The Ku Klux Klan, which is unofficially referred to as the Klan, defines three individual far-right organizations acting across the territory of the United States of America. These organizations have conducted and still support radical actions including the supremacy of the white people, anti-immigration, and white nationalism, which was rendered into fierce terrorism (Berley & Lyons, 2000, p. 60). The Ku Klux Klan’s discriminating positions are not stable and are often being broadened by some new spheres of social expression which the members of the organization find utterly controversial with their principles and beliefs. Thus, in the middle of the twentieth century, the Ku Klux Klan became anti-communist. Nowadays, it is difficult to trace the Klan’s activities through the multiple branches of the organization, each of which supports or rejects a different tendency which is often controversial with other branches. For example, some of them are considered to hate groups by Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League. The current organization comprises no more than 3,000-5,000 members (statistics of 2012) (Palmer, 2012).
The First Ku Klux Klan
The principal ideas of the organization are presented in Robert E. Miles’ book, which title is signifying the main symbol of the Ku Klux Klan association – 33/5. Actually, the first founding leaders of the Klan took the book as the background for all strategies of their future organization.
Initially, the Ku Klux Klan prospered in the South of the United States at the end of the 1860s, gradually ceasing by the beginning of the 1870s. The first members wore white outfit: masks, ankle-length robes, and conical hats which were designed in a way that they were bizarre and frightening, hiding well the identities of the wearers (Parsons, 2005).Confederate Army It was formed by just six veterans of the noble in Pulaski, Tennessee. The historians consider the name to come from the Greek kilos which meant circle, probably signifying a grouping of close brothers who fulfill a single mission that unites all of them (Bryant, 2002).
While there was no distinct structure that could reach over the local level, related groupings started to emerge all over the South, adopting the identical name and principles of actions. Reconstruction era These small groups quickly spread across the Southern area, marking an uprising movement of the in the country. At that time, the Ku Klux Klan aimed at freedmen and everyone who considered himself or herself to be their followers. The group tried hard to reinstate white supremacy by very low means of intimidation and aggression, frequently applying murderous actions against both white and black Republicans. During 1870-1871, the federal government made much effort in order to stop the Ku Klux Klan activities and even issued the Force Acts that allowed prosecuting the crimes of the cruel members.
The federal government was quite successful and the major activity of the Klan was finally suppressed. However, starting from 1874 and on, new groups, which acted together with the paramilitary associations (for example, the Red Shirts and the White League), renewed their ferocious movements targeting at canceling the right of the African Americans to vote and ceasing Republicans’ power. Such achievements led to the Democrats’ rule across the whole Southern part of the United States by 1877.
Already during the first years of its existence, the organization developed a series of symbols that were used throughout all its activities over many years, often adopting some new ones which could aptly reflect its main ideas and principles. For example, 33/5 is a number order which is mainly used by people from different chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. In this case, 33 means three times eleven, where eleven, in its turn, signifies the numerical position of letter K in the alphabet. “Fifth Era” (the present-day era in the understanding of the Ku Klux Klan) is shown by five. This number is frequently tattooed on the Klan’s members as well as on many other people who belong to the racist associations that are in some way connected to the Ku Klux Klan.
The Second Ku Klux Klan
The next generation of Ku Klux Klan spread all over the country at the beginning and middle of the 1920s. It adopted the identical outfit and code phrases of the first organization, simultaneously introducing the innovative feature of cross burning (Craig, 1998, p. 185). 1915 is the official year of its foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Already from 1921, the Klan overtook a contemporary business system of engaging people to join (for example, the recruiters paid the larger part of the initiation fee and costs for special clothes like commissions). The general upraise of the economy facilitated the rapid spread of the organization nationwide.
Due to the social tensions that resulted from the urban industrialization and extreme increase of immigration, the number of people who wanted to join the Klan grew particularly rapidly in well-developed for that time cities, spreading from the South to the West of the country. This Ku Klux Klan demanded the new look at the politics, stating that it needed to be purified, addressing the strong need in the promotion of stricter morality as well as more effective enforcement of prevention. The members were against the doctrines of the Catholic Church, applying nativism (the political position when a certain status for citizens is demanded as opposed to the needs of the immigrants) and anti-Catholicism (Pegram, 2011, p. 57).
