Also Known As:
- Brotherhood of Klans
- Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Imperial Klans of America
- Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (the Knights Party)
- Ku Klos Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- National Aryan Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Original Knight Riders Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- The Klan
- Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- United Klans of America
- United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan (“KKK” or “the Klan”), dedicated to white supremacy, is America’s best-known hate group. However, the Klan’s power and standing has declined dramatically in the decades since its peak years of millions-strong membership. In fact, the KKK is no longer a single, cohesive organization, having splintered into at least four main offshoots and dozens of smaller factions, all of which identify as members of “the Klan” and incorporate “Klan” in their group names. However, the Klan’s influence remains significant, especially among U.S. hate groups. The KKK has also attracted “vast numbers of sympathizers” due to its geographical diffusion across 41 states and historical notoriety, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is the oldest hate group in the United States.
The KKK is the oldest and most notorious hate group in the United States.
The KKK has gone through three phases of growth, followed each time by drastic decline. The original Klan was founded by a group of six Confederate army veterans in Tennessee in 1865. Fearing increasing political control by Reconstructionist politicians buoyed by the potential electoral power of newly freed male black slaves, the KKK responded by terrorizing black people through physical and psychological intimidation during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. The KKK adopted costumes evoking the spirits of dead Confederate soldiers, exploiting fear and superstition among the black population. It existed until 1871, when the federal government passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, allowing the prosecution of KKK members as part of a terrorist organization. The KKK re-emerged in 1915 in Atlanta, Georgia. At the height of the group’s power in the mid-1920s, it claimed around 4–5 million members. Numbers collapsed, however, and the organization effectively disbanded before the advent of World War II. In response to the burgeoning civil rights movement, the KKK was formed again during the 1960s and continues to function in limited ways. Today, there are at least four main KKK branches among the 72 active groups operating under the Klan name: the Brotherhood of Klans, the National Knights, the Imperial Klans of America and the Knights Party.
The KKK has returned to the national public consciousness in the last two years. In 2014, Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. (a.k.a. Miller), the founder of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was arrested for the murder of three people at Jewish community centers in Kansas and Missouri. On September 8, 2015, a Kansas jury recommended Cross be sentenced to death, and he was convicted of murder on November 11, 2015. When he was sentenced to death by a Kansas court, Cross responded, “Heil Hitler.”
In 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-Americans at a well-known black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan distributed Klan propaganda with bags of candy to front lawns in Alabama, California, Georgia, Kansas, and Mississippi. On fliers, readers were encouraged to ring a hotline that saluted Roof, which said, “We in the Loyal White Knights would like to say hail victory to … Dylann S. Roof who decided to do what the bible told him… ” A spokesperson for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (a.k.a. the Knights Party) took a different approach, trying to distance the KKK from Roof’s actions by denouncing him. She urged the media to be “courageous” and highlight the denunciation, claiming that the murders would “be used to promote white guilt.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the Klan’s message of hatred endures, supported by a record of violence and terror unmatched in the history of American extremist groups.”
The KKK believes in white supremacy, white solidarity, and preservation of the white race.
The KKK’s overriding doctrine is white supremacy, white solidarity, and preservation of the white race. The group describes itself as “promoters of White Christian civilization.”
In 1975, David Duke, a KKK member and future candidate for president and other high offices, launched the Knights Party, explicitly seeking to soften the Klan’s image. According to the Knights Party, the KKK seeks to “secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and advocates for white self-determination in the U.S. The Knights Party thus describes its ethos as “racialist” rather than “racist”and explicitly rejects charges of racism, claiming, “How disappointed they must be when they find out the Klan does not hate Negroes!” The term racialism as used by the Knights Party describes a simple preference for one race over another, rather than racism, which entails negative discrimination against other races. Other academics also claim differences between racism and racialism, including a Yale Law School professor who states, “[r]acialism is rational, morally neutral, and inevitable in a society with our history of slavery, discrimination, and white-black social differences in so many areas.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary and most dictionaries, however, it is synonymous with racism.
Similar to the Knights Party’s claim, the Imperial Wizard (leader) of the Traditional American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Frank Ancona has stated, “We don’t hate people because of their race…We want to keep our race the White race…We want to stay White. It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain White Supremacy.”
The Knights Party also downplays its violent associations—referring to its “alleged ‘violent’ past”—and explicitly rejects the label of “hate group.” According to the KKK itself, it “is not a hate group, but we are a LOVE group…because we LOVE America and we LOVE our people.” A KKK Chapter called the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klux (TAK) similarly states, “We are a non-violent organization that believes in the preservation of the White race and the United States Constitution as it was originally written…”
Notwithstanding these attempts to disassociate the KKK from its racist foundations, the “same bigoted rhetoric…lurks beneath the veneer,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The KKK “target[s] blacks more often than any other group.” Biracial couples are also “frequent targets of Klan violence,” while anti-Semitism and “rabidly homophobic” literature since the 1970s also form key pillars of the KKK’s ideology. In 1999, homophobic Klan rhetoric reportedly inspired Steven Eric Mullins and Charles Monroe Butler to beat a gay man to death before burning the corpse. In April 2014, the founder and former leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Glenn Frazier Cross shot and killed a boy and his grandfather at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, one day before the Jewish holiday of Passover.
