The Jewish Klansman and the Evangelical
The wild life of McCandlish Phillips and his most famous subject
Yesterday, the obituary of Times scribe McCandlish Phillips ran with the headline “McCandlish Phillips, Who Exposed a Jewish Klansman, Is Dead at 85.”
Phillips’ whole story is fascinating; I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to share a newsroom with the likes of Gay Talese and David Halberstam and still be considered the most stylistically distinct person in the room. That Phillips was an evangelical Christian only adds to the mystique and perhaps, with a certain connective fervor, led him to his most famous subject: Daniel Burros, a Jewish member of and recruiter for the Klan and a leader in the American Nazi Party.
Mr. Phillips’s most renowned article appeared on Page 1 on Sunday, Oct. 31, 1965, under the headline “State Klan Leader Hides Secret of Jewish Origin.” It was a rigorously reported profile of Daniel Burros, a 28-year-old Queens man who was the Grand Dragon of the New York State Ku Klux Klan, a chief organizer of the national Klan and a former national secretary of the American Nazi Party.
Mr. Burros, the article went on to document, was also a Jew — a former Hebrew school student who had been bar mitzvahed at 13.
The article remains a case study in a reporter’s perseverance in the face of intimidation. It is also a case study in the severe, unintended consequences that the airing of fiercely guarded truths can have for the guardian: despite threatening to kill Mr. Phillips if the article went to press, Mr. Burros, in the end, killed only himself.
Daniel Burros fits one of those oft-mythologized patterns of illness and instability. High IQ (154), failed to acculturate, rejected from West Point, thrown out of the army, heavy paranoia, high temper. In a profile of Burros in the Jewish Press, it was said that Burros used to bring knishes to the Nazi Party meetings and trumpeted their virtue as Jewish food. According to legend, Burros was listening to Richard Wagner when he killed himself.
Help Tablet best the likes of CNN, The New Yorker, and HowStuffWorks
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.