What Is the Ku Klux Klan?
This was an underground organization started in the South after the American Civil War to keep down the Negro population and resist the expected exploitation by the North. It sprang from a Tennessee social club, which based its name on the Greek kyklos, a circle. The young members used to ride about on horses at night, dressed in flowing white gowns, to frighten the newly-freed slaves and to amuse themselves.
Fanatics turned this amusement into “the invisible Empire of the South”, a secret society of terror, indulging in murder and kidnapping. Laws were passed to suppress it, and Klansmen were imprisoned, to be greeted as heroes on their release. The KKK was revived in 1915 as a general ragbag for all manner of intolerance, but it faded with the Depression of the 1930s, though it is still active today.
They focused on opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, often using violence and murder to suppress activists. It is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. As of 2016, the Anti-Defamation League puts total Klan membership nationwide at around 3,000, while the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) puts it at 6,000 member’s total.
The second and third incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan made frequent references to America’s “Anglo-Saxon” blood, hearkening back to 19th-century nativism. Although members of the KKK swear to uphold Christian morality, virtually every Christian denomination has officially denounced the KKK.
The three distinct movements that have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-immigration, and, especially in later iterations, Nordicism, anti-Catholicism, and anti-Semitism, historically expressed through terrorism aimed at groups or individuals whom they opposed. All three movements have called for the “purification” of American society, and all are considered right wing extremist organizations.