That`s
how Coolidge got to be president in the first place.
As president, Coolidge was pretty widely-liked. He was overseeing a pretty
good economy. He was running basically as an incumbent to try to hold on
to that seat, and the Democrats knew that Coolidge was going to be hard to
beat in 1924. They knew they had two frontrunners for the nomination.
One was a Democrat named Al Smith who was very popular, was the governor of
New York at the time. His chief rival for the nomination that year was a
guy named William Gibbs McAdoo. McAdoo was originally from Tennessee he
ultimately became a senator from California. In the Woodrow Wilson
administration, McAdoo was secretary of the treasury.
And he pulled off the major coup of marrying President Wilson`s daughter
while Wilson was president and while McAdoo was serving as the secretary of
treasury. They held the wedding at the White House. It was a big society
deal. He was a very high profile secretary of the treasury to say the
So, McAdoo is the son-in-law of the former president. He himself is a
former treasury secretary. He is a senator. He is very rich. He`s got
ties both to the West and to the South. He`d been the vice chairman of the
Democratic Party. He was very, very, very well-connected.
And McAdoo had one ace in the hole. He had a secret weapon, which is that
he also had the Klan.
This is 1924. Ku Klux Klan was absolutely ascendant in that part of the
1920s. The racist seminal film “Birth of A Nation”, that glorified the
Klan, that film had come out in 1915, and swept the nation, and it helped
revivify the Klan from its old days in the Civil War era and the
The Klan got even more wind in their sails when they became one of major
powers pushing for Prohibition. Looking back on Prohibition, it seems like
one of the more unlikely things in American history we ever as a country
would have decided, right, to ban alcohol as a country, really, we decided
But an unsung but important part of why that happened was the Klan
supporting Prohibition. And by the time the Democratic Party was making
this hard choice about who they`re going to pick to be their nominee for
president in 1924, the Klan thought it should have a say. The Klan was big
enough, confident enough, widespread enough in terms of their reach that
they really thought that they should get to make the call as to who the
Democratic Party would pick for their presidential nominee that year.
And again, the two front runners for the nomination that year were that guy
William Gibbs McAdoo and Al Smith. And you know what? For the Klan, that
was a really easy pick because Al Smith was a Catholic. And the Klan was
as anti-Catholic as they were anti-Semitic and anti-black. So, they`re not
going to pick Al Smith. The Klan went all in for Williams Gibbs McAdoo.
And the Klan ended up being absolutely central to the fight for the
presidential nomination that year. An anti-McAdoo delegate from Alabama of
all places put forward a plank for the party platform that year that would
have condemned the Klan, denounced the Klan. The fights over whether or
not to approve the anti-Klan plank for the party platform absolutely
convulsed the convention that summer. They were literally fighting in the
aisles. They at one point called in a thousand policemen to break up the
brawling on the floor of the convention.
Ultimately, the anti-Klan plank and the party platform, it was voted down.
It was voted down by one vote.
Politico.com did a retro report on this a little more than a year ago and
resurfaced this old headline from the contemporaneous coverage. As you can
see, it`s “The Baltimore Sun”: Anti-Klan Plank loses by 541 3/20ths of a
vote to 542 3/20ths of a vote. Riotous scenes marked the roll call. And
you see just below that, little blurry, but you can see it there, bedlam
over the Klan. Second poll is required to settle the question on this Klan
And then, actually, in the little chart there in the third column, it`s the
list of all of the people at the convention and who voted how on the Klan
plank. It was that big of a deal. So, it failed by one vote.
And when the anti-Klan – so the pro-Klan side won, right? When the anti-
Klan plank lost by that one vote, 20,000 masked hooded Klansmen rallied
across the Hudson River in New Jersey to mark the moment. They didn`t
think they would be able to rally in New York, not with their robes and
their mask. They crossed over to New Jersey and they showed force, 20,000
They had an effigy of New York Governor Al Smith, that Catholic, they had
an effigy of Al Smith at their rally, and they beat it up and tore it
But then the convention had to move on to picking its nominee. That
convention dragged on and on and on in the July heat in Madison Square
Garden. That thing went on for 16 days with thousands of people in there
and no air conditioning and the fights and the cops and they kept going
ballot after ballot after ballot. Famously, that one ultimately went to
103 ballots, a record.
And in the end, they couldn`t decide. The Democrats finally in the end,
exhausted, they picked neither of their two candidates. They did not pick
William McAdoo nor did they pick Al Smith. They couldn`t figure it out.
They ended up throwing in the towel. They picked some other guy named John
Davis who nobody knew and basically had no constituency. They were
absolutely spent from their fight with the Klan and over the Klan that
summer in New York.
They ran this guy John Davis half-heartedly. He got trounced. Coolidge
won the election. Coolidge sworn in in March of 1925.
And the Klan, having flexed its muscles that way in national politics in
the lead up to the election, Coolidge wasn`t their guy. They wanted a
Democrat in there. But they decided that once Coolidge was in there, it
was time for them to make another show of political power. And this time
they didn`t want to make it within one political party, particularly a
political party out of power. This time, they wanted to flex their muscles
on the national stage.
This picture is from August 1925. This is during the first year of Calvin
Coolidge`s presidency after the election of 1924. Michael Beschloss
tweeted this out today. And those aren`t like choir robes, right? Those
are Klan robes, the Ku Klux Klan marching in full hoods and robes down
Pennsylvania Avenue, right through the heart of Washington, D.C. That was
their show of national force in 1925.
And then a year later, they decided to come back and do it again, this
time, even bigger. In the fall of 1926, September of 1926, the Ku Klux
Klan held their conclave, their national conclave in Washington, D.C.,
second time they rallied thousands strong in D.C. in two straight years.
