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New light on the self and consciousness from neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy


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 978-0-231-53831-2 (electronic) 
 2015 Evan Thompson 

Someone who dreams of drinking wine at a cheerful banquet
may wake up crying the next morning. Someone who dreams
of crying may go off the next morning to enjoy the sport of the
hunt. When we are in the midst of a dream, we do not know it’s
a dream. Sometimes we may even try to interpret our dreams
while we are dreaming, but then we awake and realize it was a
dream. Only after one is greatly awakened does one realize that
it was all a great dream, while the fool thinks that he is awake
and presumptuously aware.
—Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zi), trans. Victor H. Mair,
Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu

The central idea of this book is that the self is a process,
not a thing or an entity. The self isn’t something outside
experience, hidden either in the brain or in some immaterial
realm. It is an experiential process that is subject to
constant change. We enact a self in the process of awareness,
and this self comes and goes depending on how we are aware.
When we’re awake and occupied with some manual task,
we enact a bodily self geared to our immediate environment.
Yet this bodily self recedes from our experience if our task
becomes an absorbing mental one. If our mind wanders, the
mentally imagined self of the past or future overtakes the self
of the present moment.
As we start to fall asleep, the sense of self slackens. Images
float by, and our awareness becomes progressively absorbed
in them. The impression of being a bounded individual distinct
from the world dissolves. In this so-called hypnagogic
state, the borders between self and not-self seem to fall away.
The feeling of being a distinct self immersed in the world
comes back in the dream state. We experience the dream
from the perspective of the self within it, or the dream ego.
Although the entire dream world exists only as a content of
our awareness, we identify our self with only a portion of it—
the dream ego that centers our experience of the dream world
and presents itself as the locus of our awareness.

At times, however, something else happens. We realize we’re
dreaming, but instead of waking up, we keep right on dreaming with
the knowledge that we’re dreaming. We enter what’s called a lucid
dream. Here we experience a different kind of awareness, one that
witnesses the dream state. No matter what dream contents come and
go, including the forms the dream ego takes, we can tell they’re not
the same as our awareness of being in the dream state. We no longer
identify only with our dream ego—the “I” as dreamed—for our sense
of self now includes our dreaming self—the “I” as dreamer.
Similarly, while meditating in the waking state, we can simply witness
being conscious and watch whatever sensory or mental events
occur within the field of our awareness. We can also watch how we
may identify with some of them as “Me” or appropriate some of them as “Mine.”
We usually lose touch with this ability to be mindful when we fall
asleep. We regain it in a vivid way when we have a lucid dream. Some
Indian and Tibetan traditions of philosophy and meditation claim we
can recover this mindfulness or witnessing awareness even during
deep and dreamless sleep. If this is true, then there must be more
to consciousness than just the contents of our waking and dreaming minds.

According to the Indian yogic traditions, which broadly construed
include Buddhism, we can distinguish three aspects of consciousness.
1 The first aspect is awareness, which is often likened to a light
that reveals whatever it shines upon. The second aspect is whatever
the light illuminates, that is, whatever we happen to be aware of
from moment to moment. The third aspect is how we experience
some of these contents of awareness as “I” or “Me” or “Mine.” To
understand how we enact a self, therefore, we need to understand
three things—the nature of awareness as distinct from its sensory
and mental contents, the mind-body processes that produce these
contents, and how some of these contents come to be experienced as the self.

In the following chapters, I take this threefold framework of
awareness, contents of awareness, and self-experience—or what the
Indian tradition calls “I-making”—and put it to work in cognitive
science. Whereas the Indian thinkers mapped consciousness and
I-making in philosophical and phenomenological terms, I show how
their insights can also help to advance the neuroscience of consciousness,
by weaving together neuroscience and Indian philosophy in an
exploration of wakefulness, falling asleep, dreaming, lucid dreaming,
out-of-body experiences, deep and dreamless sleep, forms of meditative
awareness, and the process of dying.

