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POLITICS & SOCIETY May 2007
 
The Ku Klux Klan, alive and kicking ?
by Guillaume LEFEVRE

The debate over immigration in the US might have prompted the resurgence of the KKK.

The Ku Klux Klan was created in 1866 by Confederate Civil War veterans. Since then, the KKK has been a generic brand name for a hotchpotch of living and defunct fraternal organizations that advocate white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and nativism. There is no centralized organisation, so that membership figures are and have always been estimates.
According to Professor Brian Levin, Director of the Center on Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, the Klan numbered about 4.5 million members in the 1920s. Its membership dropped to an estimated 60,000 during the civil rights era (1954-65) and had bottomed out at fewer than 2,000 members by the mid-1970s.* However, after years of irrelevance, the group is currently seeing an increase in activity. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a report claiming that today KKK membership could be anything between 5000 and 8000, organised in as many as 179 local Klan groups. The KKK is reported as active in nineteen different states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The debate over legal and illegal immigration has proved a major recruiting tool. It has triggered a return to the KKK's nativist origins. Demonstrations organised by the KKK and other hate groups to protest against illegal immigration are on the rise. For instance, the Empire Knights of Texas organise frequent rallies in border towns, attracting more journalists and on-lookers that actual supporters. But even if they fail to gather cheering racist crowds, their mere existence is a cause for concern among civil rights activists.

The ADL report also explains that the KKK has changed strategy and now operates increasingly in the open. KKK clans tend to advocate cooperation with neo-Nazi groups, they use the Internet to broadcast ideas and advertise meetings, they meet up with militias that "protect" the border from illegal immigrants, and distribute racist literature. Although some members still wear robes and pointed hoods at rallies and some even still burn crosses, younger recruits tend to look more like skinheads or neo-Nazis.

However, some consider that this is a storm in a tea cup. David J. Garrow, Senior Fellow at Cambridge University, claims that the Klan's structure remains very weak and fragmented, and that the organisation is "still dead".** He describes the ADL's report as alarmist and over pessimistic: according to him, such reports give credibility to minority hate groups and end up helping rather than harming them.


Sources : * "Anti-immigrant sentiments fuel Ku Klux Klan resurgence," The Christian Science Monitor 9 February 2007.
** "The Klan is still dead," The LA Times 27 February 2007.
"Hundreds watch KKK rally in Texas town," Associated Press 17 March 2007.
"KKK threaten to protest in Hazleton," The Scranton Times-Tribune 23 March 2007.


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