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Fact check: Nancy Pelosi is not related to KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/7/2020 Devon Link, USA TODAY
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The claim: Nancy Pelosi is the great-granddaughter of the KKK's first grand wizard 

As the country continues to reevaluate its racial legacy, debating statue removal and police reform, online misinformation linking the Ku Klux Klan to Democratic leaders is abundant. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is no stranger to these claims.

“Nathan Bedford Forest 1st grand wizard Formed the KKK Nancy pelosi great grand father!” Rudy Rudelis claimed in a July 18 Facebook post.

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While some Facebook users questioned the claim, others commented on their lack of surprise. One commenter went as far as to share a photo contributing new details to the narrative.

“Nancy Pelosi has spent years trying to cover up this past, which led to her drunken outbursts that are so often reported on the America’s Last Line of Defense network,” read the photo Scott Bartlett posted. "It is often reported that her father immigrated from Italy and the Pelosi was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which is true. That’s the part she wants you to know.

“The part that she doesn’t want out is that her mother, one Natalie Bedalia Forrest, can trace her roots to the Mayflower,” it continues. “Ms. Forrest was born in Georgia and was the pride of her grandfather Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is best known as a Confederate General and a Democrat who was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Despite the detail, this claim is only as true as the screenshotted satirical article Bartlett posted.

"Obviously I need to slow down and finish reading the article next time," he told USA TODAY after publication. Rudelis has not responded to a request for comment.

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Nancy Pelosi holding a sign: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on July 15, 2020, in Washington D.C. © Andrew Harnik/AP House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on July 15, 2020, in Washington D.C.

Satire taken out of context

Satirical news site America’s Last Line of Defense published an article titled “Pelosi’s Dark Secret: Her Great-Grandfather Formed the KKK” to joke about statue controversies.

“People are protesting the removal of (Forrest’s) statues. If those people only knew the bloodline that started with him, they’d be trying to destroy these statues themselves,” the article jokes.

a statue of a man riding a horse: Shelby County: Name: Nathan Bedford Forrest Memorial. Location: Forrest Park, centered between Union, Manassas, Madison and Dunlap streets in Memphis, Tenn. Date: Dedicated 1905. Status: Removed. © Mike Brown / The Commercial Appea Shelby County: Name: Nathan Bedford Forrest Memorial. Location: Forrest Park, centered between Union, Manassas, Madison and Dunlap streets in Memphis, Tenn. Date: Dedicated 1905. Status: Removed.

The article appeared under America’s Last Line of Defense's “Silly Tater Satire” section. The website discloses its satirical nature in its tagline, “Satire for your confirmation bias” at the top of the page.

America’s Last Defense later fact-checked its own false claim on its satirical fact-checking subsidiary Freedom Fictions.

“After checking that article for spelling and grammar errors, we got tired and rated this ridiculously false claim: TRUE,” states the fake fact check.

Freedom Fictions’ tagline “Fake news fact-checkers fact-checking fake news” is also displayed at the top of the page.

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Nathan Bedford Forrest and the KKK

Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-77) is widely known as an early member of the KKK.

Forrest was born into a poor family. He made his wealth through livestock trading, brokering real estate, growing cotton and selling slaves. By 1861, when the Civil War began, he was a millionaire and one of the richest men in Tennessee.

Forrest fought in the war and moved up through the Confederate army. Forrest became infamous after troops under his command killed Black Union soldiers that were trying to surrender at Fort Pillow.

The war left Forrest financially handicapped. With abolition, he lost the large part of his income that came from slavery. In 1867, he became the first grand wizard of the KKK.

Although he disbanded the white supremacist organization in 1869, factions continued to terrorize Black Americans and Southern Republicans for years. Despite his well-documented role in the KKK, Forrest denied involvement before Congress in 1871.

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Forrest had three grandchildren, none named Natalie

Forrest had three grandchildren. Neither of Pelosi’s parents were among them.

Forrest married Mary Ann Montgomery in 1845. The couple had two children, William Montogomery Forrest and Frances Ann Forest. Frances died as a child. William had three children: Mary E. Forrest (1869-1965), Nathan Bedford Forrest (1872-1931) and William Montgomery Forrest (1876-unknown).

Forrest’s grandchildren were ages 71, 68 and 64 at the time of Pelosi’s birth.

Pelosi was born in Maryland to Italian-American parents

Nancy Pelosi was born March 26, 1940, in Baltimore to Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. and Annuciata M. D’Alesandro.

Pelosi’s father was a politician and was serving as a Democrat on the 76th Congress when she was born. Her mother was an Italian immigrant born in Campobasso, Italy.

a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, laughs as her brother Thomas D' Alesandro III, right, makes a joke as he introduces her husband Paul, during a street renaming ceremony in her behalf, in Baltimore, Jan. 5, 2007. © Chris Gardner, AP Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, laughs as her brother Thomas D' Alesandro III, right, makes a joke as he introduces her husband Paul, during a street renaming ceremony in her behalf, in Baltimore, Jan. 5, 2007.

On Jan. 5, 2007, Pelosi spoke about how her Italian immigrant ancestors and childhood in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood had impacted her at an event celebrating her political success.

As an adult, Pelosi moved to San Francisco with her husband and five children, where she started her political career.

Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill told USA TODAY claims that she was related to Forrest are “totally false.”

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Our rating: False

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's great-grandfather was not the Ku Klux Klan's first grand wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest. The claim was originally made by a satirical website and has since been taken out of context. USA TODAY's research and Pelosi's office have both confirmed there is no familial relationship between Pelosi and Forrest. We rate this claim FALSE.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Nancy Pelosi is not related to KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest

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