Ku Klux Klan
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“”[Notices approaching KKK lynch mob in rear-view mirror] Holy crap! Do you see what I see?! ...We're being chased by ghosts!
|—Peter Griffin, Family Guy|
The Ku Klux Klan (abbreviated "KKK"[note 1]) is the name given to a series of American racist hate groups, known for their terrorist activities including lynching (in earlier iterations), their sinister robes and pointy hoods (to hide identity),[note 2] and other trademarks such as burning crosses. Alongside basic racism, they also advocate for reactionary positions like antisemitism, white nationalism, anti-Catholicism, and anti-immigration.
Historically, there were three distinct iterations of the Klan, one beginning during Reconstruction, one which peaked during the 1920's, and one which began in response to the Civil Rights and still exists in a weak form to this day.
The Original Klan
The first Klan was started after the American Civil War by six former Confederate officers who formed a social club to screw around at night wearing costumes. Once those assclowns figured out that they could terrorize the local freed slaves, the movement took off. During a meeting in 1867, the group elected their first Grand Wizard, former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a good and upstanding Southern gentleman who also organized a horrifying massacre of 300 captured black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow. Their name was probably derived from the Greek word "kuklos," which means "circle," implying a circle of brothers.
Now organized, the first Klan's intentions were to frighten any African-Americans in The South who decided to exercise their newly-won rights, as well as Southern "scalawags" and Northern "carpetbaggers" who were seen as exploiting the Civil War victory. A number of similar movements sprang up in the South during this era, adopting Klan tactics and sometimes insignia. Even the Jesse James gang, bandits who regarded themselves as Confederate loyalist guerrillas, wore Klan robes and hoods during a train robbery in 1873.
During the 1870s, the Klan and its allies spearheaded the insurrection that helped to end Reconstruction. By then, the Klan had evolved into a powerful terrorist organization, growing stronger in an atmosphere of toxic race relations punctuated by uncontrollable riots (aided by white police) which often killed dozens of black Americans. Its members began referring to it as the "Invisible Empire of the South." They engaged in a variety of violent activities, including beating schoolteachers who taught blacks and burning their buildings, murdering Republican Party officials and voters, and instigating lynchings and riots. Leading up to the 1868 election between Ulysses Grant and Horatio Seymour, the Klan killed thousands of people across multiple states. Although this violence backfired on them with the Northerners passing further civil rights laws and cracking down on Klan members, Reconstruction would still eventually collapse, especially after the North became distracted by the Panic of '73.
In Margaret Mitchell's epic Civil War novel Gone With the Wind, some of the story's heroes participate in the Ku Klux Klan after the war, even riding out in Klan robes to take retaliation on a Yankee shantytown. In the movie adaptation, all mention of the Klan was omitted and the raid was made in plain clothes.
After Reconstruction ended, so did the original Ku Klux Klan. One pernicious rumour claims the Klan became the National Rifle Association (implied in the Michael Moore piece Bowling For Columbine) but this is not only untrue but the exact opposite of the truth: the NRA was set up by Unionists, and its eighth president was Ulysses S. Grant, probably the greatest enemy the Klan ever had: his successor was General Philip Sheridan, also no friend of the Klan.
The Klan version Two: Racism Boogaloo
From the end of Reconstruction until the 1920s, the KKK was mostly dormant. Older members would occasionally don the costume in an effort to get together a lynch mob, but it did not act as an organized force. However, around 1915 some leaders, at least partly inspired by the silent film The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the original Klan, came together and launched the second Klan. They expanded their ambitions and became a force across the United States (In fact, many of the most important chapters were in the Midwest rather than the South). In many states, one could not be elected to the state house or the governor's mansion without at least the tacit endorsement of the KKK. On top of this, they also expanded the targets of their hate. Rather than solely focusing on African-Americans, as they had in the past, they also targeted organized labor, Catholics, immigrants, Jews and feminists much as did European fascists. With America, especially after WWI, swamped with newly-arrived European immigrants, their message caught fire, and they had millions of members by 1921 (and it should also be noted that millions more were not members, but sympathizers).
The revived Klan differed from the original in other ways as well. The old Klan was genuinely clandestine; the revived Klan was a public entity parading in the streets, one that bigots could join by mail-order. The old Klan was Southern and Democratic; the revived Klan was Midwestern and Republican, and managed to politically dominate several states, most notably Indiana in the early 1920s. In fact, the Klan became so mainstream they openly sponsored festivals, weddings, baby christenings, political rallies, and even baseball teams. They even managed to organize a nation-wide boycott against Jewish, black, and immigrant shop-owners. This is also the Klan iteration which created the KKK symbol of the burning cross; the first Klan had never used it.