The second Ku Klux Klan was considered to be a formal fraternal institution that had both state and national configuration. The peak of its popularity came to the mid-1920s when the Klan announced that approximately 15% of the whole population (about 4–5 million men) belonged to them. However, the significant decrease in this amount was brought by the multiple inside divisions, outside disagreements as well as criminal actions of the leaders. Only over 30,000 of the Klan’s members were still active by 1930. During the 1940s, the Ku Klux Klan ceased completely (Lay, 2005).
During the period of easy availability of life insurance, people entered fraternal associations, such as the Woodmen of the World and the Elks, which helped to make a better living for the families if something happens to them (death or work disability). William J. Simmons, who was the initiator of the new Klan, was also a member of twelve various fraternal associations. He started recruiting members for the Ku Klux Klan under the pretense of life insurance as offered other fraternal organizations. He covered his chest with multiple badges that certified his membership of those helpful organizations and consciously involved people in the Klan’s violent activities (Crawford, 1978).
Kleagles, as Ku Klux Klan organizers named themselves, recruited many new members who were ready to buy the proper outfits and pay initiation fees. Half of this money was sent to the national or state officials, whereas the other half was left for organizers. In case the organizer finished his work over some area, he called for a huge meeting, and frequently, there were many burning crosses, and he probably gave the Bible to some local Protestant priest. Then the organizer simply left the area with the collected money. The local groups acted like many other fraternal associations.
The increase of the Ku Klux Klan was greatly influenced by the recruitment for World War I as well as by the post-war tensions, particularly in large cities, where the competition was strong, as people struggled for the place of employment or some housing. The white of the South opposed the arming of African American soldiers despite the effective results which the latter showed. On the other hand, African American veterans also did not want to return to the South where their noble actions at war were not recognized and they continued to be treated as people of lower status, being deprived of many privileges which veterans of war had as well as of good life in general. Furthermore, a few African American veterans, who came returned to the South after a successful service done abroad, were violently murdered while even still wearing their uniforms (Rogers, 1993).
At the beginning of his recruitment strategy, Williams J. Simmons was not very successful either in persuading new members to join or in collecting money. Due to this, the Ku Klux Klan was more of a small campaign which could not exert any influence in Atlanta up till 1920. In 1920, Simmons presented his daily activities to two professional journalists, Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler (Newton, 2010, p. 70). anti-Jewish The revitalized organization attracted new members by addressing ongoing social issues and providing some answers to fears that were triggered by immigration, as well as large migrations within industrialized cities that were constantly growing. The Ku Klux Klan broadened their sphere of hatred, becoming also in addition to their anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic views. Later on, anti-Communist views were also adopted.
The Ku Klux Klan did not show the real identity of its activities. The leaders, as well as the followers, called their organization to be extremely patriotic, fraternal, and nativist. The leaders constantly talked about the support for dynamic enforcement of prohibition laws which was their number one priority through the whole existence of the Klan since its foundation and up till nowadays. With such appeals to the nation, the Ku Klux Klan increased its membership significantly. At the beginning of the 1920s, the larger amount of Klan’s members inhabited the West and Midwest. By 1925, the organization developed a national base.
However, this evident success was not long-lasting. During all other times, the members of the organizations quickly realized the immoral activities of the organization which claimed to protect the nation’s safety from bad-influencing immigrants as well as African Americans who hindered the normal development of American society. Many people were utterly disappointed by the erroneous behavior which the Ku Klux Klan promoted, often committing criminal offenses and pushing others to do so in the name of “the United States’ well-being”. Moreover, it was clear that the organization had enough money and many of its activities were directed just to raise more funds mostly for the personal needs of the leaders and not to help the society. However, as soon as the social tensions became to disappear or at least lessen, people were no longer inclined to spend their time, money, and efforts on such unworthy activities as those that were propagated by the Klan, which was signifying the decline of the latter.
By the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was still at its peak of recruiting new members, women's branches developed across many areas of the country. The main activities concentrated on taking part in multiple parades that were so common for those times, putting crosses on fire, while men were involved in more serious actions (for example, committing just another murder of the African American or robbing the house of some wealthy Catholic), delivering lectures, gathering and conducting meetings, as well as trying to ruin or prohibit local businesses that were owned by Jews and Catholics.