The organizing principle for this book comes from the Indian tradition.
The ancient Indian texts called the Upanishads contain the
world’s first recorded map of consciousness.2 The earliest texts—
dating from the sixth or seventh century B.C.E.—delineate three
principal states of the self—the waking state, the dream state, and
the state of deep and dreamless sleep. Later texts add a fourth state—
the state of pure awareness. Waking consciousness relates to the
outer world and apprehends the physical body as the self. Dream
consciousness relates to mental images constructed from memories
and apprehends the dream body as the self. In deep and dreamless
sleep, consciousness rests in a dormant state not differentiated into
subject and object. Pure awareness witnesses these changing states
of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep without identifying with
them or with the self that appears in them. I use this fourfold structure
to organize my exploration of consciousness and the sense of
self across the waking, dreaming, and deep-sleep states, as well as
meditative states of heightened awareness and concentration.
In the yogic traditions, meditation trains both the ability to sustain
attention on a single object and the ability to be openly aware of the
entire field of experience without selecting or suppressing anything
that arises. In both modes of meditation—focused attention (or onepointed
concentration) and open awareness—one learns to monitor
specific qualities of experience, such as moment-to-moment fluctuations
of attention and emotion, that are difficult for the restless
mind to see.3 One of the guiding ideas of this book is that individuals
who can move flexibly and reliably between these different modes of
awareness and attention, and who can describe in precise terms how
their experience feels from moment to moment, offer a new source
of information about the self and consciousness for neuroscience and
the philosophy of mind.4
Let me now give a brief overview of the book’s main ideas. In the
chapters themselves I present these ideas using neuroscience, philosophy,
literature, and stories from my own experience.
Chapter 1 explains the formative Indian image of light or luminosity
as the basic nature of consciousness. Indian philosophers often
define consciousness as that which is luminous and knowing. “Luminous”
means having the power to reveal; “knowing” means being able
to apprehend whatever appears. In the waking state, consciousness
reveals and apprehends the outer world through the senses; in the
dream state, consciousness reveals and apprehends the inner world
of mental images. This chapter also introduces the ancient Indian
map of consciousness, which comprises the four states of wakefulness,
dreaming, deep and dreamless sleep, and pure awareness.
Chapter 2 focuses on attention and perception in the waking state.
I compare theories and findings from cognitive neuroscience with
Indian Buddhist theories of attention and perception. According to
both perspectives, although the stream of consciousness may seem to
flow continuously, it’s really made up of discrete moments of awareness
that depend on how attention shifts from one thing to another.
I review evidence from neuroscience showing that focused attention
and open awareness forms of meditation have measurable effects on
how attention structures the stream of consciousness into discrete
moments of awareness. I conclude by using both Buddhist philosophy
and cognitive neuroscience to argue that in addition to these
discrete moments, we also need to recognize a more slowly changing
background awareness that includes the sense of self and that shifts
across waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.
Chapter 3 takes up the question, raised in the prologue, of whether
the basic nature of consciousness as pure awareness is dependent on
the brain or transcends the brain. I describe a dialogue on this question
with the Dalai Lama at his refugee home in Dharamsala, India,
and explain the basis in Buddhist philosophy for the Dalai Lama’s
view that consciousness transcends the brain. I argue, however, that
there’s no scientific evidence to support this view. All the evidence
available to us indicates that consciousness, including pure awareness,
is contingent on the brain. Nevertheless, my viewpoint isn’t
a materialist one, for two reasons. First, consciousness has a cognitive
primacy that materialism fails to see. There’s no way to step
outside consciousness and measure it against something else. Science
always moves within the field of what consciousness reveals;
it can enlarge this field and open up new vistas, but it can never get
beyond the horizon set by consciousness. Second, since consciousness
has this kind of primacy, it makes no sense to try to reductively
explain consciousness in terms of something that’s conceived to be
essentially nonexperiential, like fundamental physical phenomena.
Rather, understanding how consciousness is a natural phenomenon
is going to require rethinking our scientific concepts of nature and
physical being.
Chapters 4, 5, and 6 concern falling asleep, dreaming, and lucid
dreaming. I begin with the state leading into sleep, the hypnagogic
state, in which strange images make their way before our eyes and we
hear sounds or what seem like conversations going on around us or
inside us. Whereas normal waking consciousness is ego-structured—
we experience ourselves as bounded beings distinct from the outside
world—this structure dissolves in the hypnagogic state. There’s no
ego in the sense of an “I” who acts as a participant in a larger world,
and there’s no larger world in which we feel immersed. Instead,
there’s a play of images and sounds that holds consciousness spellbound.
In short, two key features mark the hypnagogic state—a
dissolution of ego boundaries and an attention drawn to what consciousness
spontaneously imagines.
The ego structure of consciousness returns in the dream state. In
the hypnagogic state we look at images and they absorb us; in the
dream state we experience being in the dream world. Sometimes we
experience it from an inside or first-person perspective; sometimes
we see ourselves in it from an outside or third-person perspective.
These two perspectives also occur in memory, where they’re known
as “field memory” and “observer memory.” Yet even in the case of the
observer perspective in a dream, we experience ourselves as a subject
situated in relation to the dream world. At the same time, the spellbound
attention that arises in the hypnagogic state also characterizes
the dream state, so it too is a kind of captivated consciousness.
All this changes in a lucid dream. The defining feature of a lucid
dream is being able to direct attention to the dreamlike quality
of the state so that one can think about it as a dream. When this
happens, the sense of self shifts, for one becomes aware of the self
both as dreamer—“I’m dreaming”—and as dreamed—“I’m flying
in my dream.”

