I am growing very tired of Americans calling violent coups unprecedented in their country.
Hello 1873 and 1874?
Ring any bells yet, or is there a feeling of denial?
Many violent coups were perpetrated by white nationalists after civil war who were angry about losing in 1865 and angry that black and brown people gained rights; coups manifested in attacks on anti-racist Americans to prevent them from reaching or holding public office.
The KKK threatened that March 4, 1869 — first day of rule by avowed racist presidential candidate Horatio Seymour — would bring widespread lynchings of white Americans if the losing candidate Seymour wasn’t planted into the White House.
The KKK instead was destroyed by President Grant’s “let us have peace” platform after he won the Presidency in a landslide.
It was after this a Princeton professor named Woodrow Wilson in 1902 published a book that fraudulently described Civil War as simply a matter of white men wanting their independence — completely ignoring the official and very obvious statements of reason made in the actual articles of secession (i.e. maintenance and extension of slavery):
It was necessary [for the United States defending itself] to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery.
Wilson’s writing was so very patently false and wrong, an intentional disinformation campaign intended to harm democracy, as to beg the question how Princeton could have allowed the man to continue teaching.
It ranks right up there with Wilson’s protests against Congress because he saw it becoming too representative and diverse, recommending instead the U.S. shift into some kind of fast-moving all-powerful executive system.
Instead of firing him, however, Princeton promoted him to be their President.
Fast forward to 1915 and Woodrow Wilson had been elected President of the US (in 1912, by a mere 42% of the vote) and sat in the White House. On February 18 of 1915 he infamously screened a propaganda hate film called “Birth of a Nation” by his friend and former classmate (based on “The Clansman” book), calling its obvious lies “true” — giving it his blessing.
This was a complete reversal from Grant’s “let us have peace” time in office.
American cities erupted into fights over bans of a KKK disinformation film that promoted domestic terrorism.
Even if cities chose to allow a spread of violent disinformation, cities also fought over bans meant to prohibit blacks from seeing the film (isolating and enabling white-only audiences to spread disinformation faster even framing hate as art to evade censors).
As a young journalist in the late 1970s, Lehr infiltrated the local Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for a story. He met their leader at the time, David Duke, who was there to recruit the next wave of Klansmen. “[Duke’s] idea of a meeting was to show this film, in which he stood there narrating it and adding his own very racist spin on events. And that’s when it hit me: the real propaganda value for the Klan, not only way back when but here it was, like, six, seven decades later,” says Lehr. And while civil rights leaders in 1915 tried to get the film banned entirely, The Birth of a Nation is still taught in film schools.
That is a notable comparison to today’s disinformation debates by itself, yet even more relevant is a Wilson speech a few months after the film had been running, on July 11, 1915 at the 25th anniversary convention in DC of the Daughters of the American Revolution (“Mothers of Fascism“).
Wilson encapsulated his racist sentiments in a particular motto that he gave in that 1915 speech, which became his 1916 election platform:
Our whole duty for the present is summed up in the motto ‘America First.’
This was captured by Souza, who wrote a 1916 march to commemorate the speech
Thus in 1916 Wilson campaigns were branded with “America First” as screenings of “Birth of a Nation” expanded to restart the KKK, blacks were forced out of government and monuments to domestic terrorists were erected around the country kicking off mass murders (1918 Porvenir massacre, 1919 “Red Summer”) and coups like the 1921 Tulsa massacre and 1923 Rosewood massacre.
W.E. DuBois at this time, noting that more lynchings happened in 1915 than the ten years prior combined and rueful that he had been fooled to help put a white supremacist in office, described Wilson’s method for transfer of power in America as a return to…
…cruelty, discrimination and wholesale murder.
“America First” entered service as a battle flag of white power groups who believe the enemy of America is any non-white (white power over the nation is diminished — leading to feelings of loss and guilt — by any other race gaining some).
This history of violence under Wilson’s “America First” and since then, the symbolism and a run of coups in America, should be treated as very important history for every citizen to know. It should be mandatory history in schools, like how America forced German children to learn about the holocaust.
Historians have wisely pointed out for years what this implies for those inclined to accurately explain American government:
New Deal and Cold War liberal internationalism may have been the exception and [racist, white supremacist ideology of the Ku Klux Klan] America First may be the norm.
