No, Racism Notwithstanding, We Do Not Actually Live in Freaking “Ku Klux Kounty”




OC Weekly "Ku Klux Kounty" cover showing man in KKK garb holding oranges

OC Weekly did not put this photo on its cover to scream for attention by digging its thumb into some of the horrific wounds to our national psyche, but to raise the entirely legitimate question of whether a smattering of public spaces named after some Prohibitionists who called themselves “KKK” without engaging in the horrible actions associated with that group means that Orange County — on THAT basis, and NOT because of skinheads or other current acts of bigotry — deserves to be referred to as “Ku Klux Kounty.” (Answer: No.)

My wife is not in the habit of bringing home copies of the OC Weekly to show me.  As I recall, it has happened exactly twice — once last year, when an artist’s vision of my naked form was featured therein (and called to her attention by co-workers who were somewhere between amused, bemused, and confused), and then again this past week, when there was a orange-bearing freaking faux-Klansman featured on the cover and she wanted to know whether this meant that she and our (racial minority) girls had some serious trouble to worry about here in OC that I had somehow just perhaps failed to mention to her.

“No,” I told her, “they’re just trying to attract readers.”

She allowed that it had worked.

I should admit up front that I can imagine circumstances — not at the moment, but conceivably — where I too would put a guy in a Klan robe holding oranges on the cover of a magazine and ask whether the county that my publication serviced deserved to be described as a latter-day example of the Klan.

For example, if there were a Klan rally here followed by vicious and unprovoked attacks on minorities, I might think that it was time to pull out that kind of heavy ammunition.  Even short of that, other things — the anti-Muslim rally in Yorba Linda a couple of years ago, various skinhead attacks on minorities, racial gang wars, Wiley Drake’s imprecatory prayers for President Obama’s death, the shootings and repression of Latinos in Anaheim — might conceivably justify a fiery J’accuse! in the face of the county we love.   We’re not exactly short of potential material for an article on racism and power here, but … is it Klan-level?  Do we have to have actual anti-Klan marches here to counter it without inviting charges of extraordinary hyperbole?  Those are the sorts of question that such an article might fairly raise — but this article isn’t that one.

To write such an article sounding — even ironically or tongue-in-cheek or whatever the Weekly would claim they were doing in the issue that will come off the newsracks today (having graced them during the holiday celebrating the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in case anyone forgot that angle), I’d probably want to focus on (1) current abuses in the county that were (2) pretty freaking serious and (3) that people were both aware of and disinclined to stop.

Gustavo Arellano used the exact same criteria in deciding whether to feature his Klansmodel and an assertion that we are — that is, you live in; that is, we must come to grips with the reality of our being — “Ku Klux Kounty.”  (I hope that it need not be overemphasized that this is serious stuff — especially to minorities in the area.)

At least, he used these criteria if you accept that (1) activities taking place in the first quarter of the last century that were bigoted (apparently against anti-Prohibition Catholics) but secretive, non-violent, and short-lived are capable of rendering us, now, as “KK Kounty”; (2) that the still-persisting naming of streets, schools, buildings, and parks after these real or self-imagined “KKK members” is a serious offense against our social order; and (3) that people know about it and shrug.

Of course, by those criteria, the “Klan Kounty” kover is woefully and painfully overblown.  Still, had OC been a hotbed of active KKK racism and violence, a drive to rename schools and parks might be exactly the sort of thing that a publication like the Weekly might champion and that a Democratic activist like me might embrace.  If “we continue to honor KKK members and will likely do so forever,” as Arellano’s article proclaims, I think that that is a problem and I’m not inclined to shrug it off.  And that’s what I said in a comment to the article:

This is of interest because it helps address a “we can cast stones because we are without sin” attitude that may be around parts of the county, but — is it attached to an action plan?  If not, why not?  I don’t mean an “action plan” such as “this may be the topic of Gustavo’s next book that he’d like everyone to buy, but one like: ought there be demands to rename some of these places?

