Cara Giaimo explains at Slate:
In 1930, E.D. Rivers—state senator, gubernatorial candidate, and Great Titan of the Ku Klux Klan—stood up in front of his constituents in Clarke County, Georgia, and made an impassioned speech. “For the first time in the history of our country,” he said, the nation faced a particular mortal threat. There was an “invasion” of an “alien” that would “take away the freedom of government from the masses.”
Unlike the Klan’s best-known targets, though, this threat was not a group of people. It wasn’t a religious affiliation, a behavior, or a particular political measure. It was chain stores: J.C. Penney, A&P Grocery, Woolworth’s, and other large-scale retail outlets that were changing the face of national commerce.
The 1920s were a boom time for the Klan. William Joseph Simmons had recently restarted the group, named himself Imperial Wizard, and broadened the enemy list to include Catholics, Jews, foreigners, intellectual elites, bootleggers, private schools, and movies. People joined up by the millions, and the Klan became a force in local politics nationwide. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of World War I, chain groceries, apothecaries, and department stores were also experiencing unprecedented growth, adding new branches and spreading quickly across the country.
As Nancy MacLean reports in Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan, many high-up Klansmen spoke chillingly of these well-stocked newcomers. One expressed concern that “young men of the country … will become ‘automatons,’ with no choice but to work for such monopolies.” Another, during a public lecture, warned that chain stores were “RUINING and CRUSHING DOWN ON THE ENTIRE POPULATION of the world.” They were commonly lumped in with other sources of Klanxiety: Great Titan Rivers spoke of the ills of “atheism, communism, chain stores and companionate marriage” all in the same breath. Meeting minutes from one Oregon chapter describe the banishment of members associated with “the local [J.C.] Penney store.”
Read the rest here.