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 Congress.
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 president`s remarks.
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 other Republicans.
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 their dispossession.
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 argue against.
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 Foundation.
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, right?
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 immigration policy.
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 still there.
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 way around.
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 again.
(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 speech.
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 thinkers.
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 us.
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 least.
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 Reconstruction era.
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 that?
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 question.
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 of them.
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 apart.
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 1927.
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 South.
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 them.
(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. Lee.
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 E. Lee.
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 did.
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 absolutely unfairly.
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 away.
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.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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