In these three chapters I review findings from sleep science that
show that each state—the hypnagogic state, dreaming, and lucid
dreaming—is associated with its own distinct kind of brain activity.
Brain-imaging studies of lucid dreaming offer a fascinating way
to investigate what neuroscientists call the “neural correlates of consciousness.”
Lucid dreamers can use eye movements to signal when
they become lucid, and scientists can monitor what’s going on in the
brain at the same time. In Tibetan Buddhism, “dream yoga” includes
learning how to have lucid dreams in order to practice meditation in
the dream state. This kind of meditation is thought to be especially
powerful for learning to transform negative emotions into positive
emotions, such as anger into equanimity, and for learning to recognize
the basic nature of consciousness as pure awareness. By combining
these ancient yoga practices with modern methods from sleep
science, we can envision a new kind of dream science that integrates
dream psychology, neuroscience, and dream yoga.
I end my discussion of dreaming by criticizing the standard neuroscience
conception of the dream state as a form of delusional hallucination.
Instead, I argue that dreaming is a kind of spontaneous
imagination. I also argue that the dreaming mind isn’t a passive
epiphenomenon of the sleeping brain, for intentional mental activity
in dreaming, especially in lucid dreaming, actively affects the sleeping brain.
Chapter 7 examines out-of-body experiences. In an out-of-body
experience, you feel as if you’re located outside your body, often at
an elevated vantage point. Yet far from showing the separability of
the self from the body, out-of-body experiences reinforce the strong
connection between the body and the sense of self. These aren’t experiences
of disembodiment; they’re experiences of altered embodiment.
You see your body as an object at a place that doesn’t coincide
with the felt location of your visual and vestibular awareness. In this
way, there’s a dissociation between your body as an object of perception
and your body as a perceptual subject and attentional agent.
Out-of-body experiences reveal something crucial about the sense
of self: you locate yourself as an experiential subject wherever your
attentional perspective feels located, regardless of whether this happens
to be the place you see your body as occupying.
Out-of-body experiences provide no evidence that one can have
an experience without one’s biological body, for the body remains
present throughout. Furthermore, experiences with many of the
features of out-of-body experiences can be brought about by direct
electrical stimulation of certain brain regions and by virtual reality
devices. So it’s reasonable to assume that out-of-body experiences
depend on activity at specific regions of the brain and therefore as a
general rule are contingent on the living body.
Chapter 8 asks whether consciousness is present in deep and
dreamless sleep. Most neuroscientists and philosophers of mind
today think of dreamless sleep as a blackout state in which consciousness
fades or disappears completely. In contrast, the Indian philosophical
schools of Yoga and Vedānta, as well as Indian and Tibetan
Buddhism, maintain that a subtle form of consciousness continues. I
present the Indian philosophical case for deep sleep being a mode of
consciousness and show that none of the behavioral or physiological
evidence from sleep science suffices to rule out there being a mode of
consciousness in dreamless sleep. Hence the standard neuroscience
way of defining consciousness as that which disappears in dreamless
sleep needs to be revised. Yoga, Vedānta, and Buddhism assert that
the subliminal consciousness present in dreamless sleep can become
cognitively accessible through meditative mental training. I present
some preliminary evidence from sleep science in support of this idea.
I end the chapter by proposing that we need to enlarge sleep science
to include contemplative ways of training the mind in sleep. This
project will require sleep scientists, sleep yogis, and contemplative
scholars of the Indian and Tibetan traditions to work together to map
the sleeping mind. In short, we need a new, contemplative kind of
sleep science.
Chapter 9 investigates what happens to the self and consciousness
when we die. Neuroscience and biomedicine talk about death
as if it were essentially an objective and impersonal event instead of
a subjective and personal one. From a purely biomedical perspective,
death consists in the breakdown of the functions of the living
body along with the disappearance of all outer signs of consciousness.
Missing from this perspective is the subjective experience of
this breakdown and the existential significance of the inevitable fact
of one’s own death. In contrast, Tibetan Buddhism presents a vivid
account of the progressive breakdown of consciousness and the dissolution
of the sense of self during the dying process. It also describes
how to face this process in a meditative way. According to Tibetan
Buddhism—as well as Yoga and Vedānta—great contemplatives can
disengage from the sense of self as ego as they die. Resting in an
experience of pure awareness, they can watch the dissolution of their
everyday “I-Me-Mine” consciousness and witness their own dying
with equanimity.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition also claims that sometimes the
bodies of great yogis don’t die in the usual way. After their hearts
stop beating and their breathing ceases, these individuals are said
not to decay for days or even weeks. I discuss a number of recent
reports of such phenomena and how they’re viewed from Western
scientific and medical perspectives. Scientific studies have only just
begun. One reason this kind of investigation has value is that it can
help science to see that a full understanding of death—even in biomedical
terms—requires understanding how the mind meets death
and may affect the dying process.
Near-death experiences during cardiac arrest provide another
important case for investigating how the mind meets death and the
relationship between consciousness and the body. Although these
experiences are often presented as challenging the view that consciousness
is contingent on the brain, I argue that none of the evidence
brought forward to support this position is convincing. Instead,
all the evidence to date, when examined carefully, supports the view
that these experiences are contingent on the brain.
At the same time, we should avoid the trap of thinking that the
reports of near-death experience after resuscitation from cardiac
arrest must be either literally true or literally false. This way of
thinking remains caught in the grip of a purely third-person view
of death. Dying and death must also be understood from the firstperson
perspective. We need to stop using accounts of these experiences
to justify either neuroreductionist or spiritualist agendas
and instead take them seriously for what they are—narratives of
first-person experience arising from circumstances that we will all
in some way face.
Chapter 10 targets the view widespread in neuroscience and
“neurophilosophy” that the self is nothing but an illusion created
by the brain. I call this view “neuro-nihilism.” I argue that although
the self is a construction—or rather a process that’s under constant
construction—it isn’t an illusion. A self is an ongoing process that
enacts an “I” and in which the “I” is no different from the process
itself, rather like the way dancing is a process that enacts a dance
and in which the dance is no different from the dancing. I call this
the “enactive” view of the self. This chapter presents a systematic
statement of the enactive view and shows how I-making happens at
multiple biological, psychological, and social levels. The discussion
combines elements from Buddhist philosophy (specifically from the
“Middle Way” or Madhyamaka school), biology, cognitive science,
and the neuroscience of meditation.
Although these chapters are meant to be read in sequence, I’ve
written them so they can be read on their own in any order. So, for
example, if you’re interested in the issue about pure awareness and
the brain, you can jump to chapter 3 and read it straightaway. Or
if you want to know how contemplative approaches are crucial for
thinking about death in our modern biomedical culture, you can go
to chapter 9 (which is also published separately by Columbia University
Press as a short e-book). Throughout, no specialized knowledge
of cognitive science or Western or Indian philosophy is presupposed;
everything is explained along the way.

