Skip to main content

Big, bad apple

A white supremacist recruitment campaign in upstate New York brings a reminder of New York’s often unacknowledged past

Big, bad apple

Will Quigg (Mike Stewart/AP)

A New York moment:

New York has had an ugly reminder of its white supremacist history this week, as families in several counties upstate have found flyers in their driveways with Snickers bars recruiting locals to join the Ku Klux Klan. The distributors, whoever they were, put the candy and flyers out right at the end of driveways around the time school buses dropped kids off. The website listed on the flyer says to join the KKK “to protect and preserve white Christian heritage and culture.”

Counties upstate have been seeing these flyers regularly over the last year. When a local news station called the number on the flyer in February, KKK “grand dragon” Will Quigg called the station back and admitted that the flyers were part of a “nationwide recruitment.” Quigg told the reporter that the flyer campaign had recruited 100 new members in the Northeast.

New York City, despite its history as a racially diverse place, has a horrible past on white supremacy. Wall Street traded African slaves as commodities, and New York City’s mayor Fernando Wood opposed abolition—calling slavery a “divine institution”—and supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.

A 20th-century expression of white supremacy is the Cold Spring Harbor Lab on Long Island, the “center of the eugenics movement in America” in the 1920s. Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t until I moved to New York. The Rockefellers and Carnegie Institute funded eugenics research that supported white supremacist theories. One researcher, Harry Laughlin, testified in Congress about the genetic superiority of Northern Europeans—testimony which led to stricter immigration laws, including the blocking of Jewish immigrants.

“The University of Heidelberg in Nazi Germany later awarded Laughlin an honorary degree for his work in the ‘science of racial cleansing,’” The New York Times reported. “He accepted the award, and his research on Long Island continued to influence Nazi ideology throughout World War II and the Holocaust.”

Worth your time:  

A remarkable investigation into Kris Kobach (current Republican candidate in a contested race for Kansas governor), who pushed small towns to pass immigration ordinances, which then faced long legal battles where Kobach served as the towns’ legal defender. The towns usually lost their cases, but not before Kobach collected big checks for his lawyering. A former mayor of one of the towns called it “ambulance chasing.” I’m pleased that the piece includes a reference to Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

This week I learned:

A hot summer is good for British archaeologists.

A court case you might not know about:

Or rather—a court case that is no longer a court case. Federal prosecutors earlier this year dropped charges against New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, after a jury in his corruption case couldn’t come to a verdict.

The shocking decision not to retry Menendez stands in contrast to the decision of federal prosecutors in New York, who recently won re-convictions of two top New York politicians. Now Menendez is up for reelection in November. A few months ago Democrats considered Menendez’s seat safe in the heavily blue state, but now The New York Times reports that Menendez is facing an unexpectedly tight race this November.

Culture I am consuming:

The new Mission Impossible (Fallout), which I enjoyed mainly for the stunts that Tom Cruise pulled off. If you’re planning to see the movie and you’re not squeamish, you should watch the interview where Cruise talks through the stunt where he broke his ankle, jumping from one building to another. The footage of the bone-breaking stunt, along with Cruise pulling himself up and running along the roof after the accident, is in the final movie.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org