Thursday, January 2, 2014
As of this morning, John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row” is on the top of the New York Times best seller list, and it’s been on the list for 9 weeks in a row. Our household acquired a copy recently, and both of us read the book in record time.
Like all of Grisham’s books, it’s a compelling story that will have you turning the pages rapidly. Like most of his novels, it’s set in Mississippi, the state where he grew up, and where he graduated from both college and law school.
Grisham’s father was a construction worker and a cotton farmer, and his mother was a homemaker. Despite the fact that Grisham’s parents lacked a formal education, his mother encouraged him to go to college, He eventually practiced law for about a decade, and he also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives (as a Democrat) from 1983 to 1990. About a year after he was elected, he witnessed a court case that inspired him to write his first novel, A Time To Kill, which was published in 1989.
Ironically, his most successful court case as a lawyer occurred after he had officially retired from being a lawyer to being a writer. A jury award in 1996 earned him $683,500, the biggest verdict of his career as a lawyer.
Since embarking on a writing career, his books have sold over 275 million copies, and 9 of his novels have been made into movies. As a result, his net worth is approximately $200,000,000, so his career change was unquestionably a very smart move.
“Sycamore Row” is actually a sequel to his very first novel, and contains numerous references to the first book. Like many of his books, the Ku Klux Klan plays a prominent role, which leads to some interesting modern conclusions.
The Klan first came into existence during the Reconstruction period of American history, but faded away by the early 1870’s.
The “second coming” of the Klan was from 1915-1944, and membership peaked in the 1920’s, when as many as 6,000,000 people became members. Included in the membership roles of “the second coming” were Presidents Warren G. Harding, Woodrow Wilson, William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry S. Truman.
Roughly coinciding with the “second coming” of the Klan is the fact that there were 1595 lynching of African Americans in the United States between 1900 to 1931. Georgia had the most (302) but Mississippi was close behind, with 285. Incidentally, a pair of hangings figure prominently in the telling of “Sycamore Row”, but that’s all that I’ll tell you at this point.
The desegregation of the Armed Services during WWII eventually led to the Civil Rights movement, and it also led to the third (and current) version of the Klan, which reappeared in 1946. Current membership is estimated to be only about 6000 people, but the philosophy of the Klan is embraced by a much larger group in American society, one that is known as The Tea Party.
Like the Klan, the Tea Party is homophobic and racist, and is opposed to civil unions, gay marriage, illegal immigration, and restrictions on gun ownership. In the words of Pastor Thomas Robb, “fear the government that fears your gun”. (The shirt logo shown below can be purchased directly from the KKK website).
Like the Klan, the Tea Party wraps its message of hate in religion. It’s no accident that the National Director of the Knights is a Baptist minister from Arkansas named Pastor Thomas Robb, and it's also not surprising that Tennessee Representative Stephen Fincher, whose family farm received $8.9 million in subsidies from the government in the last decade, justified cuts in food stamps by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3-10.
Pastor Robb’s parents shared political views with Senator Joseph McCarthy. At a ge 13, Pastor Robb was awakened to the “myth of the holocaust”, and he became an active member of the John Birch Society, as well as an outspoken supporter of segregationist ideals. Like a number of southern politicians, he feels that the theory of evolution “is an attack upon our faith”.
At its core, the Tea Party embraces the values held by the John Birch Society, and there’s a good reason for that. Fred Koch was one of the founders of the John Birch Society in 1958. His sons, David and Charles, have provided financial and organizational assistance to the Tea Party, and their political arm, Americans for Prosperity, has provided significant assistance to conservative politicians throughout the country. The brothers have also provided significant financial support to the American Legislative Exchange Council the originator of scores of restrictive laws since its founding in 1973.
The Klan, the John Birch Society, and the Tea Party all operate on the assumption that America has become a socialist society, and that the United Nations is pushing all of us into a “new world order”, and all of them draw their strength from the part of our country that is the most religious - the Bible Belt of the South.
In addition to the comments made by conservative southern politicians, the concept of “hate wrapped in religion” occasionally makes its way into popular culture, as exemplified by the picture below:
Phil Robertson, who was recently reinstated by the A & E network, is only one example of this mindset. The bigger issue, unfortunately, is FOX "news", the preferred network of staunch conservatives, and frequently the only network they watch. Since FOX is the #1 cable network (it has more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined) our polarization as a society is a little easier to understand.
I’m not much of a believer in making New Year’s Resolutions, but one recommendation that I would make for just about anyone is to read Grisham’s latest book. Once you’ve done that, do your own independent research on who’s really behind the political organizations that run our country. After all, social activism has helped make some dramatic changes in America in the last year alone, and 2014 is an election year.
YOU can make a difference.