years ago, in mid March 1924, Edward Young Clarke,
an advertising executive in the state of Louisiana,
pled guilty in federal court to violating the
Mann Act (an anti-prostitution measure enacted
in 1910). The fact that he had been caught taking
his mistress across state lines, however, was
just the tip of this federal case.
was Clarke a wanted man? He was no mere
advertising executive. He was an entrepreneur
who believed in the tenets of the Ku Klux Klan
-- which had been resurrected by "Colonel"
William S. Simmons in 1915 -- and he took its
anti-Jewish, anti-African American, and anti-Catholic
tenets to heart. At the same time, he also liked
to turn a profit. In 1920 he agreed to aggressively
increase membership in the Klan in return for
a share of the membership dues. And he was incredibly
successful: over 1 million members signed up in
1922, Louisiana Governor John M. Parker sent J.
Edgar Hoover (then Assistant Director of the Bureau
of Investigation) a heartfelt message that was
personally delivered by a New Orleans newspaper
reporter. Please help, it said, the Ku Klux Klan
has grown so powerful in my state that it effectively
controls the northern half. It has already kidnapped,
tortured, and killed two people who opposed it…and
it has threatened many more.
could the Bureau investigate? At the
time, of course, federal laws were few and the
Bureau did not have authority to investigate.
KKK cross-burnings and murders were a state matter.
But Governor Parker petitioned President Harding
to act under the constitutional guarantee that
the federal government would protect the states
from domestic violence (Article 4, Section 4).
The President agreed, and the Bureau promptly
sent Agents to investigate, even though it would
likely have to turn its evidence over to state
governments to prosecute the cases.
did the FBI find? It found that the Klan
was wielding great political power throughout
the South as it fed off the prejudices of the
day and instilled fear in millions. It found that
Clarke’s campaign to increase Klan membership
had been a resounding success. Membership had
soared and so had the number of Klan groups in
many different states.
a more personal note, it found that "Imperial
Kleagle"Clarke had lined his pockets with
$8 of each $10 initiation fee he had secured…and
that he was also netting tidy profits from his
new-member sales of the Klan's bed-sheet regalia.
It also found that he was using his wealth to
lead a high life, including taking on a mistress…and
it found he was crossing state lines with her.
Now this last was an interesting point. How about
the Mann Act?, some enterprising Bureau lawyer
suggested. That’s a federal law we can use
in this case. Accordingly, Clarke was arrested
the next trip he made with his mistress over a
state line, leading to his guilty plea in federal
was just the beginning of the Bureau’s fight
to bring these early day domestic terrorists to