Although cognitive science and the Indian yogic traditions of philosophy
and meditation form the core of this book, I also draw from
a wide range of other sources—poetry and fiction, Western philosophy,
Chinese Daoism, and personal experience. By weaving together
these diverse sources, I hope to demonstrate a new way to relate science
and what many people like to call spirituality. Instead of being
either opposed or indifferent to each other, cognitive science and the
world’s great contemplative traditions can work together on a common
project—understanding the mind and giving meaning to human
life. Two extreme and regressive tendencies mark our era—the resurgence
of religious extremism and outmoded belief systems, and the
entrenchment of scientific materialism and reductionism. Neither
mindset realizes the value of meditation and the contemplative way
of life as a source of wisdom and firsthand knowledge essential to
a mature cognitive science that can do justice to our entire way of
being—to our spirit, to use an older idiom.5 This book upholds a different
vision. By enriching science with contemplative knowledge
and contemplative knowledge with cognitive science, we can work
to create a new scientific and spiritual appreciation of human life,
one that no longer requires or needs to be contained within either a
religious or an antireligious framework.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Stephen Batchelor xi
Prologue: The Dalai Lama’s Conjecture xvii
Acknowledgments xxvii
Introduction xxxi
1 Seeing: What Is Consciousness? 1
2 Waking: How Do We Perceive? 21
3 Being: What Is Pure Awareness? 67
4 Dreaming: Who Am I? 107
5 Witnessing: Is This a Dream? 139
6 Imagining: Are We Real? 167
7 Floating: Where Am I? 203
8 Sleeping: Are We Conscious in Deep Sleep? 231
9 Dying: What Happens When We Die? 273
10 Knowing: Is the Self an Illusion? 319
Notes 367
Bibliography 409
Index 433

