It didn't take long for America's first blockbuster feature film to produce its first creepy fan subculture. Right before the Atlanta debut of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, an epic that glorified the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan, William Joseph Simmons and 11 others celebrated Thanksgiving by burning a cross atop Stone Mountain and declaring the KKK reborn. A week later, on December 4, 1915, they received a charter from the state of Georgia for their new organization, dubbed The Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc.
The parallels with contemporary Star Wars or LOTR fans is too precious to ignore.
Being a Libertarian, of course the author has to bash some of the Klan's more moralistic strains:
Race may have been paramount in other parts of the South, but in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, wrote Alexander, the Klan's activities "indicated a strikingly small amount of hostility to Negroes." Instead, the "Klansman's conception of reform encompassed efforts to preserve premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and respect for parental authority; to compel obedience of state and national prohibition laws; to fight the postwar crime wave; and to rid state and local governments of dishonest politicians." These Klansmen were more likely to flog you for bootlegging or breaking your marriage vows than for being black or Jewish.
One of my great-grandfathers made it into family lore for kicking the Klan out of his yard when they tried to burn a cross on it. This of course brings to mind the image of an old-timer yelling "Damn kids, get off my lawn!" but the Klan in Denver was quite intimidating and politically powerful for a time. Thomas Noel reports one incident in Arvada not too far from my great-grandparents' home:
The Shrine of St. Anne also attracted the hooded eyes of the Ku Klux Klan, which met on nearby Hackberry Hill. These spooks burned crosses in front of the shrine and harrassed Walter Grace, the first pastor. The Klan and its sympathizers took glee in charging Father Grace with forging an altar wine permit and serving wine socially during the prohibition era, for which he served two years in prison.
In August 1925, several thousand Klansmen marched through the streets of Arvada. In reply, thousands of Catholics led by the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name societies from throughout Denver countermarched from Regis College to St. Anne's for an outdoor Mass. Shortly afterwards, the Klan collapsed.
I've fancied putting together a parade to follow the old KofC route to mark the centennial and to celebrate the Klan's demise. I still have twenty years to plan a dance on the Kluxer's grave.