The anti-Catholic nature of the Klan should not be understated; indeed, the Klan's primary targets were Catholic immigrants from Europe, who the Klan believed to be unpatriotic and more beholden to the Pope than to the United States. They believed the unholy Catholic Church was guilty of devising horrible conspiracies to destroy Protestant America. They worried about Eastern Europeans, who they suspected of being Communists. However, blacks were still targeted by the Klan, and the mere mention of the name would spread fear and anguish through their communities.
The greatest success of the second Klan was its ability to market itself as a patriotic and family-oriented organization, convincing millions of middle-class white Americans that their noxious hatred was really pure and wholesome. They presented themselves as the guardians of morality, even patrolling the streets and beating young men and women caught alone in cars with each other. Their friendly public face allowed whites to express racist ideas in socially acceptable ways without needing to think of themselves as being hateful. However, this was still a front. The Klan was built on beatings, whippings, and murders.
After the 1929 stock market crash, being nailed for blatant tax evasion, and several public scandals involving the KKK, including one in which a Grand Dragon was convicted of rape and murder, membership imploded and the second Klan was near defunct by 1930. It finally disbanded in 1944, never having gotten the opportunity to commit large-scale genocide as did other fascists.
The Third Klan: Threequels Always Suck
Like a terrible but popular movie franchise, the Klan just wouldn't fucking die.
The third version Klan started up in the 1950s in response to the civil rights movement. This iteration of the Klan, while nowhere near as large as the 1920s version, carried out many lynchings, bombings, murders, and other acts in opposition to desegregation and voting rights in the South. Having spent most of the decades between the Twenties and the aftermath of WWII as a fragmented and scorned movement, the KKK mobilized itself once more in response to the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board decision, which desegregated public schools. This Klan's attacks were primarily focused on outspoken black Americans and white supporters of the Civil Rights movement. Their tactics included firebombing homes and churches, tracking down and murdering individuals, and instigating riots. It is estimated that more than 40 black families were bombed just between 1951 and 1952.
On a brighter note, this Klan finally ran into negative public opinion, facing high levels of resistance and negative press. In 1953, two newspaper publishers won the Pulitzer for Public Service, citing their "successful campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, waged on their own doorstep at the risk of economic loss and personal danger, culminating in the conviction of over one hundred Klansmen and an end to terrorism in their communities." They also began meeting armed resistance, such as at the Battle of Hayes Pond.
This version also became fodder for the FBI's COINTELPRO program and for the Superman radio show, when moles within the organization began to submit private information to the FBI (as well as leaking the most ridiculous information to the media (think of it as the grand-father to websites such as Fundies Say the Darndest Things)). By the late 1960s the Klan was again on life support and probably would have disappeared entirely if not for one David Duke, who together with a few other Klan leaders tried reviving the Klan during the 1970s by shedding the ghost costumes and putting on suits and ties.
The era of the organized Klan is over. There are many smaller groups who now claim to be the "true" KKK, but few have any power. Occasionally, members of these smaller groups will engage in either hate-spewing or even violence, but this is nothing like the hold that the KKK held on the South in the late 1800s or the whole nation in the early 1900s.
The small groups today sometimes use the term "fifth era Klan," which is dubious at best. This is in reference to the first era (Reconstruction), second era (1920s), and third era (1950s-60s), but whether there is an actual "fourth" and "fifth" era (as distinct from merely the pathetic remains of the third era limping along on life support) is questionable. Usually their claim is the period when David Duke tried resuscitating the Klan during the 1970s is the "fourth era," and the "fifth era" started in the early 1980s when the Klan adopted Khristian Identity and became part of the extreme right aligned with neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Nations. To give some idea: Klan membership in 1926 at the peak of the second era stood at about 6,000,000. In 1980 ("fourth era"), it stood at about 5,000. Today it is about 3,000.
The modern Klan has been trying to distance itself from its lynching past in order to get a shot at political power, claiming that they "are not about hate" but rather about personal racial pride. The argument goes something like this: "We don't hate other groups, we just love our own group... Black people get to have black pride, so why don't we get to have white pride?" Instead of endorsing assault and/or murder of minorities, they have washed their hands of the supremacists who profess belief in those crimes (at least out loud). They now identify as merely racial and cultural separatists. Merely.