The Women’s Ku Klux Klan was also formed to fight for prohibition, accentuating on the extremely negative influence that liquor exerts on children and females. Their main field of activities was quite peaceful in comparison to the cruel actions of the men. For example, many women went from public school to public school giving out Bibles to children and teachers, trying hard to persuade the school principal to dismiss teachers who were Roman Catholics. In Texas, the amount of Ku Klux Klan members was so high that the public schools never even hired Catholic teachers. However, after the conflicts of the Klan leaders with the public started to become too frequent at the end of the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan’s reputation among both women and men decreased significantly (Blee, 2008).
Before the decline, the Ku Klux Klan members managed to promote its leaders to such an extent that they could participate in the elections to political office. For example, the members of the organizations in Indiana were mainly born in America: White Protestants with different levels of financial provision became one of the most dominant organizations in the whole country. More than 30% of Indiana’s white male citizens were the members of the Ku Klux Klan, and in 1924, Edward Jackson, the Klan’s leader, was elected as its governor.
Alabama was the second state with the large popularity of the Ku Klux Klan. Leaders called for better public schools, extensive road construction, successful prohibition enforcement as well as many other political methods which could benefit white people of the lower class. By the end of 1925, the Ku Klux Klan became a powerful political force in the area, having at its top such leaders as Hugo Black, J. Thomas Heflin, and David Bibb Graves, who tried hard to create such political force which would break down the Black Belt planters that controlled Alabama for a long time (in the long run, the Ku Klux Klan failed to do so).
In 1926, not without the strong support of the Klan, Bibb Graves ran for the Alabama governor’s office and won. Bibb Graves was an ex-chapter leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He continued to promote the already established principles of the organization in the state. These were such as better financial support for educational institutions, effective road construction which would also increase the number of employed individuals, improved public health, and adoption of various laws that facilitated white laborers (Pegram, 2011).
Biographers and analysts have lately analyzed the role of Hugo Black in the Ku Klux Klan Klan. Howard Ball says that Hugo Black “sympathized with the group’s economic, nativist, and anti-Catholic beliefs” of the Ku Klux Klan (Ball, 1996, p. 16). Whereas Roger Newman states that Black “disliked the Catholic Church as an institution” and delivered more than one hundred of anti-Catholic speeches during his election campaign of 1926 across the whole state (Newman, 1997, p. 87).
Hugo Black was elected a Democrat senator of the United States in 1926. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted him to the Supreme Court without the slightest idea about the active participation of Black in the Ku Klux Klan where he had a very good position in the 1920s. His fellow Senators confirmed his position before the connection to the Ku Klux Klan was revealed. After that, Hugo Black simply announced that he left the Klan (Newton, 1997, p. 104).
The Third Ku Klux Klan
The third Ku Klux Klan was brought into existence after World War II. Its actions were outstanding in its absurdity against the Civil Rights Movement, and the endeavors of the members to stop progress among multiple minorities made the Klan quite unpopular. Two last organizations made constant references to the “Anglo-Saxon” blood of the USA, stating that they originated from the colonial revolutionaries of Great Britain of the eighteenth century.
An interesting fact is that many groups who raised their voices in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement used the name “Ku Klux Klan” during the 1950-1960s. Furthermore, these local groupings frequently created unions with police departments of the South or with offices of the governor (at that time George Wallace in Alabama). A few members of the Ku Klux Klan were charged guilty of committed murders of civil rights workers and their children during the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.
Nowadays, many types of research consider the Klan to be a terroristic organization. FBI agents were very lucky to have arrested four members of the Ku Klux Klan in Dallas in April 1997. They were convicted of committing robbery and blowing up a natural gas processing plant. Charleston in South Carolina The city council adopted a decision to claim this organization to be a terrorist one in 1999. University of Louisville 2004 was marked by another act of publicly renouncing the Ku Klux Klan when the professor of the started a campaign that declared the Klan to be a terrorist organization that must be banned from campus (Lee, 2006).
The modern Ku Klux Klan is not a single organization: it consists of small, mostly independent, groups that are spread across the United States. Such a disposition of the Klan made it more difficult for the organization to be infiltrated, therefore, the analysts cannot properly estimate the real number of members. The predictions reveal that over two-thirds of Ku Klux Klan members are located now in the Southern United States, while the other half resides chiefly in the lower Midwest (“About the Ku Klux Klan”, n.d.).
After the elections in 2008, when Barack Obama (African American) became the President, the activity, as well as membership of the Ku Klux Klan, rose significantly. The recruitment was launched with a new force by white supremacists going over the borders and reaching the international level. However, even despite it, the amount of members is not increasing but falling down constantly.