Waking, Dreaming, Being - New light on the self and consciousness from neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy
Columbia University Press
Publishers Since 1893
New York Chichester, West Sussex

Columbia University Press books are printed on permanent
and durable acid-free paper.
This book is printed on paper with recycled content.
Printed in the United States of America
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Cover design: Alex Camlin
Cover image: The Buddha, c.1905 (pastel on paper), Redon, Odilon
(1840–1916) / Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France / Giraudon / Bridgeman Images
Book design: Lisa Hamm


Trump, the Klan, and the Mainstreaming of Resentment

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The Politics of Losing
Trump, the Klan, and the Mainstreaming of Resentment

Columbia University Press New York

Ignorant, superstitious, and filthy Mexicans are scattering far
and wide throughout the country, taking the place of American
laborers. They are reported as far north as the sugar beet fields
of Michigan, where they are ousting white families, and thousands
are settling in the southwest. Our immigration laws are
still far too lax. Something should be done, and speedily, to curb this evil.

— Imperial Night- Hawk, the newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan,
May 30, 1923


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 9780231548700 (e- book) 
 9780231190060 (cloth : alk. paper) 
 2019 Columbia University Press 

In the 1920s, the Klan capitalized on the anger and frustration
of the middle- class when significant changes in American
society undermined their economic power, political influence,
and social status. Millions embraced the Klan, which used cultural
weapons to fight back against these losses.
Immigration was the thorn in their side. In the early 1900s,
millions of immigrants arrived on American shores, mostly Catholics
and Jews from central and southern Europe. They provided
the labor that fed the factories, and they fueled rising political
constituencies and carried with them cultures and practices and
beliefs that set them apart from the native- born white Protestants
who were predominant in America. To recruit members,
the Klan used race, religion, and nativity to cobble together a
new constituency of those seeking redress for their lost power,
and scapegoated immigrants for their losses.
Almost a century later, Trump appealed to the resentments
of a new segment of mostly white Americans, primarily those in
towns bypassed by the global economy. While this changing
economy offered new and lucrative opportunities to the better
educated, jobs that paid well had disappeared from the towns
that didn’t have the highly educated workforces to retain them.
Some of these jobs moved overseas where labor was cheaper.
Mechanization eliminated others. Service- sector and retail jobs
filled the vacuum, but they were a poor substitute for the jobs
that once provided respectable wages and full- time hours. Immigration,
which generated new Democratic constituencies and
seemed to be slowly changing American culture, once again
became a political whipping post.
Only by looking closely at the changes taking place in American
society can we make sense of Trump’s rise to the presidency.
His campaign was almost impossibly resilient. He survived accusations
and missteps that would have crippled anyone else. He
had, after all, been at the forefront of the birther movement, generating
and spreading rumors that Barack Obama, the nation’s
first black president, was born in Kenya and therefore ineligible
for the presidency. During his campaign, he stumbled when
asked about the endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader
David Duke. Later, the Klan formally endorsed him. Other of
his supporters and surrogates said things that were blatantly racist,
which he declined to renounce.19 When his poll numbers

slipped in the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic
conventions, he appointed Steve Bannon as the CEO of his campaign.
Bannon had formerly been the executive chair of Breitbart
News— a conservative news outlet known to traffic in right- wing
conspiracy theories. In ordinary times, any of these actions would

have been enough to destroy a candidacy.