Some Klan groups are now claiming a "sixth era" which presumably has something to do with the internet and the rise of the alt-right. The Klan and other hate groups have certainly been getting a lot of media attention during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including articles humouring their talking points such as their claims not to be white supremacists.
Public officials and the Klan
There has been one Klan member on the Supreme Court. Justice Hugo Black was both a member and appointed during the heyday of the Second Klan. However, he later came to regret his association and became a consistent voice for civil rights.
Also, one former Klan member has been elected to the Senate, Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Even more so than Black, however, Byrd publicly and repeatedly repented, sponsored a great deal of the US's civil rights legislation, and even publicly endorsed a black man for United States President. He was also the longest serving Senator ever, beating Ted Kennedy.
A well-known member is David Duke, who won a seat on the Louisiana state legislature back in 1989, even though the Republican Party's biggest names threw their support to his opponent (which doesn't really enhance Louisiana's reputation). Donald Trump famously failed to denounce him due to a faulty earpiece.
The Klan and pop culture
Most often in pop culture, the Klan is depicted as generic villains, of the sort that few people could really identify with. However, there are several appearances of the Klan in pop culture that are more interesting.
- The KKK feature as a murderous secret society in Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's tale of "The Five Orange Pips" (1891). The "pips" (seeds) were sent as a warning to the recipient, often of sentence of death. The mystery was solved by Sherlock Holmes.[note 3]This portrayal is interesting not only because it was so early, but also because the Klan - while portrayed negatively - appears as a dangerous adversary[note 4] that murders with impunity and cannot even be stopped entirely by the likes of Sherlock Holmes[note 5]
- In The Birth of a Nation (1915) by D. W. Griffith, a young white woman was kidnapped by freed slaves in the South under Reconstruction, and rescued by the Knights of the KKK. This was intended as an allegory of what happened to the South under Reconstruction. The film was a smash success, in part because of the message but also because it was a revolution in cinematography. President Woodrow Wilson publicly praised the film as an important message to the generations. However, this praise is often overemphasized, as it is commonly accepted among historians that Wilson was tricked, and his lesser-known dislike for the KKK was often kept quiet and under wraps, such as a letter he wrote to Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, stating that "no more obnoxious or harmful organization has ever shown itself in our affairs". The movie is considered to have been a large part of the impetus for reforming the Klan in the 1920s.
- In 1937, when the Klan was still popular and powerful in a few areas of the United States, Warner Brothers made Black Legion starring Humphrey Bogart. The film is a thinly disguised cautionary tale of the Klan and its recruiting methods. It was one of the few anti-bigotry movies[note 6] to emerge during the height of the studio era. Jack Warner had the studio alter as many references to the Klan as possible[note 7] because the studio's lawyers were concerned that the Klan might sue for defamation.
- The Ku Klux Klan also appeared positively (or at least neutrally) in Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell's epic novel about the Civil War and Reconstruction, published in 1936. After Scarlett O'Hara is attacked by shantytown-dwellers, some of the boys ride out in Klan robes and hoods to take revenge and end up fighting Union soldiers instead. The 1939 film adaptation whitewashed over the Klan reference, including the same scene but minus the white robes.
- In the 1950s, the makers of the Superman radio serials were approached by a man who had infiltrated the KKK. He asked them to create a long running series where Superman fought the KKK, and he offered up all of the secrets of the Klan for use by the writers. The writers, tired of writing about Nazis and Communists, took him up on it. Secret Klan members were horrified to hear their kids talking about beating up the Klan. Others were just horrified to hear people snickering over the stupid code-words used within the Klan.[note 8] Some consider this the final blow that destroyed the Second Klan.
- The FBI Story (1959), whose script was vetted personally by J. Edgar Hoover, also had a sequence about investigations into Klan activities.
- Mississippi Burning (1988) depicts the FBI's investigation into the Klan killings of three civil rights workers in 1964 Mississippi.
- In Blazing Saddles (1974), Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid encounter two Klan members. "Lookee what I got here," the Kid says. Bart then says "Where the white women at?" The Klan members then follow Bart and the Kid behind a boulder where the two men beat them up and steal their Klan robes.
- The Ramones sang The KKK Took My Baby Away on their 1981 album Pleasant Dreams.
- In Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), a group of Klansmen in a pickup truck harass a black man driving down the highway. They are eventually tarred and feathered.
- In Forrest Gump (1994), Gump tells that his namesake ancestor helped create the 19th century Klan.
