Fact Checkers Cover for Democratic Party’s Sordid History With the Ku Klux Klan

Agresti, A., & Agresti, J. D. (2022, July 29). Fact Checkers Cover for Democratic Party’s Sordid History With the Ku Klux Klan. Retrieved from https://www.justfactsdaily.com/fact-checkers-cover-democratic-partys-sordid-history-ku-klux-klan
Agresti, Anna, and Agresti, James D. “Fact Checkers Cover for Democratic Party’s Sordid History With the Ku Klux Klan.” Just Facts. 29 July 2022. Web. 19 June 2024.<https://www.justfactsdaily.com/fact-checkers-cover-democratic-partys-sordid-history-ku-klux-klan>.
Chicago (for footnotes)
Anna Agresti, and James D. Agresti, “Fact Checkers Cover for Democratic Party’s Sordid History With the Ku Klux Klan.” Just Facts. July 29, 2022. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/fact-checkers-cover-democratic-partys-sordid-history-ku-klux-klan.
Chicago (for bibliographies)
Agresti, Anna, and Agresti, James D. “Fact Checkers Cover for Democratic Party’s Sordid History With the Ku Klux Klan.” Just Facts. July 29, 2022. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/fact-checkers-cover-democratic-partys-sordid-history-ku-klux-klan.

By Anna Agresti and James D. Agresti
July 29, 2022

During a June 7th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on white supremacy and domestic terrorism, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz stated that:

  • the Ku Klux Klan “was formed by elected Democrats.”
  • Klan “leadership was almost entirely elected Democrats.”
  • today’s Democrats “try very hard to erase the history” of their party’s involvement with the Klan.
  • today’s Democrats “politicize acts of violence.”

Conversely, “fact checkers” like PolitiFact and the Associated Press have repeatedly argued that the Democratic Party did not found the Klan, played a limited role in it, and that racist southerners fled to the Republican Party after 1964.

In reality, Cruz’s statements are a much closer reflection of the facts.

Origins & Leadership

The AP and PolitiFact correctly state that the Klan was started by a group of Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee as a non-violent, grassroots social club without political motivations.

What the AP and PolitiFact fail to acknowledge is that the Klan’s 1865–66 founding as a social club does not mark the beginning of the Klan as it is known today. Per the 1971 academic book White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction, the “real beginning” of the “Ku Klux conspiracy” occurred at an 1867 meeting in Nashville that consolidated the Klan.

As explained by an 1884 book written by a founding member of the Klan, this meeting bound the “isolated dens together” with “unity of purpose and concert of action” to supposedly reign in rogue Klansmen that had turned violent toward black people just a year after the group’s founding. However, White Terror points out that if Klan leaders really wanted to eliminate violence, they would have disbanded altogether. Instead, they sought “tighter organization” and recruited leaders “of far greater prestige and authority whose influence extended throughout the state”—primarily ex-Confederate generals and Democratic politicians.

An investigation published by the Illinois General Assembly in 1976 explains that after the Klan “transformed into a political organization,” violence became more widespread under Democrat leadership. The men that guided the Klan’s reorganization and subsequent growth included:

However, the Illinois investigation also found that “central control over the actions of the various local Klan groups did not really exist,” and some of the figureheads above began “dropping out” to distance themselves from local terrorism. For example, Nathan Bedford Forest ordered the Klan disbanded in 1869 because he claimed a “few disobedient and bad men” had infiltrated the Klan, disgracing its “good name and honorable reputation.”

On the other hand, some prominent Democrats remained loyal to the Klan’s violent activities. For example, Fredrick Strudwick led a Klan attempt to assassinate a Republican state senator and was later elected as a Democrat to the North Carolina state legislature.

Likewise, the Red Shirts—a “paramilitary extension” of the Democratic Party and essentially the “Klan in a different uniform”—attacked a black militia in 1867 for refusing to surrender their guns to the leader of another militia that “had no legal right” to the weaponry. One participating Red Shirt leader named “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman became the Democratic Governor of South Carolina and a U.S. Senator. He recalled what became known as the Hamburg Massacre (in Edgefield county) with pride:

  • White men in Edgefield planned “to seize upon the first opportunity” to “provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson” because they believed that “nothing but bloodshed and a good deal of it” could succeed in “redeeming the state from negro and carpet bag rule.”
  • The goal “of our visit to Hamburg was to strike terror,” and “seven dead negros lying stark and stiff, certainly had its effect.”
  • The massacred black people were “offered up as a sacrifice to the fanatical teachings and fiendish hate of those who sought to substitute the rule of the African for that of the Caucasian in South Carolina.”

