This piece has been updated.
When he was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday whether he would condemn the praise of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, Donald Trump declined to disavow Duke's comments.
"I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay," Trump said. "I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. I don't know, did he endorse me? Or what's going on. Because I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists."
In 2000, Trump declined to run for president as a member of the Reform Party because the "Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep." As Trump himself noted on Twitter, he also disavowed Duke in a news conference earlier this week.
But this incident also brings to mind another report, unearthed in September by the technology blog Boing Boing.
On Memorial Day 1927, brawls erupted in New York led by sympathizers of the Italian fascist movement and the Ku Klux Klan. In the fascist brawl, which took place in the Bronx, two Italian men were killed by anti-fascists. In Queens, 1,000 white-robed Klansmen marched through the Jamaica neighborhood, eventually spurring an all-out brawl in which seven men were arrested.
One of those arrested was Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Rd. in Jamaica.
This is Donald Trump's father. Trump had a brother named Fred, but he wasn't born until more than a decade later. The Fred Trump at Devonshire Road was the Fred C. Trump who lived there with his mother, according to the 1930 Census.
The predication for the Klan to march, according to a flier passed around Jamaica beforehand, was that "Native-born Protestant Americans" were being "assaulted by Roman Catholic police of New York City." "Liberty and Democracy have been trampled upon," it continued, "when native-born Protestant Americans dare to organize to protect one flag, the American flag; one school, the public school; and one language, the English language."
It's not clear from the context what role Fred Trump played in the brawl. The news article simply notes that seven men were arrested in the "near-riot of the parade," all of whom were represented by the same lawyers. Update: A contemporaneous article from the Daily Star notes that Trump was detained "on a charge of refusing to disperse from a parade when ordered to do so."
When news of the old report surfaced last year, Donald Trump vehemently denied his father's arrest. "He was never arrested. He has nothing to do with this. This never happened. This is nonsense and it never happened," he said to the Daily Mail. "This never happened. Never took place. He was never arrested, never convicted, never even charged. It's a completely false, ridiculous story. He was never there! It never happened. Never took place."
Given the politics and cultural constraints of 1927, the Klan wasn't the sort of thing that a politician would necessarily be asked to condemn. An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from that December notes that the Klan would probably weigh in heavily against the potential presidential nomination of then-New York Gov. Al Smith, given that he was a Catholic and a "champion of 'alienism.'"
It's worth noting that Trump's comments came one day after another Klan brawl, this time in Anaheim, Calif. Thirteen people were arrested and three were stabbed after a Klan rally turned violent. And it's worth noting, too, as did Jonathan Chait at New York magazine, that Trump's claim to "know nothing" about white supremacists echoes the language of the 19th-century "Know Nothing" party — a nativist group that supported only Protestants for public office.