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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America by Timothy Egan

In this narrative nonfiction, Egan explores the Klan's explosive growth and power in the 1920s in states like Indiana and beyond, while illustrating the unlikely heroine whose bravery began to bring justice to the evil leaders and implode the hate group.

Indiana—a state that had lost 25,000 men fighting the Confederacy just a half century earlier—would soon have more Klansmen than any other state.... at the end of 1922, nearly one in four residents had taken an oath to a cryptic organization dedicated to the dehumanization of fellow citizens. A majority would soon elect a Klansman as their mayor.

In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan was roaring through states like Indiana, adding tens of thousands of members so that its ranks swelled to 400,000 in that state.

Membership in the hate group was exploding in the Midwest but also in states like California and Oregon, and energy was focused on building fear and intolerance and profiting from its participants. The Klan used its wide reach to control elections and place members in high-ranking state and national political positions. Police officers, judges, lawyers, and other community leaders who were part of the white supremacist hate group looked out for each other, and they seemed impervious to inconveniences like the law or justice.

Should they call the police, they would be reporting something already known, and even encouraged.

D.C. Stephenson was a con man and womanizer who had told enough enormous lies to reinvent himself into one of the most powerful men in the KKK. His life was built upon a lie, and his years of unchecked abhorrent, violent, narcissistic, horrifying actions made him feel invincible.

He discovered that if he said something often enough, no matter how untrue, people would believe it.

The Klan owned the state, and Stephenson owned the Klan. Cops, judges, prosecutors, ministers, mayors, newspaper editors—they all answered to the Grand Dragon.

Several hundred thousand Hoosiers had pledged fealty to and were effectively governed by a rapist, a murderer, a drunk, and a dictator. He was not a man of God, but a fraud. He was no protector of women’s virtue, but a violent predator.

But when he met a young woman and promised her career assistance, then abused his position, she threatened to be his undoing--and to take down the hate group he'd spent his life profiting from and building into a force of evil.

A Fever in the Heartland traces the horrifying and powerful growth of hate, buoyed by greed and intolerance, in the form of the Klan. The demonic con man at the heart of much of the Klan's spread is shown to be a monster with the worst imaginable faults of cruelty, ignorance, narcissism, and disregard for human life.

My blood pressure was way up as I listened to the audiobook of the book and the many shocking atrocities that took place during the course of events explored here. The Klan's eventual comeuppance takes up a comparatively small portion of the book, but offers a beginning to justice being served.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Timothy Egan is also the author of The Worst Hard Time, fascinating narrative nonfiction about the Dust Bowl.

You can click here to find other books I've read and reviewed that explore issues of race and politics or social justice as well as other fascinating nonfiction titles.

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