As part of that process, do we ask Fullerton H.S. to change their school mascot to something less culturally offensive and more currently terror-inspiring than “Indians” while we’re at it — maybe to “Libertarians” or “Bar Patrons” or “Latex Gloves” or “Homeless Shelters”?  I’m willing to ask my residence of Brea to rename that elementary school here after Dakota Fanning, if that would help.  Maybe we can rename each landmark after someone better who happens to have the same surname.  Or even given name — “French Park” could be named after “French Stewart.”

If the Weekly wants to make the renaming of landmarks in OC a cause, it might be interesting.  Such consciousness-raising has had its successes at times in places across the country.  But for the point of it all to be merely “look how brave and hip we are to put a photo of a mock Klansman on our cover!” is sort of underwhelming.  (Give me credit, Gustavo, for not saying “pathetic.”)  Now I’m going to pull out a $20 bill and stare at it while wondering when the story is coming out on Andrew Jackson.

Gustavo responded by saying that I had made “no point whatsoever” and advising me to “go back to your shit pit” that you are now reading.  Admittedly, a better point was made by mophisto.waltz:

This is great… you know what else would be great?

If you were to start exposing all the gang bangers and criminals in orange county TODAY.  Im not sure why this makes any difference in todays world, or why perpetuating hate towards dead orange county political figures is something that is important to you. Please explain…..

Shouldn’t you be increasingly focused on making your home a better place with the forum that you have rather than attempting to make it look bad on a consistently regular basis?

I hope you take my questions into consideration. I find it disturbing and disappointing that you are not using your knowledge and abilities to a more positive end.

Then things got weird.

Some No Good Coot using the handle “NGCoot” wrote:

Mentioning that the Klan controlled Anaheim, even staged a 10,000-strong rally in the city, is the easy jab people always employ against Anaheim specifically and Orange County in general whenever they want to describe us as fundamentally racist. But the Klan’s rise in Anaheim and other OC cities during the 1920s is well-documented as a stand by good people against racist terror, an easy narrative to write and honor. Besides, the Klan’s time in Anaheim had little to do with suppressing minorities–especially Mexicans.

The above statement was written by Gustavo – why the change of heart now Gustavo?

Huh?  After Gustavo accused him of being a “Mater Dei apologist” — stinging words for us Edison alums — NGCoot posted this paragraph, which he later said was also not written by him:

One of the best scholarly studies of the Klukkers’ time in my hometown is the essay, “The Invisible Empire and the Search for the Orderly Community: The Ku Klux Klan in Anaheim, California,” by Christopher N. Cocoltchos, part of the anthology, The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. In it, Cocoltchos methodically examines the background behind the rise of the Klan in Anaheim, arguing it resulted from out-of-towners and temperance fools who chafed at the old German guard of Anaheim and their near-aristocratic ways. He could only find three violent incidents related to the Klan trying to terrorize a religious or ethnic group: crosses burnt in front of St. Boniface Catholic Church and in undisclosed spots in Fullerton and Yorba Linda. All other efforts of indimidation occurred against those people the Klan disagreed with politically, and were usually whites. Of Latinos–who were increasingly becoming the city’s backbone of its lucrative citrus industry and included among its ranks my grandfather–Cocoltchos wrote they were “a group the Klan totally ignored.”

When I asked him “WTF?”, Coot’s response indicated that this, too, came from Arellano’s writing.

NGCoot later added:

In 1924, the Klan became active in local politics in Anaheim. The city had been controlled by an entrenched elite that gave little support to the prohibition laws–the mayor, for example, had been a saloon keeper. The Klan represented a rising group of citizens who denounced the elite as corrupt, undemocratic and self-serving. The Klansmen sought to create a model orderly community. (While excluding Catholics and those opposed to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.)

The Klan won the election in Anaheim in April 1924. They systematically fired Catholic city employees and replaced them with Klansmen and tried to strictly enforce prohibition. The opposition organized, bribed a Klansman for the secret membership list, exposed the Klansmen running in the primaries and defeated most of them.  The antis stepped up the campaign in 1925 and succeeded in voting to recall the Klansmen who had been elected in April 1924. The Klan in Anaheim quickly collapsed, its newspaper closed after losing a libel suit.