The AP reports that “many” Democrats joined the Klan, and PolitiFact reports “some” did and that Nathan Forest spoke at a Democratic National Convention, but this is the extent of their admissions of Democrats’ membership in the Klan.

Media Whitewashing

Even though some individual Democrats denounced the violence of the Klan, Democratic politicians and their media allies consistently covered up for it.

A 2011 paper in The Journal of Southern History explains that Democratic newspapers published “blanket denials” of the Klan’s existence “during and after its most active period of violence.” This is exemplified by the New York Tribune’s criticism of Democratic papers in 1868 for dismissing the Klan as a “mythical maggot of distempered Republican brains.” Democratic politicians followed suit, including:

  • Democratic Governor Robert Lindsay, who testified before Congress in 1871 that “reported outrages by Ku-Klux or disguised persons had ceased for the last two years” in Alabama.
  • former Democratic Governor John Stevenson who claimed in 1871 that there was “no evidence” of “any secret political organization” in Kentucky.

Such denials were pervasive throughout the Democratic Party and media. As documented by White Terror:

  • “Most Democrats asserted that no regular or continuing Ku Klux organization existed in their counties, or in the state,” and they “denied even more vehemently that the disguised bands were politically motivated.”
  • “Few Democrats were willing to admit the Klan’s political character and purpose.”
  • “The Democratic press in Louisiana played its familiar role as Klan apologist.”
  • “Democratic newspapers continued to ignore violence more than they condemned it.”
  • The “only native whites who stood out in significant numbers against the Klan” were Republicans.

In 1871, a Congressional committee exposed the Klan’s mass terror and called for federal intervention in the South. Congressional Democrats pushed back, issuing their own report which stated that:

  • it is “folly and madness” to claim that “any country can prosper where the Anglo-Saxon is made politically subordinate to the African.”
  • government cannot “long exist ‘half black and half white.’ ”
  • the disguised men perpetrating violence in the South do not “have any general organization, or any political significance” and their conduct is not “indorsed by any respectable number” of white people.

“Terrorist Arm of the Democratic Party”

In direct contrast to the claims of Democratic politicians and the media that the Klan had no “political significance,” Klansmen used violence and intimidation to serve the interests of the Democratic party.

For example, a black resident of Alabama named Robert Fullerlove testified before Congress (along with other Klan victims) that Klansmen interrogated black people about their political beliefs and promised to leave them alone if they “would come over to the democratic side.”

The Klan also made frequent death threats to Republican speakers and officials. One Republican state official testified that the “sheriff and clerk, to save their lives, have declared themselves democrats.”

One Democrat from South Carolina testified that members of the Democrat Party in Abbeville County:

  • were organized into clubs which appointed secret “committees.”
  • ordered these committees to seize and destroy Republican ballots by force prior to the election.
  • prevented about four hundred blacks from voting Republican at the Greenwood polling precinct.
  • generally understood that Republican speakers should be shot, killed, or stopped from speaking.
  • were “nearly all” part of the Ku Klux Klan.

White Terror—which contains over 1,000 footnotes—summarizes the Democratic Party’s involvement with the Klan as follows:

  • “The Klan became in effect a terrorist arm of the Democratic party, whether the party leaders as a whole liked it or not.”
  • “Nearly all members” viewed the Klan “as a secret political society in behalf of the Democratic party.”
  • The “Klan itself was universally regarded as a Democratic political device.”
  • Some activities were “obviously and almost exclusively political,” and the Klan “systematically” terrorized “Republicans of both races.”

PolitiFact quotes one historian who stated that some Klans were a “strong arm” for local elected Democrats, and the AP’s choice historian reports that the Klan did not “have ideological motives until later.” Once again, these gentle nods to reality downplay the full extent of the Klan’s political activities.

Not the Party of Today

PolitiFact also uses an unsupported claim from a history professor to spread the common canard that racist southerners fled “into the Republican party” after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. This claim is belied by the facts that:

  • 80% of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as compared to only 65% of Democrats, giving racist Democrats no reason to switch parties.
  • 20 of the 21 Democrats who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 remained in the Democratic Party for their entire congressional careers.
  • the main demographic of southerners who supported segregation, namely whites who lived in poor areas with large black populations, continued to vote for Democrats at about the same rates.
  • Republicans won 44% of Southern electoral votes in 1956, about the same as the 45% they won in 1968 after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • the portion of white Southerners who said they would be willing to vote for a black president increased from 8% in 1958 to 95% in 1999.