The main reason of the decline is recognized to be the low level of competence in the involving Internet resources, where the bigger part of the world is spending much time now, the well-documented history of violence of the Ku Klux Klan, a propagation of opposing hate groups, and, what-ifs the most important, the decrease in the amount of racist activists of younger age who are enthusiastic about joining the organization (Palmer, 2012).
Recently, the Ku Klux Klan campaigns have been mostly concentrated around such controversial problems and world-wide debates as same-sex marriages, illegal immigration, inner-city crimes, and civil associations. Many of Ku Klux Klan groupings have allied with other organizations that promote white supremacy, for example, neo-Nazis, which seek actively to revive the powerful Nazism. Due to this, certain Ku Klux Klan unions have become progressively “Nazified”, adopting the appearance and insignias of the skinheads who support similar ideas (“Ku Klux Klan – Affiliations”, n.d.). Surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union has granted authorized support to multiple branches of the Ku Klux Klan protecting their First Amendment which holds rights that allow the Klan’s members to arrange public meetings, marches, and parades as well as to promote the political candidates. On the other hand, American Civil Liberties Union is well-known through its constant support of unpopular or even offensive activities of various organizations that are rejected by the majority of people nationwide and worldwide (except for the Ku Klux Klan, they supported Nation of Islam, Neo-Nazis, and many other organizations which are even more strictly opposed and criticized by the mentioned ones) (“ACLU Statement on Defending Free Speech of Unpopular Organizations”, 2000).
Recently, the Ku Klux Klan organization, which is known under the title of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has been radically reformed, and as many years ago when women were allowed to become the members of the Klan, the female part of the population have gained this right again (mainly because the number of the members is constantly decreasing). The countrywide leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Thom Robb, announced in an interview with Tahir Shah, the writer, that “My two sons and Rachel are very much involved in the Klan. Women have an important part to play in the Ku Klux Klan”. Thom Robb’s daughter, Rachel Pendergraft, strongly accentuated the significance of the women’s and children’s role in the future development of the organization (Shah, 2011).
Shah published her thoughts on the future development of the Ku Klux Klan in his own book Travels With Me, in the chapter under an eloquent title “Queen of the Ku Klux Klan”. In her quite sincere interview, Rachel Pendergraft talked about policy for the future, taking into consideration the development of a program for American children which would be called the Youth Corps. It will include children of 12-17 years of age. Moreover, the daughter shared her plans for creating a Youth Klan Training Camp, which will be situated far in the Ozark Mountains, as well as a Ku Klux Klan school that will teach leadership during the two years (Shah, 2011).
Anastasia Robb, who is a sister-in-law of Rachel Pendergraft, has also emphasized the significance of children and women for the successful future of the organization: “Women are important members of the Ku Klux Klan, as the Klan becomes more liberal it is attracting more and more women who see its message as the future they want for their children. It is important for kids to be involved” (Shah, 2011).
Currently, the Ku Klux Klan organizations include as follows (A list was compiled and is constantly checked for updates by the Anti-Defamation League):
- Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan;
- Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan which is the most widely spread in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma as well as other states of the United States’ Southeast, which is not surprising, as this is the area of origination of the organization;
- Knights of the White Camelia;
- Knights of the Ku Klux Klan which, as was already mentioned, is governed by the countrywide leader and self-announced preacher Thom Robb. This organization states to be the largest across America nowadays, and resides in Zinc, Arkansas;
- Imperial Klans of America.
The Ku Klux Klan can be considered quite a powerful organization of all days despite its constant failures which were marked mainly by persecutions and decline in the number of its members who saw all the evil which the leaders aimed to do only after spending some time within its cruel walls. The organization still exists and has over 3,000 followers with many multiple plans for the future. The Klan’s desire to involve now more children and women is somewhat scary, as exactly these two layers of the population are most inclined towards the harmful influence of such brain-washers as the Klan’s leaders. This particularly concerns children who can be easily affected by today’s highly developed media.
On the other hand, the Ku Klux Klan activities cannot be called humane and democratic, as the organization has proven many times to be utterly discriminating and illiberal, therefore, it is implausible that its leaders can gain any more of the upraise with their current policies and criminal history among the population who wants democracy and free practice of their interests. The Ku Klux Klan does not seem to have done any good for society at all, and even their under-cover promotion of education, employment, and general well-being of the nation cannot erase all the horrors which its members committed and are continuing to do all the time.