Perhaps more to the point the “America First” platform has continued unabated as a toxic “grievance” signal of white nationalists/isolationists:
It was used by supporters of President Woodrow Wilson during the 1916 election to defend his decision at that time to keep America out of the First World War; by Republican President Warren Harding in the 1920s to reject Wilson’s call for the United States to join the League of Nations; and by the America First Committee in September 1940 opposing President Franklin Roosevelt’s assistance to Britain in the face of Hitler’s aggression. Most recently it was used by presidential candidate and former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan in 1992, opposing George HW Bush’s decision to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and further calling for a withdrawal of all US troops from Europe.
Even Trump himself back in 2000 released a statement that he wouldn’t want to associate with “losers” in America such as Pat Buchanan, calling him a Neo-Nazi and at the same time very clearly calling David Duke out as a Klansman:
…David Duke has decided to join the Reform Party to support the candidacy of Pat Buchanan. So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman — Mr. Duke, a Neo-Nazi — Mr. Buchanan…
This attack on these two men probably is read most accurately as Trump distancing himself from hate groups during times of exception. He appears to be saying he wouldn’t join with Nazis and KKK at the time he thought they were going to lose an election; in fact meaning Trump would be very glad to join these hate groups if guaranteed a win (returning to the norm).
Thus we saw in 2016 the Trump family did just that, and very openly claimed the KKK/Nazi’s tainted “America First” banner as their own platform. The soft/silent coup had begun.
“I like the expression,” the candidate said. “I’m ‘America First.'”
Suddenly, without any real explanation, the banner of losers was being held up by “winners”.
Everyone plainly saw something was unusual in early 2017 and started to debate who supported such an odd transfer of power, who really made it happen. My tweets about American history, to explain what “America First” really means, were getting record levels of attention.
Unfortunately mainstream commentators never got to the point of asking the most important question: whether “America First” entering the White House could be a coup, which I had called out immediately.
Read that closely because “America First” in 1996 ran a self-avowed Nazi as their candidate and had 0% of the vote. Then twenty years later in 2016 they held a parade to empty stands in Washington DC claiming a large support base.
Want to guess why the Trump family regularly waffled when asked to denounce or distance themselves from David Duke? Sadly nobody asked them to denounce or distance themselves from “America First”!
Whereas in 2000 Trump went out of his way to label Duke a loser (as well being as a Klansman), in 2016 he tried to play around like he never heard of the guy (as horribly mis-reported by Politifact, who fell for the ruse).
…Trump dodged multiple questions from Tapper asking if he’d disavow the support of white supremacist and former KKK leader David Duke (he would later blame a “bad earpiece” for his noncommittal answers).
Thus I argue (and have said since that time) that we actually saw a coup in America back in 2016 and these last four years have been little more than an idiotic bumbling attempt by wannabe tinpot dictators to figure out how to close the door on democracy.
The Far Side perhaps a long time ago best illustrated the assault on the capitol:
I’ve been asked to write this into longer form so maybe I will shortly.
Related: If you’re searching for details on prior coups, they are easy to find.
Georgia Republicans elected three Black state senators and 30 state representatives in 1868. White insecurity forces rushed to remove them from power and then kill anyone protesting the coup, as well as destroying and suppressing votes, after a Camilla massacre:
In early September, white Democrats in the Georgia legislature expelled all 28 African-American members. In response, one of the expelled members, Philip Joiner from southwest Georgia, led several hundred freedmen on a March from Albany to Camilla for a Republican rally. As the marchers entered the courthouse square, the sheriff and other local white residents opened fire, killing a dozen and wounding thirty others.
After a contested 1872 election for governor of Louisiana and local offices, a group of white Democrats with rifles and a small cannon overpowered Republican freedmen, state militia and even federal troops sent by President Grant to support the elected official.
Upon surrender most Americans were murdered by domestic terrorists (e.g. “White League“) and then 50 more were murdered later that night after being held prisoner for hours. Death estimates for this “Colfax massacre” on Sunday, April 13, 1873 were hard because the terrorists used hidden mass graves and threw many victims into the river.
The Colfax Massacre was more or less ignored until the 1920s, when local officials raised a monument honoring the three white men who died [while massacring hundreds of Americans and destroying the evidence].
The 1874 New Orleans violent coup attempt by the “White League” should be mandatory reading for any American class on history:
After cutting the city’s telegraph lines and killing at least thirteen members of the integrated New Orleans police force, the White League overran the state house and attempted to establish a new government. After three days, President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the U.S. Army to put down the rebellion and the elected government was restored.
