persuasion techniques does the Ku Klux Klan use to recruit and retain members

Persuasion techniques and the Ku Klux Klan

The persuasion techniques that the Ku Klux Klan uses to recruit and retain members

The Ku Klux Clan is a far right extremist group that often has employed violent tactics and methods to achieve their ends and to propagate their ideology. A more formal description of the Ku Klux Clan is "A secret society organized in the South after the Civil War to reassert white supremacy by means of terrorism. "

US Military Dictionary: Ku Klux Klan)

The literature on the subject suggests that becoming a member of this organization usually begins at an early age. "Evidence suggests that the route to violent far-right extremism often begins with organizations seeking to recruit young people..." (Learning together to be safe) This often takes the form of the society training the youth in gun use and other activities.

However, there are certain central and more subtle aspects that need to be noted about the way that the Klan recruits and retains its members. These include aspects such as the ideology and propaganda that is used to maintain the ethos of the organization and to justify its actions. This paper will discuss some of these central aspects and explore the way that they function within the Ku Klux Klan.

Ideology and myth

The central method and modus operandi that the Klan and other extremist groups use to recruit and maintain membership is through ideologies or theories that appeal to their target audience and which acts as an influential means of psychological and social persuasion. The particular ideology that the Klan uses to "sell" or persuade member to join the Klan is based on racier stereotypes and fear.

Far-right extremist ideology provides a hate-based story based on a sense of poverty, discrimination, alienation and threat. It uses local economic and social grievances and distorts analysis of migration, globalisation and history and justifies violence to 'protect the indigenous people'.

(Learning together to be safe)

The persuasive nature and the effectiveness of the ideology behind the Ku Klux Klan should not be underestimated. This also relates to the fact that fear and the play on the fears that people in the society may have, is a continuous theme in the Klan's methods of persuasion. As one study on the subject notes, " the deeply rooted fear many Americans feel for the Klan at once attracts and bedevils Klan recruits. "(Kaplan, 1995)

The ideology of racial identity, superiority and exclusivity is also combined with religious persuasion and motivation. This is related to fundamentalist Christian theology, which is interpreted and 'twisted" to suit the ideological aims and pseudo-philosophical trajectory of the Klan, as Kaplan states;

Perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the radical right is based on a peculiar theological claim: that the most egregious "theft of culture" in human history was perpetrated by Satan and the Jews to dispossess the Anglo-Saxon and kindred peoples of their birthright.

(Kaplan, 1995)

This also refers to the "apocalyptic millenarianism" of the radical right wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan like other radial right wing groups believes that "... The eschatological reign of peace is at hand, and that its signs are already visible on earth." (Apocalypse: Definition of Key Terms) These views provide for a host of actions and bigoted attitudes that are justified on the basis of religious doctrine.

This refers as well to another component of the persuasive ideology of the Klan and similar groups. The ideology of the group or society stresses the importance of identity and the necessity to keep this identity from being interfered with or 'polluted' by outside forces and views. This also provides a motivational basis for a racial and elitist perception of society." Identity provides the key to unlocking the mysteries of past, present and future while offering the faithful an explanation for their current perception of dispossession." And "It appears to have a unique ability to meet the need of the racialist right for spirituality, fellowship and ritual..." (Kaplan, 1995)

Other methods for recruiting and inciting people to join and to remain members are the focus on contemporary aspects of concern, such as immigration. This refers to the view put forward by the Klan that new immigrants allegedly pose a threat to work opportunities and the Christian ethos and racial purity in the society. In other words, the Klan regularly "invents' problems to focus on certain social ands cultural issues and purposely distorts these issues as a persuasive technique.

In this regard a report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) entitled, Ku Klux Klan Rebounds With New Focus on Immigration, ADL Reports, states that in 2007,

The Ku Klux Klan, which just a few years ago seemed static or even moribund compared to other white supremacist movements such as neo-Nazis, experienced "a surprising and troubling resurgence" during the past year due to the successful exploitation of hot-button issues including immigration, gay marriage and urban crime.

(Ku Klux Klan Rebounds With New Focus on Immigration, ADL Reports)

Therefore, a central persuasive technique is the use of sensitive and opportunistic issues in the society to incite fear and concern among potential members, thereby motivating and persuading them to join the Klan. The following is an example of the rhetoric and the persuasive techniques that the Klan uses in enticing and retaining members. " the KKK believes that the U.S. is "drowning" in a tide of non-white immigration, controlled and orchestrated by Jews, and is vigorously trying to bring this message to Americans concerned or fearful about immigration." (Ku Klux Klan Rebounds With New Focus on Immigration, ADL Reports)

Therefore, through techniques of fear, dogma and theoretical racial rhetoric, supported by religion, the Klan motivates many to join its ranks. The Leadership of the organization is also active in the promotion of these ideals. Leaders with a certain degree of charisma and persuasive talent have emerged in the Klan to promote its ideals and inspire membership. (Bevilaqua, 2004) for example, a Klan leader, Samuel Holloway Bowers, of Laurel Mississippi "...was a persuasive talker with exceptional organizing ability." (Bevilaqua, 2004)

2.1. Recent persuasive trends

These persuasive techniques and theories have been used by the Klan in the contemporary communications environment as well. Recruitment and membership retention using the Internet and Web sites has proven to be a successful modern method for the Klan. One of the earliest manifestation of this method was "...a computerized bulletin board created by and for white supremacists and accessible to anyone with a modem and a home computer." ("Poisoning the Web: Hatred," 1999) This became known as the "Aryan Nation Liberty Net." ("Poisoning the Web: Hatred," 1999)

There have also been efforts to refurbish the image of the Klan in a more modern and acceptable way. This is particularly aimed at attracting younger members to the society. For example,

David Duke, another former leader of the Knights, and the National Association for the Advancement of White People, a group that Duke founded, employ the Web in hiding their white supremacist beliefs behind the slick, misleading rhetoric of "white rights." Factions of the currently weakened Ku Klux Klan use the Internet as a means to revitalization, spreading the Klan's traditional message of hatred for Jews, Blacks and immigrants.

("Poisoning the Web: Hatred," 1999)

The Klan also uses other technologies and modern publications that paint the Klan as a 'responsible" and socially concerned group. This also related to the way that the leaders of the Klan present themselves and often put forward a "...'toned-down' public image while preaching racism and anti-Semitism to fellow Klansmen." ("Poisoning the Web: Hatred," 1999)

Susceptibility and persuasion

While the Klan uses these ideas and views to entice members to join and stay in the organization the obvious question that must be asked is, what makes especially young people susceptible to these ideas? Studies of the reasons why young people may become attracted to societies like the Ku Klux Klan suggest the following susceptibility factors.

Central to these factors is the search for meaning and answers to life problems and questions. This also includes a need for a sense of belonging, which is especially strong among the youth. The Klan makes use of these needs and desires and offers the young person a theories and a collective ethos designed to satisfy the need for understanding and belonging. One study succinctly states the problem of susceptibility as follows.

Adolescents exploring issues of identity can feel both distant from their parents' cultural and religious heritage and uncomfortable with their place in society around them. Extremist ideas can help provide a sense of purpose or feeling of belonging (Learning together to be safe)

This also relates to issue of self-esteem and self -worth. It is suggested that the new recruit to the Ku Klux Klan may be driven by "... A desire to enhance the self-esteem of the individual and promote their 'street cred'." (Learning together to be…