By Steve Richards
Note to Readers:
This essay was written before the shootings in Atlanta but the echoes between the two are striking for at least three reasons:
Disclaimer: This is theological-political satire inspired by the essay: My New Church – the NkRA? There is currently no NkRA church, Neo-Know Nothing Republican (Knicker) Party, nor an offer to trade in AR-15s for Kentucky Long Rifles.
So, I’ve been hired by the NkRA (Neo-Know Nothing Religion of the Armed) to head up its proselytizing department as a consultant.
It doesn’t pay much but I’m happy to be helping out and thought that the first thing I should do is compare the original Know Nothing party of Lincoln’s day with the Neo-Know Nothing Republicans (NKRs or Knickers) of today. Kind of a psychographic review of our prospective members - get into their heads if you will.
But first, the demographics, which are pretty simple for such a homogenous group like ours. How so? The original Know Nothings of the 1800’s were largely White, Anglo Saxon, and Protestant. Today’s Knickers are pretty much the same. Not surprising so let’s move on…
Next, the original Know Nothings were anti-immigrant and fought against the citizenship of immigrants – and their voting - by just about any means possible. Which seems like something most Knickers can relate to given their focus on migrants from South of the border, the Muslim ban (darn Biden), the Wall, outreach to white supremacists, etc.
Third, the Know Nothings were an essential catalyst to the dissolution of the Whig Party much like the Knickers to Republicans today. The Know Nothing movement seemed to come and go over a generation so that by the start of the Civil War it had largely disappeared. Turns out the Know Nothings in the North were more abolitionist than anti-immigrant and mostly joined the newly formed Republican Party. Millard Fillmore’s defeat illustrates the point when he came in a distant 3rd in the 1856 presidential election; instead, Democrat James Buchanan won and that was that. It remains to be seen how long Neo-Know Nothing Republicanism soldiers on though 15-20 years from its origins in June 2015 would put it on par with the original.
A fourth element to be considered is the unfortunate name itself: Know Nothings. Noone would ever choose such a name on purpose. Turns out that the original Know Nothings changed their name to the American Party as they realized their name sucked. This is still the case as calling someone a Neo-Know Nothing Republican can irritate as I can attest from my personal focus group that I am documenting in Neo-Know Nothing Republicans I Love (KnickersILove.com), at least until the historical context is explained. Fortunately for them, Knickers can just stay Republicans as they are the majority of the GOP.
Fifth, Knickers, like the Know Nothings, tend to keep their most extreme views to themselves, others in the party, and maybe a few of their Facebook friends. This makes the fringes a little hard to communicate with, especially since our Twitter feed and Facebook pages have been shut down. This would seem to be very much in the spirit of the original Know Nothings who got their name from saying they didn’t know about the party. When asked about their views on immigrants and the mushrooming nativist organizations they were joining they said they knew nothing. Knickers similarly are often loathe to identify themselves (though the FBI is helping with their pictorial tweets of the most wanted from its Capitol Hill Violence webpage).
Knickers have a different take on knowing nothing as informed by conspiracy theories, media sources, neighbors and loved ones, etc. Per Joe Scarborough,
"It’s all, at the end of the day, about owning the Libs… To these demagogues, actually, owning the Libs now means owning science, owning medicine, owning reason, owning rationality. - Morning Joe, 3/3/21
Sixth, being anti-immigrant went hand in glove with being anti-Catholic, which, in the mid 1800’s meant Irish. They hated the Irish, even though the Irish were white. On the other hand, Knickers are not overtly this way though their enmity toward caravans of folks from the south in practice makes then kind of that way. Why so vilified? Same now as then I suppose, they are feared as a threat to white America – and our jobs - like Bogey and “Oomph Girl” Ann Sheridan dramatized in the 1937 film Black Legion.
Number seven? Know Nothings and Knickers both wrap themselves in the American flag. Check out Gangs of New York where we see Martin Scorsese wrap an American flag around Bill “the Butcher”. Our NkRA flag is great for all such purposes and comes in t-shirts.
Number eight, with a question mark, is the abolition of slavery. Know Nothings were abolitionists. Knickers today? Given that we see the Confederate battle flag so often at our events it makes me wonder a bit. Funny that the original standard bearer of Republicanism, Abraham Lincoln, apparently rejected Know Nothingism. As Doris Kearns-Goodwin notes in her seminal work Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln:
Lincoln had nothing but disdain for the discriminatory beliefs of the Know Nothings. “How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?” he queried his friend Joshua Speed. “Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance.”
I wonder sometimes what Lincoln would think of all our Knicker members, and the proselytizing of Republicans. He’d probably feel familiar with the situation as he had to get Know Nothings in his day to join the original Republican Party. We’ll call this similarity number nine.
Number ten? The political upheaval the Know Nothings facilitated was substantial. It takes a lot to bring an end to a political party like the Whigs. Same with Knickers as we watch the Republican Party deal with its existential threat. Not that NkRA really cares though we are enormously interested that the AR-15/Kentucky Long Rifle exchange program we heard about remains intact. I’ll be first in line!
If Knickers are anything like the originals they are going to be tough to beat for a while. As Doris Kearns Goodwin put it: “Where Republicans challenged the Know Nothing Party, as they did in Massachusetts, they found defeat.” Turns out remnants of the party stayed influential long after its demise.
It’s not all the same between Know Nothings and Knickers. For one thing there is no new party, unless you count those leaving the Republican party and are now Independents. Knickers don’t need to leave the Republican party; they just took it over. Non-Knickers (aka The Leadership) will need to leave like RINO and Lincoln Project types before them if anybody is going anywhere. Either way, the NkRA has a big pool to recruit from.