One of the myths favored by white supremacists trying to (literally) whitewash their own history of violence is that the “first KKK” that formed after the Civil War was totally different from the later iterations of it that formed in the early 20th century. That totally unqualified judicial nominee from Trump pushed that myth on a message board.
It was on a message board for Alabama football fans and we know the name BamainBoston was used by Brett Talley because that nickname posted a link on that board to a profile in the Washington Post saying it was about him. But looking at some of the other posts he made finds all sorts of things:
That morning at 9:17 a.m., a user with the handle Bamaro posted a story about a Mississippi proposal “to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest” by placing his image on a license plate. “Who comes up with these ideas?” the user asked. “Honor someone who served as the first KKK Grand Wizard.”
BamainBoston responded an hour later:
Heaven forbid we let the facts get in the way of your righteous indignation, but Forrest, when he decommissioned his men, told them to make peace with the men they had fought and live as good citizens of the United States. It was only after the perceived depredations of the Union army during reconstruction that Forrest joined (it is highly unlikely that he founded or acted as the Grand Wizard) the first KKK, which was entirely different than the KKK of the early 19th Century. When the Klan turned to racial violence, he distanced himself from the organization as he had long supported the reconciliation of the races. In fact, he often spoke to black organizations.
But as Mark Joseph Stern points out, this leaves out a whole lot of history. Like Forrest ordering the brutal slaughter of a bunch of escaped slaves who fought for the Union in the civil war.
Second, the allegation that “the first KKK” was “entirely different” from that of “the early 19th Century” does not withstand scrutiny. (BamainBoston almost certainly means “the early 20th century,” since there was no KKK in the early 1800s, and the organization experienced a revival in the early 1900s.) From its inception, the KKK promoted white supremacy and opposed federal efforts to protect the civil rights of freed blacks. The group employed intimidation and violence, including murder, to thwart Reconstruction. It was so effective at disenfranchising black voters through acts of racial terror that, in 1870, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act to enforce the 15th Amendment, which bars race-based voting discrimination. When that proved insufficient, Congress passed a second law permitting the president to suspend habeas corpus to fight the Klan, and allowing individuals to sue state officials who interfered with their constitutional rights.
Contrary to BamainBoston’s assertion, Forrest did likely serve as the KKK’s first leader, or “Grand Wizard,” though the group’s secretive nature makes this charge difficult to prove definitively. In 1868, he described the Klan as “a protective, political, military organization.” He also asserted that he had “no powder to burn killing negroes,” and intended only “to kill the radicals”—that is, Republicans, especially from the North, who supported Reconstruction. However, by this point, the Klan had become notorious for its relentless brutality against freed blacks.
Forrest did later disavow the Klan, but that doesn’t mean the Klan in the early days was some peaceful, enlightened group. It was a brutal, racist group of murderers. And no one who believes otherwise should be anywhere near a federal bench unless they’re being arraigned.