So where is the virulent radical racism?? – where is the KKK extreme and violent terrorism?? Oh, …. that’s right ….. there wasn’t any – Gustavo left that part out.

This chapped my sensibilities.  In a subsequent exchange with a woman who wondered why people were being mean to Gustavo, I wrote:

[T]he issue here is whether “being in the KKK” means what we normally think of “being in the KKK” meaning.  It never occurred to me before now that when Gustavo talked about people “being in the KKK” he may have meant basically that they called themselves KKK members but (except for being against Anaheim Catholics and firing them from city jobs) didn’t do the things that KKK members generally did.  Didn’t you assume from the story that they were cross-burning, lynching, vicious, racist bastards?  I sure did.  If they weren’t — and maybe Gustavo will still show that they were — then this “naming things after them” is less outrageous than otherwise.  And for Gustavo himself to have been the one who pointed out in his previous writing that they were not typical KKK types, if NGCoot is correct — well, that just becomes sick!

At this point our old friend-of-the-blog Gabriel San Roman (whom I suspect may be dispatched here to defend his new employer’s honor so that Gustavo doesn’t have to get poop on him) asked what may look like a good question:

Trying to whittle away at the nomenclature of white supremacy illustrated in the cover story? I thought ‘liberal progressives’ had better items on their agenda to attend to. Guess not!

Well, uh … no, I don’t think so.  At the time, remember, the Klan was being lionized in film by D. W. Griffith, and if some ignorant Orange Countians thought that they were being Klanworthy in trying to boot some pro-booze Catholics out of Anaheim city government, it surely is bigotry … but it’s probably not “white supremacy.”  It’s more like Occupy people wearing Guy Fawkes masks without knowing squat about who Guy Fawkes was and whether he was someone to celebrate.  It’s annoying — but, 89 years after the fact, is it the sort of extreme evil that warrants OC being called “Ku Klux Kounty”?  No, GSR, it is not.  In fact, it trivializes real current concerns about race and bigotry — and for what?  A bump in one week’s circulation numbers?  No.  We liberal progressives don’t like that and I don’t think that conservative libertarians or populist anarchists would like it either.

I’m still willing to get by reform efforts in this respect, if there are any, which I don’t expect their will be, which is probably just as well.  But if, say, Gustavo tries to write a book about this, using the existence of Fanning Elementary and Plummer Auditorium and French Park as the evidence to prove why OC is a racist county — well, he can mark this Democratic party figure as willing to support his efforts to ensure that KKK-level racism is not forever honored here.  In the meantime, maybe we don’t need to see the county provoked for being “Klan-like” for one of the weakest reasons imaginable.

Meanwhile, I may be able to address one of Gustavo’s other perennial concerns:

[O]ne of Orange County’s sins that embarrass me the most is the atrocious lack of African-Americans ’round here.As I’ve written before, out of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the United States, OC is the only one with an African-American community of less than 5 percent–and we’re at 2.2 percent, according to the 2010 Census. Hey, at least that’s better than our 2 percent from 2000, right?

I don’t know, muchacho — maybe los Afroamericanos prefer to live in a metropolitan area with a decent alt-weekly?  You know, someplace that doesn’t put a picture of a guy in a Klan costume on the cover just to boost circulation at the cost of causing needless discomfort among passers-by who have to look at that image.  I mean, you almost got it in your introduction to your story:

All right, kids, calm down. Yes, that is a man posing in a Ku Klux Klan robe on our cover and in our pages. , the outfit is incredibly offensive, code for racial terror and doesn’t belong in polite society, let alone a family paper such as this one. Yep, the man beneath the hood is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher . . . okay, maybe not, because we hear he prefers dressing up as the Taliban.

But we trot out the outfit of the hooded menace to speak truth to an uncomfortable part of Orange County life: We continue to honor KKK members and will likely do so forever.

But maybe they figured out that this was not such “an uncomfortable part of Orange County life” as to justify “trot[ting] out the outfit of the hooded menace.”  Maybe they think that your article was self-serving, bad-faith, bullshit.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)