Vann Newkirk II, at The Atlantic:
The disconnect in terms is understandable. It’s one thing to see the Red Shirts and Klansmen as bogeymen of the past and imagine their pogroms and mob clashes in the abstract. It’s another to see them manifest suddenly in violent strength, even if one subscribes to the idea that white supremacy runs deeper than caricatures of hooded rogues, and that its long tendrils have always animated politics and political violence in America.
Even for me, as my father has studied the violence of white supremacy for most of my life, it’s hard to square a group of men with Home Depot tiki torches, wrinkled khakis, bad haircuts, and a love of memes who came down to Emancipation Park with the blood-curdling menace of Klansmen in my mind’s eye. It’s easier to joke about losers camping out in a park than to consider them capable of the kinds of paradigm-shifting horror that destroyed countless black families.
But that’s a trick of historical perspective—even the most feared white supremacists in the lore of Jim Crow were just regular white men, transformed from lives as politicians, mechanics, farmers, and layabouts by the sheer power of ideology. And often, their movements were considered “fringe” and marginal—until they weren’t.