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Library of hate: KKK, racist writings join university collection

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“U.S. GOVERNMENT INITIATES OPEN WARFARE AGAINST AMERICAN PEOPLE,” blared one headline.

“DAUGHTERS OF CONFEDERACY UNDER ATTACK,” warned another.

“DEATH TO ZOG!” urged a third — referring to Zionist Occupation Government.

This is not the mainstream media. The articles — racist, anti-Semitic, paranoid and illustrated with an array of swastikas and Ku Klux Klan hoods — were collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which researches extremist movements in the United States.

Last week, the center donated 90 boxes of mostly far-right publications — collected from across the country over the last three decades — to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.

The collection is a toxic trove of the radical utterances that rarely make news in the United States, but which have long bubbled in the distant background of contemporary American politics.

“There’s just some stunning, stunning things in there,” Will Hansen, assistant curator of collections at the Rubenstein library, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

Every movement needs a way to speak to itself — to set goals, to create mythologies and to win converts — and so media regularly serves as extremism's megaphone.

Hitler's “Mein Kampf” inspired thousands. Sayyid Qutb's writings on jihad moved Osama bin Laden. “Turner Diaries,” William Luther Pierce's novel about a future race war, became a touchstone for America's radical right.

But for every landmark work, hundreds of lesser-known books, pamphlets and newsletters help define the inner life of radical movements.

The breadth of the collection, Hansen said, reveals the “seedy underbelly” of American life from the past 30 years, often from publications intended for groups' own members and not the outside world.

“There are some really stunning images from anti-Semitic groups — stereotypical images of Jewish people that turn up again and again, some really homemade kinds of printings of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ — these things that we really thought would have been over after World War II but continued to surface over and over again,” Hansen said.

“Protocols,” a famously anti-Semitic publication from around 1900 that was later proven fake, claimed to reveal Jewish plans to rule the world.

The collection, which has now been added to the Rubenstein library’s Human Rights Archive, includes the 155th issue of the Klansman, “published by the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” The headline brags “KU KLUX KLAN EXPERIENCING NEW GROWTH; Organization Booming in Pennsylvania.”

A newsletter called the Oklahoma Excalibur billed itself as “A Sword Of White Aryan Resistance,” and fetched $2 for one issue or $15 for a year's subscription.

Several publications apparently favored printing headlines entirely in uppercase letters, as in “THE TRUTH ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA” and “KLANSMAN REGISTERS WHITES IN ALABAMA.”

“America's Porous Borders,” one headline blares, adding, “Why don't we call it an ‘invasion’?”

The collection bears a resemblance to the Hall-Hoag Collection of Extremist Literature in the United States at Brandeis University, an assemblage of 5,000 radical publications stretching from 1948 to 1984.

Since then, white supremacist attitudes in the United States has not faded away, and the new papers reflect a historical shift in ultraconservative thinking, Mark Potok, a senior fellow for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Times.

“Basically, it’s covering the period in which the American radical right moves from an essentially restorationist movement to a revolutionary one,” Potok said; in other words, supremacists who are looking for radical change instead of trying to “bring back the good old days.”

“By the '70s and certainly the '80s, these groups were becoming increasingly desperate and that they could not win anymore, at least not in any conventional way. They couldn’t win through demonstrations or demonstrations in Washington,” Potok said.

The writings of that period, Potok said, reflect the concept of “leaderless resistance,” a tactical shift for extremists who use violence.

The idea holds that “if you’re going to be blowing up buildings or shooting people, don’t be a part of a major group” that can be broken up in a single racketeering prosecution, Potok said. He added that this idea helped give rise to “lone wolf” extremists.

Such materials are often useful to scholars who might not have access to members of extremist movements or their materials.

There are “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of books on the Klan, but few quote from the Klan’s actual materials, Potok said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center had been holding the materials in storage in Montgomery, Ala., and agreed to donate the materials when the Duke library asked about obtaining the collection.

“A lot of people see this as fairly unpleasant to deal with, but nevertheless, it’s documentation of these groups that we might not otherwise be able to get,” the library's Hansen said, adding, “It’s the main way we have to document what the operations of the groups were, what kind of people they were targeting, the kinds of people they would try to recruit.”

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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