Political Alliances - The KKK and the Anti-Saloon League

In today's excerpt – the alliance between the church and the Ku Klux Klan that was crucial both to enacting Prohibition and the maintaining it for thirteen years.


Prohibition began in 1920 and lasted for thirteen years before it was repealed – primarily because of the tax revenues needed from alcohol sales as the Great Depression deepened. Prohibition did not spring forth overnight – in fact it took political activism over a period of almost eighty years to bring about Prohibition.  Today's commentators often lament what they see as the rise of "single-issue" or "narrow-issue" politics, whereby entire political movements are built around such issues as the environment, gay rights or social conservatism. However, single or narrow issue politics has been the rule rather than the exception in America since the very beginning. Perhaps the two greatest examples – the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of alcoholic beverages – both had their genesis in the 19th century.  The organization most responsible for Prohibition (the "drys" as opposed to the "wets") was the church-based Anti-Saloon League (ASL) and its legendary activist Wayne Wheeler. Wheeler was brilliant, indefatigable, and during his heyday, the most powerful man in American politics. Part of his effectiveness was his willingness to ally the ASL with any group that was willing to support Prohibition. For example, the ASL cooperated with the women's suffrage movement because Wheeler knew women would vote for "dry" candidates. The ASL supported those in favor of the income tax, because Prohibition would have been impossible except for the introduction of an income tax – prior to Prohibition there was no income tax, and taxes on alcohol represented as much as 30 to 40% of national income. Most insidious, though, was the tacit alliance of the ASL with the Ku Klux Klan. Drinking was something that was most closely associated with blacks and immigrants such as the Irish and Italians (both largely Catholic). These were the very groups targeted by the Klan, and so the Klan was strongly pro-Prohibition:

"After the founder of the modern Klan, William J. Simmons, had been expelled from the secret order for chronic drunkenness (he spent his later years in an Atlanta movie house, smelling of bourbon and cloves, as he watched Birth of a Nation over and over), the next Imperial Wizard, a Dal­las dentist named Hiram M. Evans, ushered in a new emphasis on the anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish parts of its program. This enabled the Klan to break out of the race-obsessed South and spread its influence across the map. The Klan of the 1920s 'enrolled more members in Connecticut than in Mississippi, more in Oregon than in Louisiana, and more in New Jer­sey than in Alabama,' wrote historian Stanley Coben. Over half a million Klansmen lived in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Klan-backed candidates, all running on platforms both dry and xenophobic, were elected gover­nor in Oregon, Colorado, and Kansas. In Detroit a Klan candidate whose name wasn't even on the ballot was nearly elected mayor in an avalanche of write-in votes.

"Nativism (anti-immigrant activism) could find no better running mate than Prohibition. In many towns there was little distinction between membership in the Klan and in an ASL-affiliated church. At the national level the Anti-Saloon League did not overtly incite religious prejudice; Wheeler in fact worked to develop alliances with dry Catholics and Jews, and Ernest Cherrington made a conscious effort to keep the ASL's public communications ecumenical. But to men like Roy Haynes, the Wheeler acolyte who headed the Prohibition Bureau, the Klan's vigilant dryness was an exploitable asset. 

"This became tragically clear in 1923 and 1924 when Williamson County, in southern Illinois, saw its law enforcement apparatus taken over by a vigilante army of between twelve and thirteen hundred Klansmen. Through the intervention of dry congressman Edward E. Denison, the Klansmen had been deputized by Haynes to clean up the county, which had been in the grip of bootleggers. The vigilantes were led by S. Glenn Young, who had earlier been drummed out of his position in the Prohibi­tion Bureau as 'a distinct and glaring disgrace . . . unfit to be in govern­ment service.' After midnight on February 1, 1924, Young's marauders raided the homes of immigrant Italian mineworkers, terrorizing women and children, and, if they found wine in the house, hauling their hus­bands and fathers off to jail. Rev. A. M. Stickney of the Marion Methodist Church provided ideological support, declaring that Catholics and Jews controlled America's newspapers and insisting that only the Klan could protect America from disaster. Stickney also took pains to note that the assassins of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley had all been born Catholic." 

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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