Actress Ellie Kemper, known for her starring roles in the television shows Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Office became the target of cancel culture on Monday after an article in the Atlantic from 2014 resurfaced on social media, detailing her participation in a long-running debutante ball in her home state of Missouri.
On Twitter, a user with pronouns in her bio falsely described the Veiled Prophet Ball as a “fancy event put on by our local KKK, of which Ellie Kemper was once the Queen of Love and Beauty.”
The false claim produced numerous headlines that are likely to follow Kemper’s career. Leftist entertainment website the AV Club published a piece titled “oh great, Ellie Kemper is yet another rich white celebrity with a racist past.” Slate wrote: “What It Means That Ellie Kemper Was Queen of the ‘Racist’ Veiled Prophet Ball.” The Daily Beast, known for its attack pieces on right-wing and centrist political and media figures, proclaimed: “Yes, The Office’s Ellie Kemper Was Beauty Queen of a Racist Ball.”
As detailed by Megan Basham in the Daily Wire, the debutante ball Kemper attended is now called the Fair St. Louis and was first established in 1878 by local business leaders as the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis to compete against Chicago’s commercial dominance. It also functioned as a PR effort against striking workers.
“Inspired by the Irish poem ‘Lalla Rookh’ by Thomas Moore and the revelries of Mardis Gras, the group invented a mythic society centered around a character known as the ‘Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,’ a mystic traveler who would select the worthiest beauty from among the daughters of the city’s elite,” explains the Daily Wire.
Kemper was an obvious fit as she is the daughter of one of Missouri’s wealthiest families, established by railroad magnate William Thornton Kemper Sr., who was also chairman and CEO of the bank holding company, Commerce Bancshares.
Kemper, then a 19-year-old at Princeton University, was celebrated for her athletic, academic, and altruistic qualifications as a National Merit Scholarship finalist, field hockey champion, and volunteer.
The 2014 article in the Atlantic that profiled Kemper’s involvement in the ball makes no reference whatsoever to the Ku Klux Klan, as alleged by the Twitter user. The false claims, now widely regurgitated on social media, ended up a trending topic on Twitter and resulted in headlines for multiple publications that failed to perform their due diligence.
Huffington Post, Slate and Vulture contributor Jon Negroni doubled down on the false claim. “It really is something that Ellie Kemper was the star of a tv show about a woman who leaves a racist cult and tries to rebrand herself while pretending it never happened. no reason why I’m bringing this up of course.”
“So…Ellie Kemper was a KKK princess??? And no one knew about it???” tweeted activist and Forbes contributor Imani Barbarin.
The ball did not admit black attendees until 1979, but despite claims by Twitter users who highlighted a 1878 drawing of the Veiled Prophet wearing a pointed hood, connections to the Ku Klux Klan appear to be further products of misinformation as the hooded uniform was only adopted by the KKK in 1915, per the Smithsonian. The figure is also described as wearing a red and green outfit, not white.