This book has come a long way since we completed an
initial draft in 2017. Our first instinct, given the volatility
of the Trump presidency (“breaking news” regularly
blaring across our TV screens), was to complete the book
as quickly as possible. We felt we needed to get it into print before
it became “old news.” We are extraordinarily grateful to Columbia
University Press, and especially our editor Stephen Wesley,
for slowing us down. Rather than trying to beat the news cycle,
Stephen encouraged us to develop a book that will stand the test
of time and, we hope, interest readers for decades to come. He
spent countless hours helping us with revisions— chiseling away
at the academic jargon to reveal the important story that needs to be told.

We are especially thankful for the love and support of our
families. The project also benefited from the reactions of our
colleagues and students at the University of Notre Dame and
Creighton University, who weighed in formally and informally
every step of the way.

We have tried to approach the topic of the book as objectively
as possible. Parts of our analysis, we are sure, will displease
readers on the left as well as on the right. We only ask that it be
read with an open mind. We fully recognize that good people
come in all political stripes. For that reason, we approached our
subject not by focusing on individual voters but instead by trying
to understand and explain how the organization of our society
creates fundamental divisions that we must work to resolve.

On a hot July day in central Indiana— the kind of day
when the heat shimmers off the tall green corn and
even the bobwhites seek shade in the brush— a great
crowd of people clustered around an open meadow. They were
waiting for something. Their faces were expectant, and their eyes
searched the bright blue sky.

Suddenly, they began to cheer. They had seen it: a speck that
came from the south and soon grew into an airplane. As it came
closer, it glistened in the sunlight, and they could see that it was
gilded all over. It circled the field slowly and seesawed in for a
bumpy landing. Soon a man emerged, to a new surge of applause,
and a small delegation of dignitaries filed out to the airplane to
meet him. With the newcomer in the lead, the column recrossed
the field, proceeded along a lane carved through the multitude,
and reached a platform decked with flags and bunting. He
mounted the steps, walked forward to the rostrum, and held up
his hand to hush the excited crowd.

This is the account, almost word for word, of a journalist
named Robert Coughlan on the Fourth of July, 1923.1 This was
a Klan rally— arguably the largest in history— a tristate Konklave
that brought members from Ohio and Illinois to gather together
in Kokomo, Indiana. Some reports place the attendance at one
hundred thousand. For Coughlan, who had been born and raised
Catholic in Kokomo, “there was special reason to remember the Ku Klux Klan.”

The man at the rostrum was David C. Stephenson, though
he went by “D. C.” Once a lowly Indiana coal dealer, on that
day he was installed to the “exalted” position of Grand Dragon,
granting him control over the thriving northern realm of the
Klan. With millions of faithful members, he had gained tremendous
political power.2 With his ambition, knack for salesmanship,
and the Klan behind him, even a future run for the presidency
seemed to be in the cards.3 But before that day would come, he
would first build a political machine headquartered in Indiana.
Coughlan continues: “The Grand Dragon paused, inviting the
cheers that thundered around him. Then he launched into a
speech. He urged his audience to fight for ‘one- hundred- percent
Americanism’ and to thwart ‘foreign elements’ that he said were
trying to control the country.” He spoke about how our once
great nation had veered from the course charted by her founders,
and he railed against political corruption, a rigged electoral
system, and the undemocratic power of the Supreme Court to
nullify the will of the people. “Every official who violates his oath
to support the constitution by betrayal of the common welfare
through any selfish service to himself or to others spits in the
soup and in the face of democracy. He is as guilty of treason as
though he were a martial enemy.”

As he finished, and stepped back, “a coin came spinning
through the air. Someone threw another. Soon people were
throwing rings, money, watch charms, anything bright and
valuable. At last, when the tribute slackened, he motioned his
retainers to sweep up the treasure. Then he strode off to a nearby
pavilion to consult with his attendant Kleagles, Cyclopses, and Titans.”

This rally was in the midst of the phenomenal rise of the Klan
during the early 1920s. By 1925, Klan membership was anywhere
from 2 to 5 million members, not counting the millions
who supported the Klan without ever joining up.6 The total
population in 1925 stood at approximately 115 million, which
means that as many as 1 in every 23 Americans was a member.
In Kokomo, “literally half ” the town had joined at its height.
Like the original Klan, which was created during Reconstruction
in the late 1870s, and like the Klan that mobilized to thwart
the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Klan of the 1920s
existed to advance and maintain white supremacy. But it also had
a broader agenda, and it stunned contemporary observers as it
attracted millions of followers and grew particularly strong outside
of the former Confederacy, in states like Michigan, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, and Indiana.

