Note: As our list rapidly draws to a close, make sure you go back and check out the 20th through 4th “Biggest Assholes in American History.” I like to think it’s been memorable…
General George Gordon…How do you pick which of the former Confederate leaders is “the worst” in American History? Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a real bastard, but wound up so hated by both sides (history generally agrees the South had better generals but worse political leaders, and Davis wasn’t too popular even in the Post-Civil War South as the “man who lost the war”) that I began to look elsewhere for Assholes. Certainly, some of the early Governors to declare secession deserve blame, but as I stated in the Runner-Up list, there were hundreds of prominent Southern politicians at that time that wanted war, and it’s hard to pick just one.
Eventually, I started looking at the military leadership, and although Robert E. Lee may be a bit over mythologized in Southern culture (some people still call Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Robert E. Lee” day), he never really believed in secession and pushed people to reconcile when the war was lost rather than a sustained insurgency.
In fact, the obvious choices weren’t so much what men had done during the war but what they did after it was over. And General George Gordon choose to found the Ku Klux Klan. There’s some debate among historians about exactly what role Nathan Bedford Forrest played in founding the KKK, but Forrest post-war activities were more ambiguous, Union-favoring (he offered his services during several tense periods with Spain), and showed he didn’t really share the Klan’s ideology towards black people, giving several speeches at least during the last part of his life, like when he volunteered to help “exterminate” the Klansmen that were lynching unarmed Southern blacks.
Given our best historical guess General Gordon was much more likely the founder of the KKK and its ideological leader.
3. Gordon was from Pulaski, Tennessee where the Klan was founded in 1866. And it is extremely likely he was one of the original six men there during the founding.
2. Gordon wrote the organization’s original Prescript in 1867. Call him the Thomas Jefferson of the KKK, if you will, but Gordon crafted the ideology, rules, and loose organizational structure of the Klan which every terrorist cell or group has since adopted. The Klan has sometimes been called “the 1800’s Al-Qaeda” because of the KKK’s strategic use of secrecy and a loose organizational structure (so no one person’s death or capture can fully bring it down) that boils down to a common extremist ideology.
1. He was the Klan’s First Grand Wizard. So claims his own widow Minnie Gordon, and given the only other contender was Bedford Forrest, who vehemently refused he held the position, why wouldn’t we believe her?
It’s amazing to me that a Google search turns up Nathan Bedford Forrest as being the Klan’s first Grand Wizard and founder, when all evidence points to George Gordon as having been the founder and leader of America’s biggest terrorist group and the driver of white supremacy since the end of the Civil War. Gordon created a group that made reconstruction and black equality nearly impossible, murdered thousands of black people, and is still being used to terrorize them to this day. The only reason he’s not at the top position of “America’s Biggest Assholes” is because there’s historical doubt over his exact role, and if he truly was the KKK’s Osama Bin Laden-type figure.
Bonus Assholery: Gordon was also a Democratic state representative until his death, helping ruin the Democratic Party’s reputation until the 1960’s when it began to fully move away from its pro-slavery roots.
Asshole Adjacent: There have been literally too many prominent politicians in the KKK to count.