Ku Klux Klan: Terrorist Group Posing as a Social Organization

Throughout history many groups have agitated for changes in society. For some these goals have encompassed attempts to prevent the disappearance of what they believed to be the rightful or traditional form of society. Fundamentalists of all stripes typically hearken back to an idealized earlier type the restoration of which, in theory, is their ultimate aim. The Ku Klux Klan first arose in the aftermath of the Civil War. Reacting to what its members saw as the utter destruction of the South's true civilization, they sought to preserve a world in which sharp divisions remained between African-Americans and Whites. African-Americans, or so they believed, were naturally inferior to Whites. African-Americans belonged forever at the lowest rung of Southern, and indeed, American society. To this end, the Ku Klux Klan formulated an elaborate ideology that justified their beliefs concerning the racial inferiority of African-Americans. The Klan launched a campaign f propaganda and terror that was designed both to keep African-American "in their proper place" and also to impress upon any dissenting Whites the true form of civilization. The Ku Klux Klan ebbed and flowed in power and influence. Broadly, its reign of terror can be divided into three periods: a first immediately after the Civil War, a second that reached its height in the 1920s and, a third that commenced in approximately the 1970s and to varying extent continues today. In each period the Ku Klux Klan presented itself as a crusading social organization. Yet, in reality, it was none other than a terrorist group like so many others.

According to popular mythology, the Ku Klux Klan began harmlessly enough in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866 as little more than a fraternal order of young men. As was the case with other secret societies, the Klansmen wore special costumes, practiced secret rituals, and in effect, took on secret identities (Harcourt, 2005). In reality, the Klan spread an ideology of hatred. In Nashville in 1867, the Klan called a meeting to proclaim itself an "Invisible Empire, comprised of federated realms ruled by grand wizards. The organizations purpose was ostensibly high-minded:

1. To protect the weak, the innocent, the defenseless, from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal

2. To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States

3. To aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws and to protect the people from all unlawful seizure and from trial except by their peers in conformity with the laws of the land.

(Mecklin, 1963, p. 64)

IN other words, the Klan saw itself as defending the true order of American society. Its violent attacks on African-Americans were seen as battle against the forces of chaos. That African-Americans should be equal under the law, or possess even basic human rights, was something that did not even enter the minds of the early Klansmen. Even more interestingly, these basic bylaws of Klan took the position that anything that conflicted with these ideas was, by its very nature, unconstitutional and illegal. The Klan's organizational structure further took into account the idea that this was a war against powerful, yet corrupt, forces. The need for secrecy, the need to masquerade as something other than what it really was, showed how out of step its members really were with the emerging post-Civil War society. To the Klansman; however, there was nothing incongruence in the notion of a secret empire of the elect existing within an egalitarian democracy. The early Klan found strength in the numberless disaffected Confederate veterans who joined its ranks. Their properties had been destroyed, their livelihoods stolen, by the "alien" Yankees, and so they were trying to fight back. The mystique of the Klan was the mystique of the freedom fighter. Until felled by its own excesses, the early Klan, worked as a paramilitary arm of White supremacist theory, actively undermining the Republic Party in the Post-Civil War South and sabotaging any and all attempts at accommodation, or real transformation (Ross, 2003).

The Southern States were reincorporated into the Union and eventually an uneasy peace prevailed for many years. With the help of Jim Crow and the sharecropping system, African-Americans were forced into something that rather resembled slavery, sinking down to a social standing that was legally and socially definitively beneath that of their White counterparts. Still, other forces shaped the nation during the succeeding half-century. Massive waves of immigration brought new and, in traditionalist eyes, alien groups to America in unprecedented numbers. Catholics and Jews swelled the populations of the great eastern cities. Industry replaced agriculture as the mainstay of the American economy -- another threat to the traditional Southern way of life. African-Americans, too, migrated in large numbers to the cities of both the north and the South. During the 1910s the Klan reemerged, becoming a major force during the 1920s. Its center even shifted northward into the beleaguered heartland of the old agrarian North -- the Midwestern state of Indiana. Membership in the new Klan was astonishingly diverse. Whites from virtually every background swelled its membership. Studies have shown that the "typical" Indiana Klansman of the 1920s might come from virtually nay socio-economic background, might have any native-born American protestant origin -- Klansmen were not only transplanted Southerners -- and could be an adherent of virtually any Protestant denomination, not merely the Evangelical (Moore, 1991, p. 45). The new Klansmen were mainstream and their goals revealed this in all too powerful form. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s looked toward state and national politics as its natural area of operation. Hiram Wesley Evans' defense of the Klan summed up its appeal on the most primal emotional levels, an appeal that was curiously logical in the way it seemed to offer logical solutions to native-born Americans deepest fears about losing their identity and culture, and the disappearance of the world they knew. In common with contemporary movements from around the globe that see in the foreigner, or foreign ways, the source of all problems -- social, economic, and political. In 1926, Evans set the Klan against the contagion of liberalism,

"[the] cause of the break with Liberalism was that it had provided no defense against the alien invasion, but instead had excused it - even defended it against Americanism. Liberalism is today charged in the mind of most Americans with nothing less than national, racial and spiritual treason."

(McGee, 1998)

To achieve its aims the Klan launched a campaign of lynchings and burnings. African-Americans were targeted along with Catholics and Jews and all those liberal types who opposed the goals of the organization. An investigation of the Klan in Alabama revealed the depths to which the Klan had penetrated the political system. Bibb Graves, a former Klan chapter head became Governor of Alabama and it was in such capacity that he blocked an investigation into the membership of the Luverne branch of the organization (Feldman, 1999, p. 154). The Klan was using its influence to stymie government investigations and to push its agenda of radical anti-African-American and anti-immigrant sentiment. Further scandals toppled the Klan as it stood on the verge of dominating national politics.

It was in yet another era of great social change that the Klan reemerged as a potent force. The 1960s altered much that remained of traditional American society and culture. The Civil Rights Movement resulted in African-Americans at last winning equal legal rights and opportunities with Whites. New attitudes toward social relationships condemned old attempts to exclude those who were considered different. Immigration quotas were overturned and the country was opened up to new waves of immigration -- once again from nations considered alien by traditionalists. African-Americans, as well, were moving into politics, business, and national culture. The Klan found renewed strength in the disaffected of this new age. Klan leader David Duke increased his local Klan membership from a few hundred to a few thousand by building on the racist theories of other hate groups. In particular, Duke barraged his membership with Nazi literature that was presented in a crusading spirit. He also concentrated on making the Klan a respectable organization, once more resorting to the old tactic of presenting its hate-filled views as but one more example of the broad freedoms available under the United States Constitution:

This is America and people should have the right to read anything they so desire. . . . You can go into any bookstore in the United States and find copies of communist books or pro-Zionist material, but I'm criticized for allowing free speech to occur."

(Moore, 1992, p. 48)

Implicit in his remarks was the argument that while his own beliefs were merely another reformulation of genuine American ideals, those other ideas i.e. Communism and Zionism, and not to mention the "liberal" ideas associated with them, were all somehow explicitly anti-American. Again, tradition and virtue were being identified with an idealized and racially pure America of bygone times. Whether…