Alex Constantine - October 24, 2009
No Far Right British politician looking to soften his movement's image would relish being associated with the Ku Klux Klan.
By Tom Leonard
Telegraph, 23 Oct 2009
A Ku Klux Klan rally in Illinois Photo: GETTY
The organisation – founded by ex-Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War – has long been far more ruthless and violent than any white supremacist group in the UK.
Started in 1865 as a secret society (taking its name by combing kyklos, the Greek word for circle, with clan) that attacked Unionists and blacks, it was already facing extinction by the 1870s.
However, the Klan ethic enjoyed a resurgence in the inter-war years as whites reacted angrily to the migration of black Americans into the city as well as the arming of black troops in the First World War.
At its peak in the mid-1920s, the Klan boasted an estimated six million members, only to dwindle to nothing within a few years as outrage spread over its violence.
When the Civil Rights movement took off in the South in the 1950s, various independent Klan groups started up to resist it. Klansmen bombed activists' homes and black churches, beat up blacks and white opponents and killed them.
A series of Klan murders in the 1960s, including the killing of the three civil rights volunteers commemorated in the film Mississippi Burning, were only cleared up over the past few years as loyalty to – and fear of - the Klan dwindled among white Southerners and all-white juries.
The violence continued into the 1980s – four elderly black women were shot but not killed in Tennessee in 1980 by Klansmen who had just taken part in an initiation rally. A year later, Michael Donald, a young black man in Mobile, Alabama, was the victim of a random lynching by two Klansmen. In 1997, one of them – Henry Hayes - became the first Klan member to be put to death for a Klan murder in the state since 1913.
However, after civil liberties organisations successfully started hitting the Klan in the wallet with multi-million dollar civil lawsuits, the movement split into myriad small groups while curtailing its criminal activities.
Today, there are estimated to be almost 180 chapters, together boasting no more than 8,000 members. Two-thirds are still in the southern states.
The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, founded by David Duke, remains the largest, while others include Imperial Klans of America and the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
It is widely seen as a movement in decline, with white supremacists more attracted by neo-Nazi groups.
Last year, a jury in Kentucky forced the Imperial Klans of America to pay out $2.5 million after finding that some of its members had savagely beaten up a 16-year-old at a state fair.
Sporadic Klan-related violence continues. In November last year, Raymond Foster, the leader of a group called the Sons of Dixie, was charged with murdering a woman after a row during an initiation rite in Louisiana.
Confederate flags and six Klan robes were found at the backwoods campsite where she was killed.