The long-term shift of Southern voters to the Republican Party actually correlates with massive declines in racism, growing prosperity, Democratic opposition to gun rights, and Democratic support of abortion up to birth.

PolitiFact emphasizes that “context matters” because the “anti-black Democratic Party” of yesterday is not the party of today. Yet, Senator Cruz is correct that modern Democrats are still sowing racial divisions for political gain, such as:


PolitiFact concludes its article by stating that “while some Democrats supported the KKK, there’s no evidence the group was founded by their political party,” and the AP briefly acknowledges that the Klan took on a “political tone.” These are gross understatements in light of the wide-ranging facts above, which are accurately summarized by Senator Cruz.

By fixating on the point that the Democratic Party did not create the club that first called itself the “Ku Klux Klan,” these so-called fact checkers distract readers from the facts that:

  • influential Democrats established and expanded the “real” Klan.
  • the Klan was “in effect a terrorist arm of the Democratic party” and used violence to stop people from voting Republican.
  • Democrats and newspapers repeatedly downplayed and denied the existence and brutality of the Klan.
  • modern Democrats continue to exploit interracial violence for political purposes.
  • August 2, 2022 at 2:21 PM

    Only true until the Democratic Party intentionally embraced the civil rights efforts of Blacks and other minorities. That’s when Nixon, et al, developed their “Southern Strategy” to co-opt white anger in the old Confederacy and give the bigots a Republican alternative.

    Don’t whitewash history.

    • October 11, 2022 at 12:09 AM

      Not true. Every single democrat voted against the civil right acts in 1964 and 65. You have been lied to. There was no southern strategy. The democrats were and are the racist party. They have lied since 1965 about this. Check. They voted against both. A democrat signed it into law because he was president, LBJ.

  • August 3, 2022 at 12:01 PM

    Not true. The Republicans were winning in the South with the advent of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. Moreover, the “Southern Strategy” is not what you thought it was/is. It was a way to peel off conservative voters turned off by Vietnam, Acid, and 1960s cultural liberalism and have them vote for Republicans, who were also more business-friendly than old-line Southern Democrats were.

    In fact, the “New South” was more Republican AS it became more diverse.

    Here’s a great article for you (and there are more):

  • August 3, 2022 at 12:10 PM

    And here’s another one for folks to read:

    “The myth that the GOP lost the black vote because of Goldwater’s opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which was passed on Republican support in Congress) does not stand up to scrutiny, and neither does the Democrats’ self-serving lie that the parties somehow “switched places” on civil rights in the 1960s.

    A few fun facts: The Republicans began to lose their hold on the black vote in the 1930s, not the 1960s, and the proximate cause was the New Deal, not civil-rights legislation — all of which, including the 1964 act, was passed on Republican support in the face of Democratic opposition. The majority of black Americans became Democrats by the 1940s, not in the 1950s or 1960s — Truman won nearly 80 percent of the black vote in 1948. The last Republican presidential nominee to win the black vote was Herbert Hoover. Fred Vinson, the chief obstacle to the Brown desegregation mandate, was the last chief justice appointed by a Democrat. And the Deep South did not abandon the Democrats after 1964: Republicans did not win a majority of southern congressional seats until the 1994 election, 30 years later. ”


  • August 3, 2022 at 12:20 PM

    Finally (for now), this is a good article by Mr. Williamson on Desegregation Before the 1954 Brown V Board decision. It was done in Arizona, and it was backed by….independent businessman *Barry Goldwater.* I think this is important history, so please, folks, read EVERY WORD* of the below, and then read the link and read every word of IT, too (please), and then contemplate our current history (and, thank you, Jim Agresti, for your wonderful site here):

    “The Ragsdales worked with the NAACP and the Arizona Council for Civic Unity/Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity to fight segregation in restaurants, theaters, and other public places in Phoenix, but the schools were the biggest target. When Lincoln was working to raise money for the NAACP for a lawsuit to integrate the schools, he turned to every possible source he could think of, including the conservative city councilman Barry Goldwater. To his surprise, Goldwater responded with a large check. What surprised him further was that Goldwater became a personal friend and political colleague of the couple, a “great inspiration,” in Lincoln’s words. The Ragsdales, Lincoln said, became the people to whom Goldwater brought “questions about how we felt about certain things, and we’d try to give him a very honest appraisal of it.” Goldwater supported most of the civil-rights legislation that preceded the famous 1964 act, which he opposed as unconstitutional. But as Ragsdale points out in Race Work, he also “helped make Tuskegee airman Chappie James a four-star general while he was in the Senate,” funded the school-integration lawsuit, and raised money to keep the Urban League solvent when it was on the verge of dissolution.

