In her new book, Ten Dollars to Hate: The Texas Man Who Fought the Klan (Texas A&M University Press, February 23), Patricia Bernstein tells the story of the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Texas. At its peak, the Klan had at least a million members across the country, and about 150,000 of them lived in Texas. Many Klan members had infiltrated the state and local power structures, which allowed them to operate as they saw fit. By the early 1920s, the group had taken over the city governments of Wichita Falls, Dallas, and Fort Worth; seen their preferred candidate elected to the U.S. Senate; and likely held a majority in the state legislature.
Bernstein, the owner of a Houston public relations firm, is the author of two previous books, including The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP.
Texas Monthly: You write a great deal about how the twenties-era Klan arose in response to xenophobia brought on by World War I, large-scale immigration of Catholics and Jews, the perception of cities as cesspits of sin and crime, and women perceived by men as out of control—voting, smoking cigarettes, necking in cars, lopping off their hair in bobs. In 2017, you could arguably replace World War I with terrorism, European immigrants with Mexicans and Muslims, and libertine women with abortion and same-sex marriage. Today’s times must seem more similar to the twenties than they did when you started the book.
Patricia Bernstein: I had no idea we would come to an election where the Klan would rear its ugly head again, where David Duke would run for office again. The Klan gave permission to the coarsest kind of expressions of hatred toward certain minorities, and we’re starting to see that again. It took so many years of my lifetime for us to get to the point where no matter what you may think, no matter what you harbor in your heart, it isn’t acceptable to say those things in polite company.
We’re in an ugly situation right now. There have been multiple bomb threats made to Jewish organizations since Trump was elected. And a ridiculous rumor about a pedophile ring can spread on the Internet, and some guy shows up at a pizza place with a gun?