An MSNBC host and a liberal congressman seem to have forgotten the Democratic Party's long history with the Ku Klux Klan. WISN's Dan O'Donnell gives them a history lesson.

On Wednesday night, MSNBC host Chris Hayes ripped on Republican senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio—generally par for the course for Hayes, but what was conspicuous about that segment was that he used a graphic of the three senators’ heads as playing cards, the kings, which spelled out on the screen KKK. 

That’s led to some questioning whether Hayes was actually trying to subliminally link Cruz, Paul, and Rubio’s opposition to President Obama to the racism of the Ku Klux Klan.

I’d be more willing to give Hayes the benefit of the doubt and say the graphic was just a coincidence if the day before, liberal Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida didn’t write a fundraising email featuring a picture of a burning cross as the “t” in the word Tea Party.

These sorts of comparisons are unfortunately as common as they are inaccurate.

The KKK was founded in Tennessee immediately after the end of the Civil War as a sort of social club for former Confederate Soldiers whose influence quickly spread through the decimated Southern states.  As Columbia professor Eric Foner wrote in his A Short History of Reconstruction, in its early days, the group was loosely bound by one main principle: launching a reign of terror against Republican leaders black and white.

Racism was, of course, a guiding principle, but not quite as guiding as the hatred of the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, the Yankees who early Klansmen believed destroyed their homeland through what they termed a “war of northern aggression.”

The Republican Party had been founded in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin just 12 years earlier, and Lincoln was its first president.  The Klan saw both as just as big a menace as the newly freed slaves.  Less than a year after Lincoln’s assassination, the Klan’s anti-Republican ideology spread rapidly.

As Dr. Foner wrote:

In effect, the Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy.  It aimed to destroy the Republican party’s infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, reestablish control of the black labor force, and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life.

In 1868, the Klan elected its first Grand Wizard, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest.  Decades later, his grandson wrote in the September 1928 issue of the Klan’s Kourier Magazine:

I have never voted for any man who was not a regular Democrat.  My father … never voted for any man who was not a Democrat.  My grandfather was …the head of the Ku Klux Klan in reconstruction days….  My great-grandfather was a life-long Democrat….  My great-great-grandfather was…one of the founders of the Democratic party.

Under the elder Forrest, the Klan’s violence grew almost uncontrollable.  PBS’ American Experience reports:

In the time leading up to the 1868 presidential election, the Klan's activities picked up in speed and brutality. The election, which pitted Republican Ulysses S. Grant against Democrat Horatio Seymour, was crucial. Republicans would continue programs that prevented Southern whites from gaining political control in their states. Klan members knew that given the chance, the blacks in their communities would vote Republican.

Across the South, the Klan and other terrorist groups used brutal violence to intimidate Republican voters. In Kansas, over 2,000 murders were committed in connection with the election. In Georgia, the number of threats and beatings was even higher. And in Louisiana, 1000 blacks were killed as the election neared. In those three states, Democrats won decisive victories at the polls.

Democrats. Not Republicans, not Tea Partiers. Democrats. 

It seems Chris Hayes and Alan Grayson and anyone else confused about the nature of the KKK’s political affiliation simply doesn’t know their history.