For another example, the horrors from a successful 1898 Coup continue to be felt to this day.
…summer of 1865, just after the Civil War, Union commanders in the battered port city of Wilmington, N.C., appointed a former Confederate general as police chief and former Confederate soldiers as policemen. The all-white force immediately set upon newly freed Black people. Men, women and children were beaten, clubbed and whipped indiscriminately… One of the most terrifying examples erupted more than a century ago, when white supremacist soldiers and police helped hunt down and kill at least 60 Black men in Wilmington in 1898.
Queen Liliuokalani was of the belief that the then president of the U.S. would reinstate her as queen, however, President Grover Cleveland deceived her by promising her a reinstatement after she granted amnesty to all those who had been involved in the coup.
Republican former President George W. Bush even said “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic”.
Yet those “banana republics” got their name as a direct result of American foreign policy on regime change! His comment sounds like “this is what we do to others, not ourselves” given the sad fact it’s why Americans love eating their banana splits.
Even Bush should remember 1954 shootings or the 1978 shootings, both very recent and sad chapters in violent opposition to American transfer of power. I guess I should ask how many people today remember “the people’s mayor” Moscone?
And for those saying 2016 or 2020 wasn’t related to a coup, and offering us some very misguided analysis (e.g. Defense One has an awful hot take that they see no signs the military was involved, despite obvious and overwhelming evidence), I offer you this humorous example of what that “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy sounds like to me:
Update January 12:
Now This has posted a brief video collection with some of the many violent incitement statements by Trump directly calling for harm to Americans.
CSIS Brief similarly reported in 2020:
Based on a CSIS data set of terrorist incidents, the most significant threat likely comes from white supremacists… right-wing attackers were most likely to cause more deaths in a given year.
Update February 2:
I’ve been asked (by a cryptography researcher, for what it’s worth) if I can explain why Wikipedia makes a strangely unsubstantiated claim that Wilson opposed the KKK, given its obvious falseness.
Look very closely at that highlighted sentence before the semicolon (click image to enlarge) as it has no reference.
Nobody in their right mind should be able to get on Wikipedia and plainly assert Wilson, the first President elected from the pro-slavery secessionist states since the Civil War, was opposed to the very thing he grew massively during his presidency and afterwards.
Later in the sentence it has a reference to a book by a man from North Carolina who was a professor at Princeton. Conflict of interest maybe?
This is why Wikipedia can slide into a propaganda system. Who wrote that sentence? When and why? Very dangerous stuff, as it creates a lot of unnecessary churn and conflict by throwing an obviously false statement into a supposedly reputable “pedia” site.
Maybe someone is sitting back and laughing about such an absurd phrase inserted, while many people have to waste untold hours cleaning it up and explaining why it’s false.
I have seen no evidence to even suggest Wilson opposed the KKK. None. At best he didn’t want the KKK to get in the way of him recruiting and sending non-whites to fight in WWI.
Let me put it like this:
President Grant, upon reports of the KKK acts of violence against Americans, passed an act to destroy them.
President Wilson, with all the history of the KKK before him (and in his own writings) sat unopposed to its extremely rapid growth during his administration, despite all measures available to him to stop it dead like Grant.
A movie glorifying the KKK is screened in the White House, using President Wilson’s words and then promoted under President Wilson’s name with little to no resistance at all from Wilson.
Come on. Someone really wants to say he was opposed to this yet didn’t lift a finger?
The first peak of the KKK was 1868 (end of Civil War) to 1870 (given President Grant’s decisive actions to destroy it). Wilson would have been 15 years old at this time and very well aware of the need for America to crush the KKK.
Instead the second peak came squarely during the time of President Wilson (his terms were 1912-1916 and 1916-1920), with an alleged peak of 6 million members in the 1920s following his administration.
In fact, the first federal government action during the second rise of the KKK was when Simmons (the man who claimed to have grown it from a dozen members to millions) was called to testify for The Ku-Klux Klan: Hearings Before the Committee on Rules, House of Representatives, Sixty-seventh Congress, First Session… nearly eight months AFTER Wilson was out of office, in October 1921.
Indeed, someone at Wikipedia is bending themselves into a pretzel to fraudulently explain away the obvious racist politics of Wilson, let alone his obvious support and growth of the KKK. Why? Who? Wikipedia is seriously untrustworthy and flawed.