There are at least four main KKK splinter groups operating today.
The KKK is no longer a single entity run by a sole leader and with central headquarters. The SPLC mentions at least four larger Klan organizations: the Brotherhood of Klans (BOK); the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (National Knights); Imperial Klans of America (IKA); and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK, a.k.a. The Knights Party), which is the largest group. These four main groups are supplemented by dozens of smaller factions, all of which use the “Klan” name.
The Brotherhood of Klans (BOK)
The Brotherhood of Klans (BOK) was founded in 1996 by Dale Fox. It is a “traditional” Klan and therefore highly secretive. It is nonetheless geographically widespread, and distinguishes itself from other factions as the only Klan to establish a presence outside the United States, “with a sizeable presence in Canada.” Its headquarters are believed to be in Henderson, Tennessee.
The Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (National Knights)
Formed in 1960 and now operating out of South Bend, Indiana, the National Knights is one of the most active Klans. The SPLC has pointed to the group’s organizational incompetence, saying it “gained a kind of “Keystone Kops” reputation on the white supremacist scene for its bumbling ways.”
Imperial Klans of America (IKA)
Like the BOK, the Imperial Klans of America (IKA) is a “traditional” Klan. It was founded by Ron Edwards in Dawson Springs, Kentucky in 1996. It is believed to be the second-largest Klan group after the BOK.
The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK, a.k.a. the Knights Party)
The Knights Party was founded by David Duke in 1975 and purports to represent the modern Klan with a “kindler, gentler” face seeking “white civil rights.” Its head office is in Harrison, Arkansas.
The KKK’s fragmentation and lack of organization has stemmed in large part from internal disputes over ideology, as well as petty squabbling. Generally, cosmetic differences in competence, public relations ability, group size, and structure mark one group as different from another. Ideological distinctions between these Klan groups are marginal, however, as all are devoted to white supremacy.
The KKK consists of around 160 chapters across 41 states.
The KKK consists of around 160 known active chapters across 41 states, including both national organizations like the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and local chapters such as the Alabama White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The London-based Telegraph estimates total KKK membership at “no more than 8,000,” further “split among dozens of different—and often warring—organizations that use the Klan name.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, the KKK has more chapters than any other U.S. right-wing group. Two-thirds of chapters are located in the South.
Traditional KKK groups such as the TAK employ a well-developed hierarchical structure characterized by a distinctive Klan lexicon. TAK leader Frank Ancona, for instance, is known as the “Grand Wizard” of the organization. The United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (UNSKKKK) also retains the distinctive names of rank such as Klaliff, Kleagle, Kladd, Klexter, Klokard and Klokan. The comparatively more “modern” Knights Party, by contrast, dispenses with the traditional Klan lexicon. In general, KKK members retain anonymity, apart from higher echelons and some officers.
Funding for the KKK is believed to be minimal and primarily secured from membership fees and sales of KKK paraphernalia and merchandise. The TAK also encourages prospective supporters disinclined to full membership to sign up as “Ghoul Squad” members, thereby “contributing to our unseen, invisible army of supporters” for a fee of $25 or $100.
Historically, a Klan group’s “Kleagle” is responsible for recruiting new members, known as “Ghouls.” According to the SPLC the Kleagle – in Klan groups that still adopt the traditional names – “gets a percentage of the initiation fees.” During the 1940s, membership cost $10, “plus annual fees of $6.80” and functioned as a pyramid scheme in which the “national, state, and provincial headquarters each got about a 20 percent slice of the action.”
The KKK has exploited major attacks, including the June 2015 South Carolina massacre, as an opportunity for recruitment. Through the summer of 2015, the KKK distributed fliers along with bags of candy on residential front yards across Alabama, California, Georgia, Kansas, and Mississippi. The fliers included the website and telephone number of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. According to “Grand Dragon” Robert Jones, “We’re doing this from the East Coast to the West Coast, just to let people know the Klan’s in their community.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, sections of the KKK’s members are drawn from a “criminal milieu.”
The KKK also recruits through web-based media. Pastor Thomas Robb—a well-known current KKK leader, successor to David Duke, and current head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—hosts a show called This Is The Klan on his website. On the same site, younger members and prospective recruits are directed to watch White Youth Focus, hosted by Billy Graham, “for racially aware young people to get their news.” Thomas Robb formerly hosted a YouTube show called The Andrew Show using the channel name ShowForWhiteKids. “White women” are catered to in a show called White Women’s Perspective, hosted by Rachel Prendergraft and promoted on Pastor Robb’s website. After taking control of the KKKK, Robb dispensed with the traditional initiation rites “in favor of a simple mail-in fee that earned applicants booklets and tests, allowing them to move through the ranks by paying for promotions.”
In the latter half of 2020 and continuing into early 2021, there were reports around the United States of the distribution of KKK propaganda materials. Various fliers were often distributed in plastic bags and weighted down by rice, bird seed, or rocks. Some of them displayed the slogan “white lives matter” in protest of the Black Lives Matter movement. The fliers provided websites and post office boxes to contact area KKK chapters. According to the police chief of Tutelake, California, where such packages were found in December 2020, the offenders could possibly be charged with offensive littering, but KKK advertisements are generally protected under the First Amendment.