The Klan’s national leader, Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley
Evans, was also there the day of Stephenson’s speech, introducing
him with “a ringing message of optimism and good cheer.”
A week later, Evans gave a speech at Buckeye Lake in Ohio,
musing on the origins of this second coming of the Klan.
“Among the students of the old Reconstruction,” he said,
“there was an itinerant Methodist preacher who, living in the
atmosphere and under the shade of the former greatness of the
Klan, dreamed by day and night of a reincarnation of the organization
which had saved white civilization to a large portion of
our country.” This preacher was Colonel William Joseph Simmons,
who had refounded the Klan outside Atlanta, Georgia,
in 1915. “Slowly, under the dreamings of a wondering mind, the
Klan took some hazy kind of form. As this man wandered in
the streets of the Southern city in which he lived, preaching the
doctrine of a new Klan in his emotional manner, there slowly
came to the standard men of dependable character and sterling
worth, who were able to lend some kind of concrete form
to the God- given idea destined to again save a white man’s civilization.”

Evans’s tribute to Simmons winked at the Klan’s slow growth
and aimlessness in the years following its rebirth. By the early
1920s, however, a new leadership had hit upon a formula for rapid
expansion. Simmons had hired two publicists, Edward Young
Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler, who enlisted a team of recruiters
they called “Kleagles.” The Kleagles traveled the country, forging
close ties with fraternal lodges and Protestant congregations
to attract members and money. As they ventured beyond the
South, they discovered deep pockets of discontent among white
Americans. Clarke and Tyler decided that this discontent could
be harnessed into a fearsome political movement. They instructed
Kleagles to promise new members that only a powerful “onehundred-
percent American” organization such as theirs could save them.

The Klan spread quickly then, as much a social club as a political
operation. Local chapters staged public marches, rallies, and
speeches, but also baseball games, plays, and concerts. They put
on “Klan Days” at state fairs and even Klan circuses and rodeos.
“Spectacle was a device for establishing the Klan as a mysterious
presence and for winning converts to the Invisible Empire,”
historian Thomas Pegram writes, “but it was also a tool for
community- building among white Protestants.”12 Local chapters
were on hand to celebrate the birth of Klansmen’s children, and
they staged elaborate funerals for those who passed on.13 In
Terrell, Texas, the Klan’s national newspaper, the Imperial
Night- Hawk, reported on the funeral of one C. T. Cochran,
who died from a run- in with a wood saw. “The Kaufman and
Terrell Order of the Ku Klux Klan had charge of the burial, full
honors being given. The Terrell drum corps attended, together
with about two hundred robed Klansmen. The ceremony was a
most impressive one, and was said to have been attended by the
largest number of people ever present at a burial in the Kaufman cemetery.”

When sociologist Kathleen Blee interviewed former members
of the Women’s Ku Klux Klan for her 1991 book, they spoke of
it fondly, and recalled the excitement of watching Klansmen
march solemnly through their towns: “A hush fell on the crowd.
They seemed to sense a force of something unknown.”15
But the Klan relied on more than spectacle to attract members.
Together, Evans and Stephenson developed a message that
struck a chord with middle- class white Americans who lived in
towns depressed by the economic transformations of the time.
While many Americans were prospering in the new economy of
the 1920s, others suffered. An agricultural depression had settled
on America after the European export boom of World War I
fell off, and transformations in manufacturing production
accelerated the use of unskilled factory labor, making skilled
manufactures and artisans uncompetitive if not nearly obsolete.
Like the first Klan of the Reconstruction Era, the 1920s Klan
proudly waved the banner of white supremacy. But the target of
their animosity this time was more Catholics and immigrants
than black Americans. Klan leaders linked these ethnic and religious
enmities to economic nationalism in a way that was particularly
appealing to the Klan faithful. “I am rather disgusted
today that the masterminds of politics and many of the really

1 Introduction 1
2 The Ku Klux Klan in American History 19

3 Power and Political Alignments 55

4 Economics and White Nationalism 67

5 Where Trump Found His Base 97

6 Politics and White Nationalism 125

7 Status and White Nationalism 143

8 White Nationalism Versus the Press 173

9 The Future of White Nationalism and American Politics 201
Conclusion: Making America White Again 221
Appendix: Methods of Statistical Analysis 229
Acknowledgments 243
Notes 245
Index 297
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