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Right in Michigan's Grassroots

From the KKK to the Michigan Militia

JoEllen McNergney Vinyard

Publication Year: 2011

"A real contribution to Michigan history that gets to the root of the movements in twentieth-century American history that upon reflection can bring a certain discomfort and unease." ---Francis X. Blouin, Director of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan Throughout the twentieth century, Michigan became home to nearly every political movement in America that emerged from the grassroots. Citizens organized on behalf of concerns on the "left," on the "right," and in the "middle of the road." Right in Michigan's Grassroots: From the KKK to the Michigan Militia is about the people who supported movements that others, then and later, would denounce as disgraceful---members of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s, the followers of Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, anti-Communists and the John Birch Society in the post–World War II era, and the members of the Michigan Militia who first appeared in the 1990s. The book explores the complex historical circumstances in Michigan that prompted the emergence of these organizations and led everyday men and women to head off, despite ridicule or condemnation, with plans unsanctioned and tactics unorthodox, variously brandishing weapons of intimidation, discrimination, fearmongering, and terror. Drawing heavily on primary sources, including the organizations' files and interviews with some of their leaders and surviving members, JoEllen Vinyard provides a far more complete portrait of these well-known extremist groups than has ever been available.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

Like thousands of others, I migrated to Michigan following a husband,graduate school, and a job. This was a strange land. In Nebraska we did not make cars so we kept ours at least ten years before trading them in. Polish farm kids were the one ethnic minority in our school. Going “Up North” meant an annual trip to Omaha for new shoes. Our lakes were...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-5

The term grassroots was probably coined early in the twentieth century by Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana. Enthusiastic about the new Progressive Party and a champion of Theodore Roosevelt who was its presidential candidate in 1912, Beveridge proudly declared, “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard ...

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Nineteenth-Century Legacy

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pp. 6-13

It is not by chance that Michigan provided the home base or a center of solid support time and again when ordinary, anonymous Americans rallied to take a stand. Grassroots movements that figured so prominently in the history of Michigan were a mark of the state’s abiding complexity. From the 1830s when pioneers flooded in and pushed Michigan from ...

The Ku Klux Klan

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1. Weaving a Tangled Web: The Great War and Its Aftermath

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pp. 17-41

Just before Christmas in 1917 a group of local men in the mid-Michigan county of Newaygo hauled their neighbor Ben Kunnen from his home. Rumor had it that he had made unpatriotic statements. Kunnen was forced into a cottage at Fremont Lake, made to sign an apology to the public for his alleged pro-German attitude, and required to kiss the flag of the ...

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2. Americans We: People of the KKK

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pp. 42-67

The Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, had little to recommend it to Michigan people when it was first revived on Stone Mountain near Atlanta in 1915 by a small group of sixteen men. Alabama-born William Joseph Simmons, founder and Imperial Wizard, was fullling a dream to restore the Southern Klan his father rode with during Recon-...

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3. The Klan in Action

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pp. 68-95

“Do you have an automobile?” membership cards asked. “How many will it hold?” The automobile that had brought such change and population readjustment to Michigan literally powered the 1920s Knights of the Invisible Empire. This second Klan could move faster, farther, and more comfortably than its predecessors on horseback. And they had many ...

Father Charles E. Coughlin and the Union for Social Justice

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4. Hard, Harder, Hardest of Times

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pp. 99-121

When the Ku Klux Klan was still burning crosses on behalf of “the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth; the flames the light which the Savior shed upon the world,” one was reported in June 1926 near the newly established Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church in southern Oakland County. Within two months, the young priest at the Shrine told the few dozen ...

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5. “Ballots—Not Bullets!”

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pp. 122-140

In the long year of 1932, events in Michigan continued to demonstrate the need for urgency and provided grist for Father Coughlin’s radio sermons. He needed only to look around him for examples to show what was wrong with the nation, examples that tapped into a reservoir of sentiment about the nation’s elite, the rich and powerful, international financiers, and the ...

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6. The Center Restored

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pp. 141-171

In the late fall of 1934, Coughlin’s audience was ready to give the president and the newly elected congressmen a push. The priest who had forged his radio listeners into an amorphous pressure group was ready to give his listeners a structure and a name announcing their purposeful cause. He called on them to become members of the National Union for Social ...

Anti-Communism and the John Birch Society

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7. Better Dead Than Red

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pp. 175-195

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, any voices still opposed to war were drowned out. The entire Michigan congressional delegation supported the war vote against Japan on December 8. The following day, Germany declared war against the United States, and people prepared as best they could for all that war would mean. Almost at once,...

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8. Extremism in Defense of Influence: The John Birch Society

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pp. 196-225

With a solid majority of Americans so obviously opposed to all that Communism represented, no vigilant minority needed to organize, or so it would seem. Robert Welch thought differently when he assembled 11 men from nine states for a two-day meeting in Indianapolis in December 1958. Before the meeting adjourned, the John Birch Society was on its way to a ...

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9. Other Options, Other Causes

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pp. 226-250

Apart from serving as a point of reference when commentators reported on other anti-Communists, anti–United Nations advocates, or extreme patriots, the Birch Society slipped out of the news. Society leaders insisted this did not follow from a loss of supporters. Rather, they were positive that once media corporate heads recognized that their barrage against the ...

The Michigan Militia

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10. The “Duty of Defense”: Organizing the Michigan Militia

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pp. 253-275

In November 1994, a weekend military practice drill in the far northwestern corner of the Lower Peninsula merited one of the first of many accounts that would appear in the New York Times. According to the article, “some 100 members of a group calling itself the Michigan Militia” turned out in Brutus, preparing “to defend itself against the United States ...

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11. An Unorganized, Organized Militia

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pp. 276-304

As the shock over the Oklahoma City bombing diminished, more people began to wonder what the government might once again be covering up. The plumber and the hardware dealer who returned to meetings brought along friends sympathetic to the Militia’s plain talk about a government bureaucracy out of touch and perhaps out of control. Who ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 305-310

FBI agents swept into Lenawee and Hillsdale counties in southern Michigan as winter was fading in 2010. They arrested eight men and one woman and, acting perhaps on a tip from an inside informant, charged them with plotting to kill local police officers with the intent to spark an uprising that would lead to overthrow of the government. The nine, four from the ...

Notes

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pp. 311-342

Index

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pp. 343-363


E-ISBN-13: 9780472027637
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051595

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2011