I was troubled by Laura McPhee’s recent article, and more so by its responses, including those from Robert S. Corya and Robert Van Buskirk printed on March 21 (“Evangelical Lobbyist Eric Miller: The Most Powerful Man in the Statehouse,” March 7-14).
McPhee seems to draw from research by Leonord J. Moore, who in his award-winning work Citizen Klansmen employed quantitative data to explain the presence of the Klan in 1920s Indiana. But I believe that McPhee has missed the whole point of Moore’s work, and has ignored even newer historical research. Whereas McPhee inherently connects the Klan’s racism to religion, Moore, and other historians like him, shows that the Hoosier Klan was too complex for the black and white palette McPhee paints from.
In fact, Moore demonstrates that the Klan’s membership consisted of far more than those who identified themselves as religious. Intelligent, progressive, liturgical Christians, and even non-religious people in Indiana were on the Klan’s rosters and actively involved. For the most part, the only groups not participating in the Klan were the obvious ones: Jews, Catholics, minorities and immigrants. Unless a 1920s Laura McPhee were among one of these groups, she most likely would have considered the Klan a good thing. Even NUVO’s very own anti-corporatism, however commendable, would have strongly resonated with the populist message of the 1920s Klan.
McPhee’s article is just as dangerous as the simplified ideals of the modern fundamentalists she is accusing. By marginalizing the Klan to a segment of the population, McPhee and others (cf. Corya, Buskirk) can blame evil on something they are not a part of. While the Klan did incorporate fundamentalist Christianity into its ideology, the movement was also part of a larger social context that extended beyond religion, and is therefore a history we all must bear. Washing our hands of an anachronistic interpretation of the past will not solve anything.