Dinesh D’Souza — the conservative best-selling author, federal campaign finance convict, and reported Subway sandwich devotee — has more than 620,000 followers on Twitter. His latest book, “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left,” explores the Democratic Party’s racist roots in the early 20th century.
So, it may not have been a surprise to D’Souza’s fans when, on Sunday, he tweeted an old black-and-white photo of a Ku Klux Klan parade and claimed they were marching to the Democratic National Convention. D’Souza didn’t provide the photo’s date, who snapped it, or even who had the rights to it. But his caption did include a taunt aimed at Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose kneeling protests against police brutality during the national anthem have become the target of President Trump’s fury.
This being Twitter, it didn’t take long for others to unravel the big lie. Peter Shulman, an avid Twitter user who is an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, spotted the error. He tweeted a rebuttal to D’Souza, along with a link to the Wisconsin Historical Society, which features the photo on its website. The caption explains that the KKK marchers were parading down a street in Madison, Wis. in December 1924. They were on their way to the funeral of a police officer who had been fatally shot, allegedly by two Italians.
In other words, the KKK march was in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, not the 1924 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Shulman didn’t stop there. He posted archived images of newspaper stories showing more backstory to the photo. It turns out that the KKK was trying to crack down on Italian immigrants and offered 200 of its members to the local police to “clean up” the Little Italy section of Madison after the patrolman’s death. One newspaper story that Shulman posted on Twitter reported that the KKK’s offer of help was not accepted by law enforcement.
But The Washington Post found a Minneapolis Daily Star piece that reported at the time that multiple Klansmen and police officers did raid Little Italy, “with 22 warrants and arrested 15 alleged violations of the prohibition act.” The two Italian immigrants charged in the case, it should be noted, were later acquitted at trial.
D’Souza did not return an email or a phone call seeking comment.
But he isn’t the first to make the mistake. And Shulman isn’t the first to make the correction. The Case Western Reserve historian gave credit on Twitter to writer Jennifer Mendelsohn for having waged the same battle over the photo in August. One of her targets: game show host-turned-right-wing podcaster Chuck Woolery. The former “Love Connection” and “Wheel of Fortune” maestro tweeted a January article from the website, “The Truth Division,” featuring the same photo. The headline: “Liberals Aren’t Liking This Newly-Discovered Photo of the 1924 Democratic Convention.”
“Oh, Chuck. Not you, too? #factsmatter,” she wrote.
In the Shulman-D’Souza battle, the historian managed to coax a response from the pundit, who might have gotten his material from that Truth Division article.
D’Souza is correct that the Democratic Party once championed segregation in all its ugly forms while the GOP — the party of Abraham Lincoln — stood for racial equality. That began to shift in the mid-1930s with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and accelerated during the 1960s as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson embraced the civil rights movement. Today, the vast majority of African Americans vote for Democrats, not Republicans.
Shulman says there’s a problem with D’Souza’s retort. It contains another piece of what he argues is dubious information: The historian cannot find any newspapers at the time that called the 1924 convention “the Klanbake.” The word, Shulman says, is a modern invention that masks a much more complex history of the Democratic Party.
Yes, thousands of Klansmen showed up for a gathering across the river in New Jersey at the same time as the convention, he says, but not at the convention itself. And yes, Democrats failed to approve a condemnation of the KKK during the convention, after lobbying by several delegates who were overt Klan members, and others who belonged secretly or were privately sympathetic.
But Shulman says that the Democrats did approve a plank supporting religious freedom and denouncing bigotry — and that there were just as many, if not more, convention attendees who opposed the Klan.
Calvin Coolidge, a Republican, wound up winning the presidential election in 1924.
“He got more Klan votes than John W. Davis, the Democratic nominee,” Shulman says.
One final problem with D’Souza’s tweet, Shulman says. It’s not clear that Kaepernick is a Democrat. Shortly after the Presidential election last year, the Sacramento Bee discovered that the quarterback has never registered to vote.
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