The Ku Klux Klan is a racist, anti-Semitic movement with a commitment to extreme violence to achieve its goals of racial segregation and white supremacy. Of all the types of right-wing hate groups that exist in the United States, the Klan remains the one with the greatest number of national and local organizations around the country.
More than 40 different Klan groups exist, many having multiple chapters, or “klaverns,” including a few that boast a presence in a large number of states. There are over a hundred different Klan chapters around the country, with a combined strength of members and associates that may total around 5,000.
After a period of relative quiet, Ku Klux Klan activity has spiked noticeably upwards in 2006, as Klan groups have attempted to exploit fears in America over gay marriage, perceived “assaults” on Christianity, crime and especially immigration.
Founder: Confederate Civil War veterans Captain John C. Lester, Major James R. Crowe, John D. Kennedy, Calvin Jones, Richard R. Reed, Frank O. McCord
Headquarters: Each different Klan group has its own headquarters.
Background: The Klan has fragmented into more than 40 separate factions of varying sizes. There is no “one” Ku Klux Klan.
Estimated size: There are over a hundred different chapters in the various Klan organizations, with varying memberships. Overall, there may be as many as 5,000 members and associates of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan is strongest in the South and in the Midwest.
Criminal Activity: The Klan has a relatively high association with criminal activity, ranging from hate crimes to acts of domestic terrorism.
Media: Mass mailings, leafleting and the Internet
Strategy: Public rallies and protests, "adopt a highway" programs and other attention getting stunts, Internet
Ideology: White supremacist ideology not far from that of neo-Nazis, although it tends to be more Christian-oriented and to stress nativism.
Affiliations: National Socialist Movement, Aryan Nations, Christian Identity groups
Financial support: Little. Most funding comes from membership dues and sales of Klan paraphernalia.
The Ku Klux Klan first emerged following the Civil War as America’s first true terrorist group. Since its inception, the Ku Klux Klan has seen several cycles of growth and collapse, and in some of these cycles the Klan has been more extreme than in others. In all of its incarnations, however, the Klan has maintained its dual heritage of hate and violence.
At first, the Ku Klux Klan focused its anger and violence on African-Americans, on white Americans who stood up for them, and against the federal government which supported their rights. Subsequent incarnations of the Klan, which typically emerged in times of rapid social change, added more categories to its enemies list, including Jews, Catholics (less so after the 1970s), homosexuals, and different groups of immigrants.
In most of these cases, these perceived enemies were minority groups that came into direct economic competition with the lower- and working-class whites that formed the core constituency of the Klan in most of its incarnations.
The Ku Klux Klan was overshadowed in the late 1990s and early 2000s by growing neo-Nazi activity; however, by 2005 neo-Nazi groups had fallen on hard times, with many groups collapsing or fragmenting. This collapse has helped create a rise of racist skinhead activity, but has also provided new opportunities for Klan groups.
In addition, in the early 2000s, many communities in the United States began to experiences a significant influx of immigrants, especially Hispanics, for the first time in their histories. A single-issue movement opposing immigration has helped create fear and anxiety about immigration in the minds of many Americans.
Many Ku Klux Klan groups have attempted to take advantage of that fear and uncertainty, using anti-immigration sentiments for recruitment and propaganda purposes, and to attract publicity.