When they turned up in 1926, they turned out 50,000, masked, robed Klansmen
who marched in formation through Washington, D.C.
Most of these pictures are from the Library of Congress. No matter how
many times I`ve seen them, no matter how many times I have gone through
these pictures, I have a hard time believing that that show of Klan force
in Washington, D.C., I still have a hard time believing it`s real. But
that was real. That was 1926, 50,000 Klansmen marching in Washington, D.C.
In May of 1927, a thousand Klansmen and some assorted fascists marched in
Queens, in New York City and they ultimately rioted and fought with police.
Nobody was killed.
There was a lot of news coverage of it at the time, which survives, both
from “The New York Times,” from “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle”, from a few
other papers. The police commissioner at the time made a point of telling
the public that this was kind of a landmark moment for the Klan in New York
City. It`s not that he didn`t know that the Klan was active in New York
City. It`s just that New York City had never before seen a thousand
Klansmen turn out in the streets in robes and masks like they did in May
According to news reports at the time, there were seven men who were
arrested at that Klan march in New York, one of them was Fred Trump, who is
the father of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has previously responded to reporting about this incident by
saying it never happened, never happened. Never happened. The whole thing
is made up.
But there is contemporaneous news coverage that both describes and shows
pictures of that mass Klan march, including Klansmen marching in New York
City in hoods and robes and his father`s name does show up as one of the
arrestees from that March.
And the sins of the father are not the sins of the son, for anybody. But
that is not a reason to ignore history and pretend that everything that`s
happening in our lifetimes is happening for the first time. I mean, we
think of the Klan now in terms of its role as a terrorist organization
during Reconstruction, during Jim Crow, during the civil rights eras in the
We think of the Klan and their attendant modern white supremacist groups as
a magnet for toothless losers and con artists and small-time violent thugs
and some people who are just legitimately freaking nuts. But it`s not
ancient history, it`s not even ancient family history to recognize that the
white supremacist movement in this country, which persists decade after
decade after decade, their goals have never been to just exist on the
fringe as some sort of kooky throwback peanut gallery for parolees, right?
I mean, their goals and their expectations have always been that they
should exert real mainstream political power, that they should get to pick
the president, at least they should get to pick who runs. I mean, what is
unpredictable now is that we don`t know what to expect from those groups
going forward now that it`s a modern president who appears to be picking
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you say the alt-right,
define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me. Come
on. Let`s go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McCain defined them as the same groups –
TRUMP: OK, what about the alt-left that came charging in? Excuse me.
What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-
right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all those people
were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there
because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E.
So, excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see –
and you know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you`re
not. But many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the
statue of Robert E. Lee.
So, this week, it`s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is
coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas
Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself,
where does this stop?
But they were there to protest – excuse me. You take a look at the night
before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert
REPORTER: Heather Heyer –
REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in
Charlottesville, protesting –
TRUMP: Excuse me. You had some very bad people in that group. But you
also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people
in that group – excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you
You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of
– to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from
Robert E. Lee to another name. You had many people in that group other
than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them
REPORTER: We`re saying that the press treated white nationalists unfairly?
I don`t understand what you`re saying.
TRUMP: No. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night
before, if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking
down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. You had a lot of people in that group
that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After the president`s remarks today praising the white supremacist
gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, this became another
one of those days where there was condemnation of the president from
Democrats and observers, there was mild condemnation of the president from
members of his own political party.
It was an interesting thing that happened late this afternoon, early this
evening when some White House officials tried to distance themselves from
the president`s remarks as well, at least one senior official anonymously
telling NBC News that members of the president`s team were stunned by the
president`s words today. This one senior White House official telling
reporters, telling NBC News that the president went rogue, that there was
no expectation among the White House staff that the president was going to
make remarks on this subject at all.
And as much as some White House official might want us to believe that,
it`s clear that that account is not true. “The Associated Press” caught
this high resolution shot of the president folding up notes clearly about
the white supremacist rally and sticking them into his suit jacket pocket
before he started taking questions on this today.
The president was not there to talk about infrastructure today. He was
obviously intending as well to talk about this matter today. He had
prepared to talk about this matter today.
This was a lot of things today. It was not apparently a mistake. And at
some point, it`s going to have to stop being treated as a surprise.
I mean, this was not the president accidentally blundering into something
that inadvertently sounded like sympathy for people with unpopulated
political views, right?
I mean, this is on purpose. This is what it was meant to be, the president
building up and trying to center up in American politics a longstanding
force in white American politics and culture that we have been trained to
think of as a fringe thing. But it does have a very long history and it
does have real force.
The president is not messing up here. He did not trip and accidentally
praise white supremacists and neo-Nazis and pro-confederate demonstrators
who actually killed somebody this weekend. This was not a screw up.
What he is building back up is something that was a long-standing force for
political power and terror in this country for generations and he is now
doing what he can to help them come back. And partisan affiliations come
and go, right? The party having the huge fight over the Klan in 1924 was
the party of the Civil Rights Act by 1964. Parties change, party
affiliations change, ideological alliances come and go, candidates come and
go to the point that we can`t even remember the names of most presidential
candidates not too long down the road in history.
But whether you voted for Trump or not, whether you have any partisan
affiliation or not, whether your own family has ever lived through the
terror that is this persistent, fascistic, violent, racist element of
American culture, this persistent, fascistic, violent, racist element in
American culture and politics is a real thing that we have lived through
before as a country. And it waxes and wanes but it has never really gone
And now, the president, working overtly as president is doing what he can
to bring it back and build it up. And so far, honestly, it`s working.
Head`s up. This is not a mistake. He is not screwing this up.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. Thank you for being with us tonight.
Do not turn off your TV, Lawrence O`Donnell and the great Bill Moyers are
up next. “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL” starts right now.
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