THE BLOG
09/07/2015 09:21 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2016

A Right-Wing Professor's Disinformation Campaign Against Margaret Sanger

Paul Kengor, a professor at Grove City College -- whose most recent book, published by the right-wing WorldNetDaily, purports to explain how "From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage" -- devoted a recent Heritage Foundation column to forwarding a disinformation campaign about Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, taking her words out of context to portray her as a virulent racist.

Kengor recounts a 1926 speech Sanger gave to a Ku Klux Klan gathering, declaring that "Sanger seemed eager to speak to the group," adding: "The Planned Parenthood founder's KKK talk was a smash hit. Not only did it go very late, after a long wait, but it earned Sanger a dozen new invitations from the klan-sisters. The KKK was quite excited about the work of Planned Parenthood's founder."

Kengor cited "pages 366-367 of her 1938 autobiography" as a source for his claims about the speech, but a reading of those pages shows he cherry-picked Sanger's account to leave out important context.

She called it "one of the weirdest experiences I had in lecturing" and -- contrary to Kengor's claim that her audience was uniformly "enthusiastic" -- Sanger wrote that she feared if she "uttered one word, such as abortion, outside the usual vocabulary of these women they would go off into hysteria." Sanger also make it clear she would speak to any audience that would have her and did not offer any special fondness for the KKK: "Always to me any aroused group was a good group."

Kengor also ignores important historical context about the KKK in the 1920s. It was almost a mainstream group then, if still clandestine. It even sounds more than a little like a modern-day conservative organization, to read one description of the Klan at that time:

The Klan promoted fundamentalism and devout patriotism along with advocating white supremacy. They blasted bootleggers, motion pictures and espoused a return to "clean" living. Appealing to folks uncomfortable with the shifting nature of America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation, the Klan attacked the elite, urbanites and intellectuals.

Their message struck a cord, and membership in the Klan ballooned in the 1920s. By the middle of the decade, estimates for national membership in this secret organization ranged from three million to as high as eight million Klansmen. And membership was not limited to the poor and uneducated on society's fringes. Mainstream, middle-class Americans donned the white robes of the Klan too. Doctors, lawyers and ministers became loyal supporters of the KKK. In Ohio alone their ranks surged to 300,000. Even northeastern states were not immune. In Pennsylvania, membership reached 200,000. The Klan remained a clandestine society, but it was by no means isolated or marginalized.

Further, as PolitiFact points out, the women's division of the KKK to which Sanger spoke was not the KKK itself, and biographers note that Sanger was never a supporter of the KKK or even a racist. PolitiFact mentions a writer critical of the eugenics movement Sanger was involved in in the 1920s admits that Sanger was not virulently racist or anti-Semitic.

Kengor is counting on the shock value of pairing "Margaret Sanger" with "KKK" to achieve his desired effect of revulsion. That's clear in a recent WorldNetDaily article in which he repeats his cherry-picked story and emphasizes: "That's right - Margaret Sanger spoke to the KKK."

That's not the only dishonesty in Kengor's column. He latches onto a group of right-wing pastors (led by the notoriously homophobic E.W. Jackson) seeking to engage in censorship by demanding that a bust of Sanger be removed from the Smithsonian by uncritically repeating their attacks, including a quote about Sanger's "Negro Project" that a Washington Post fact-checker points out "is frequently taken out of context to suggest Sanger was seeking to exterminate blacks."

Kengor even asserts that the pastors "show that 70 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are located in minority neighborhoods," which is not only a false claim -- the Guttmacher Institute conducted a census of all known abortion providers in the U.S. in 2011 and found that 60 percent of them were in majority white neighborhoods -- it's not even what the pastors actually claimed.

The pastors' letter to the Smithsonian demanding removal of the Sanger bust claims that Planned Parenthood is "locating 70 percent of its abortion facilities within in [sic] or near black and Latino communities." The italics are added on "or near" to highlight the fudge factor in this statement. According to the anti-abortion website the pastors cite to support this claim, "near" (or "within walking distance" in the website's terminology) is defined as a two-mile radius of the facility, and it seems that more often than not, those black and Latino neighborhoods are on the fringe of that two-mile radius.

Kengor may be a professor, but his research skills seem to be a level of a lazy, dishonest undergrad who cares more about pushing an agenda than telling the full truth.