Fear of the New AmeriKKKa

The Ku Klux Klan tried to capitalize on the events in Ferguson, but there’s not much left of the once influential organization.

The grand jury in Ferguson had not yet arrived at its verdict, but two groups on the Internet had already staked out their positions. Anonymous activists published an open letter on the website Pastebin saying everything the KKK posted would be immediately taken down by Anonymous, and that they would further shut down any sites the KKK used to advertise its activities. The activists added that the KKK should do so peacefully or suffer the consequences. Prior to that, the Traditionalist Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a splinter group of the Missouri KKK, had threatened marchers in Ferguson that any further demonstrations would be met with violence.

Anonymous hackers then took control of several KKK Twitter accounts and declared war on them, hacking into email accounts and posting the names and telephone numbers of KKK officers. They even published correspondence intended to be private between the Klan and local police stations. Within minutes, “Operation Ku Klux Klan” and the hashtag #OpKKK became a trending topic on Twitter.

Since Ferguson has reawakened the conscience of Americans, the KKK regards this as an opportunity to attract attention. Klan affiliates have collected donations for Darren Wilson’s defense and offered him their support. That the Klan is again on the minds of the American public is shown by the protest marches in New York, Chicago and Boston over the past few days. One sees posters and placards warning of an impending “AmeriKKKa.” The demonstrations, according to Frank Ancona, one of the most prominent leaders of the Klan movement, have resulted in a “storm” of new KKK membership applications.

Fractious Groups

People knowledgeable about the facts consider this to be mostly propaganda. The Ku Klux Klan of the 20th century, known for assaults and outright massacres in the American South, is today hardly recognizable. Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish human rights organization in Washington and a close observer of the KKK, says the Klan of late has been in constant decline.

Meanwhile, it’s estimated that between 36 and 160 separate Klan groups now exist. Pitcavage says that people speak about the unity of the Klan, but that hasn’t been true for a long time. The separate groups now share little other than the Klan name, and even the largest of them has 100 members or less. There are many reasons for the decline. Numerous alternatives for proponents of racial segregation and anti-immigration now exist, and these options lack the historic connotations of the now outmoded-looking KKK.

Noisy on the Internet

It wasn’t always so. In its heyday between 1910 and 1944, the Klan grew to be an organization numbering over 4 million. Immigrants from Europe, fear of communism and the migration of blacks from the agricultural south to the industrial north drove many into the arms of the organization. The Ku Klux Klan, much like the tea party movement, sprang up from nowhere and provided a magnet for many people’s frustrations. The Klan became a political force to be reckoned with in relatively short order. Leading politicians and public figures like Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black publicly supported the Klan, and even Republican presidential candidate Warren G. Harding made no attempt to hide his Klan associations — a fact which did no damage to his campaign for the White House.

Pitcavage says that the Klan finds itself today on the margins of American society. Contacts with politicians or police personnel are isolated at best, and usually result in dismissal from their jobs.

The successes of the civil rights movement, however, made the Klan increasingly irrelevant. Internal squabbling, corruption and an increasingly unpopular agenda tore the various factions apart. The individual factions began to alienate some members, and to accuse them of being too close to liberal groups. In their few public protest actions, such as the one in Memphis where there was objection to the renaming of several parks after former segregationists, the various groups often tried to shout one another down.

The Klan Now Relies on Free Publicity and the Internet

Instead, the groups now rely on the distribution of leaflets. The leaflets the Klan groups distributed on Long Island did not get any headlines until the summer. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan agitated against immigrants from Central and South America, warning of a coming suppression of the white race. Local television outlets reported on the right-wing threat; it was also mentioned by The New York Times.

The Klan counts on such publicity, says Pitcavage. The groups knew that residents would report the leaflets to the police and the media would immediately jump on the story. The Klan sees it as free publicity, but experts say such actions are just a further indication of their sheer desperation. The leaders of the groups all know they no longer have the necessary clout to return openly to the streets.

Online, the group shouts all the louder, saying it keeps reading about empty threats, but called it all talk and no action — after they regained control over their Twitter account. In typical KKK style, they released an open letter in which they threatened: “We will hunt you down and tear those masks from your face. You’ll be strung up next to the chimps. On display for the whole world to see.”

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