- In South Park (Episode Chef Goes Nanners, 2000), Uncle Jimbo and his pal Ned attend a KKK meeting, to convince them to vote for the other side of a debate so that their side will win. The Klansman go on to play Who Has the Silliest Thing Under Their Robes.
- In O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) there is a segment involving lots of sheet wearers.
- In Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), the Klan is depicted as a group of drunken rednecks. One of them even lights himself on fire.
- In Django Unchained (2013) there is a section involving a proto-KKK. They are seen arguing over the effectiveness and practicality of wearing white hoods, in this case, 30 white bags with eye-holes cut in them, made by one of the members' wives. The member in question storms off due to the criticism leveled at the result of his wife's hard work.
- Stephen Colbert aired the animated short Laser Klan; based off a real incident of Klan members who tried to sell a portable x-ray weapon to Jewish groups, in order to kill Muslims. 
KKK and religion
The early KKK, up until around the 1930s, adhered to a nationalist brand of Protestantism, which led them to target Jews and Catholics. During the Depression-era, however, Christian Identity, a fringe sect derived from British Israelism that uses Biblical quotes to justify white supremacy, began to be imported into the US. The Klan has been heavily entangled with Christian Identity since this period, especially since the 1970s and '80s, and has put more emphasis on anti-Semitism due to Identity's obsession with a supposed race war and view of the Jews as a force conspiring to wipe out and/or enslave the white race. The vast majority of mainstream Christian groups regard the KKK as a kult.
- Lost Cause of the South
- White nationalism
- White genocide
- Lynch mob
- Vigrid, a monotheistic, pseudo-pagan Norwegian version of the KKK
- Fred Trump — Donald Trump's Klansman father
- Unite the Right — a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that attempted to bring together various fascist elements, and resulted in one murder and several arrests
- Not to be konfused with the German turbine manufacturer (among other things – except possibly Kinder, Küche, Kirche).
- And possibly to fit the shapes of their heads.
- No shit!
- rather than incompetent fools
- Doyle in general held remarkably progressive views on race for his time. In another Sherlock Holmes story. "The Yellow Face", a mixed race relationship that lies at the heart of the case is portrayed with nothing but sympathy
- Nearly all of which came from Warner Bros.
- i.e., the white robes of the Klan became the black robes of the legion
- For example, the secret book of rituals was called a Kloran. Seriously.
- Tito Ojo-Medubi, "Is Donald Trump in the KKK? The Crusader newspaper endorses him for president", Inquisitr
- Ku Klux Klan History Anti-Defamation League archived.
- Nathan Beford Forrest Joins the Klan
- The Fort Pillow Massacre History Channel. ND.
- Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era New Georgia Encyclopedia. October 3, 2002.
- New Georgia Encyclopedia. October 3, 2002.
- Grant, Reconstruction and the KKK PBS. Collection: "The Presidents". ND.
- PBS. ND.
- PBS. ND.
- The Original Reason the NRA Was Founded Time Lily Rothman November 17, 2015
- Ku Klux Klan History Anti-Defamation League archived.
- ADL ND.
- ADL ND.
- When the Ku Klux Klan was Mainstream NPR. Linton Weeks. March 19, 2015.
- NPR. March 2015.
- NPR. March 2015.
- Klan Starts Nation Wide Boycott Against Jews
- The Ku Klux Klan in Coolidge's America Jerry L. Wallace. Coolidge Foundation July 14, 2014
- J.L. Wallace.Coolidge Foundation July 2014.
- When Bigotry Paraded Through the Streets The Atlantic, JOSHUA ROTHMAN DEC 4, 2016
- The Atlantic. December 2016.
- See the Wikipedia article on D. C. Stephenson.
- Ku Klux Klan Southern Poverty Law Center.
- New Georgia Encyclopedia. October 3, 2002
- Egerton, John (1994). Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. Alfred and Knopf Inc.
- Pulitzer Winners, Whiteville News Reporter and Tabor City Tribune
- McWhorter, Diane (2001). Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- See examples from the New York Times and Times of Israel
- "GOP Condemns Duke" Newsday. Long Island, N.Y.: Feb 25, 1989. pg. 09
- Arthur S. Link, Papers of Woodrow Wilson 68:298
- "Have a nice day:-)"
- See the Wikipedia article on Nathan Bedford Forrest.
- Stephen Colbert unleashes 'Laser Klan' on the world
- Remembering When the Klan Tried to March Through Town: Kelly J. Baker's Gospel According to the Klan, Michael J. Altman
- See Michael Barkun's Religion and the Racist Right