The newly elected Cortland County treasurer, John T. Banewicz Sr., donated $25 in 1991 to David Duke, a grand wizard or head official of the Ku Klux Klan, when Duke was running for governor of Louisiana.
A Nov. 14, 1991, article in the Syracuse Herald-American listed four people from the greater Cortland County area, including Banewicz, as having donated between $10 to $25 to Duke’s campaign.
“That (donating to Duke) goes back to my financial training I had,” Banewicz said, noting his donation had nothing to do with supporting Duke ideologies or white supremacism. “His campaign issue was the Federal Reserve Bank and getting rid of the Federal Reserve Bank and going back to the gold standard.”
The gold standard was used in the 19th century and part of the early 20th century and accounted or currency in terms of gold and meant people could exchange currency for gold.
“That was when our nation prospered,” Banewicz said.
He said it was the same reason he was in favor of Alan Keyes becoming president when he ran in 2000.
“He’s a black guy,” Banewicz said.
Banewicz also noted the KKK had not formed as an organization of hatred toward minorities, including African-American people and Jews, but because of reconstruction in the South after the Civil War ended.
“Whites in the South couldn’t vote,” he said.
Banewicz said eventually that fraction of the KKK died out, but was reinvigorated again in the late 1800s when an influx of people from Italy and other eastern European countries started immigrating to the U.S.
“Those were my ancestors,” he said. “It (the KKK) formed to negate them and of course it turned to the blacks.”
But Evan Faulkenbury, a SUNY Cortland assistant professor of history who has studied the KKK, said Banewicz’s understanding of the KKK is warped.
“That’s the same mentality some of the klan members had in 1860s, it’s not a good look,” he said. “To portray white Southern klan members as the victim of civil rights and then end of enslavement that’s the wrong way to look at it. To say that the klan was just this benign happy-go-lucky moderate organization just helping white people vote is really just missing the point of the klan.”
Faulkenbury said the klan first began after the Civil War in Tennessee and was a terrorist organization.
“It still is today,” he said. It formed to frighten and harass African-Americans who were voting and running for government.
When Ulysses S. Grant became president, Faulkenbury said, the administration conducted essentially an antiterrorism campaign, shutting down the klan by 1872.
“But only after they murdered who knows how many people,” Faulkenbury said.
The klan then came back in the early 20th century and an influx of immigrants, and again in the 1950s and ‘60s with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.
Faulkenbury also said that the notion that Duke supported going back to the gold standard “was not the main point of his campaign.”
“That was not why he was running,” he said. “That’s not why he got into politics. That was diversion from his main goal. I guess it makes it sound a little more legit. You can’t really say you want to oppress black people, but when you drill down it’s the same old kind of racism that’s been around since the Civil War.”