    But funding the lawsuit may have been the most important thing Goldwater did in his civil-rights career. As the historian Quintard Taylor of the University of Washington puts it: “Most historians characterize the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education as the death knell for de jure public school segregation. Yet a little-known legal victory by . . . the Arizona NAACP before the Arizona State Supreme Court in 1953 provided an important precedent for the ruling by the highest court in the land.” The NAACP had not been getting very far suing on behalf of black students, but it had made some progress with suits on behalf of Mexican-American students: A 1951 decision had outlawed segregating Hispanic students in the Tolleson School District, and Phoenix refused to comply with the new legal standard, so it was targeted for a lawsuit, too: one that would have ended racial discrimination against any student. At times, it must have seemed as if segregation in the schools was the cornerstone upon which all segregation stood. Lincoln Ragsdale thought so, and Taylor relates the sentiments of a Phoenix businessman who said: “As long as they attend separate schools, I won’t let them drink in my bar or sit in my theater.” With the support of Goldwater and others, the NAACP sponsored a series of rallies, protests, and fund-raising efforts in support of its litigation.

    The NAACP’s federal lawsuit went nowhere. Federal judge David Ling, another FDR appointee, threw the case out on the grounds that the state courts rather than the federal courts were the proper channel for the challenge. New litigation was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, seeking an end to racial discrimination against any student, and in 1953 — a year before Brown — segregation was declared illegal in Phoenix, with the presiding judge declaring: “A half century of intolerance is enough.” But Phoenix was the last major city in the west to end segregation of its own accord.

    Barry Goldwater was not the most important opponent of racial segregation in Arizona, nor was he the most important champion of desegregating the public schools. What he was was on the right side: He put his money, his political clout, his business connections, and his reputation at the service of a cause that was right and just. While he was doing all that, his eventual nemesis, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a low-rent practitioner of the most crass sort of racist politics, was gutting anti-lynching laws and assuring Democrats that he would offer those “uppity Negroes” “just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.”

    For more than a century, the Republican party had been the party of civil rights, of abolition, of emancipation, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and the NAACP did not represent a break from that tradition, but a continuation of it.”


  • March 6, 2023 at 5:57 PM

    In other words, the Democrats of the Klan are still the Democrats of today. Nothing to offer but racism, hate, violence, corruption and brutality. They’re exactly the same as they ever were.

  • October 27, 2023 at 5:17 PM

    The claim “the Ku Klux Klan “was formed by elected Democrats” is nakedly fabricated, since in 1865 Tennessee, political parties did not exist, and certainly elections didn’t either since 1860. This belies an appalling ignorance of one’s own history, but then Ted Cruz is Canadian.

    Most of this sorry wannabe page is a patchwork of Straw Man fallacies, amateurishly slapped together. As for Nathan Bedford Forrest the weasel wording attributes “first Grand Wizard” while deftly avoiding the context that he was drafted into the position, in absentia, and that his first and only official act in that office was to disband the KKK and order its paraphernalia destroyed in the presence of witnesses — and subsequently went on to champion the cause of opportunities for the freed slaves (and hired them himself). But nooooo, let’s go with the Composition Fallacy of “Memphis Alderman (Democratic)” …. in 1858.

    Some of these wags don’t seem to understand that history books are public material.

  • October 27, 2023 at 5:35 PM

    Not to mention, a cherrypicked list of obscure Democrats, with somehow no mention of: D.C. Stephenson, Republican/KKK political boss of Indiana, who caused the Klan membership to plummet after his brutal rape/murder scandal; Ed Jackson, Republican Governor same state, Rice Means, Republican Senator Colorado, Clarence Morley, Republican Governor Colorado; Owen Brewster, Republican Governor/Senator, Maine; Lawrence Phipps, Republican Senator Colorado; Kaspar Kubli, Republican state house speaker, Oregon; Ben Paulen, Republican Governor, Oklahoma; William Pine, Republican Senator Oklahoma; or Rufus Holman, the last known KKK official to be still sitting in Congress when the KKK folded in 1944 and… wait for it… Republican Senator, Oregon.

    That wouldn’t serve the Composition Fallacy mill, would it. Not to mention David Dookie, nor the KKK endorsements of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, nor the Klan’s national smear campaign against Democrat Al Smith in the latter case.

    No, when you’re selling partisan hackery, you gotta pick and choose carefully.


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