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Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan, with its long history of violence, is the most infamous — and oldest — of American hate groups. Although black Americans have typically been the Klan's primary target, it also has attacked Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians and, until recently, Catholics.

Top Takeaways

Unlike white nationalist organizations, whose meme wars and pressed khakis appeal to an impressionable younger generation, the Klan’s online presence and public image remains rigid and unrefined, effectively diminishing their recruitment. Infighting between members on Facebook and Stormfront involves accusations of drug use, domestic violence and disloyalty, and the number of groups continues to plummet. Klan groups have attempted to form alliances with other segments of the movement, such as the League of the South and the National Socialist Movement, to retain some semblance of relevance.

Key Moments

The most visible Klan activities have been few and far between. Besides flyering campaigns in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia and a Sept. 1 rally in Madison, Indiana — which drew all of 12 Klan members — the most notable Klan news of 2018 involved a prison sentence. In August, Richard Preston, Imperial Wizard of the Confederate White Knights, was sentenced to eight years in prison with four years suspended for firing his weapon within 1,000 feet of a school at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

What’s Ahead

Despite the Klan’s relatively low profile in 2018 and self-destructive infighting, the group should not be written off as obsolete. Their hateful ideologies beget racist rhetoric which can in turn become the impetus for violent action. While flyers may seem a petty attempt at recruitment and white robes appear antiquated in an era of refined optics, the fear that such materials and imagery incite should never be dismissed. The Klan’s long history is intrinsically tied to violence and soaked in the blood of thousands of innocent victims. Given the Klan’s structure based on familial bonds and inheritance, it will exist in the U.S. in some capacity for years to come.

Background

Started during Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War, the Klan quickly mobilized as a vigilante group to intimidate Southern blacks - and any whites who would help them - and to prevent them from enjoying basic civil rights. Outlandish titles (like imperial wizard and exalted cyclops), hooded costumes, violent "night rides," and the notion that the group comprised an "invisible empire" conferred a mystique that only added to the Klan's popularity. Lynchings, tar-and-featherings, rapes and other violent attacks on those challenging white supremacy became a hallmark of the Klan.

After a short but violent period, the "first era" Klan disbanded after Jim Crow laws secured the domination of Southern whites. But the Klan enjoyed a huge revival in the 1920s when it opposed (mainly Catholic and Jewish) immigration. By 1925, when its followers staged a huge Washington, D.C. march, the Klan had as many as 4 million members and, in some states, considerable political power. But a series of sex scandals, internal battles over power and newspaper exposés quickly reduced its influence.

The Klan arose a third time during the 1960s to oppose the civil rights movement and to preserve segregation in the face of unfavorable court rulings. The Klan's bombings, murders and other attacks took a great many lives, including, among others, four young girls killed while preparing for Sunday services at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Since the 1970s the Klan has been greatly weakened by internal conflicts, court cases, a seemingly endless series of splits and government infiltration. While some factions have preserved an openly racist and militant approach, others have tried to enter the mainstream, cloaking their racism as mere "civil rights for whites." Today, the Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different - and often warring - organizations that use the Klan name.

2018 KKK hate groups

View all groups by state and by ideology.
*Asterisk denotes headquarters.

American Christian Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Alabama)
American Christian Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Florida)
American Christian Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Tennessee)
American Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Moselle, Mississippi)
American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Georgia)
American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Indiana)
Aryan Knights of the Invisible Empire (Statewide, North Carolina)
Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Maryland)
Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Virginia)
Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Wappapello, Missouri)
East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire (Columbus, Ohio)
East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire (Statewide, North Carolina)
Global Crusaders: Order of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Alabama)
Honorable Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Madison, Indiana)
International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Cedartown, Georgia)
International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Florida)
International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Mississippi)
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Harrison, Arkansas)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Pelham, North Carolina)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Florida)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Maryland)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, New York)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Pennsylvania)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Texas)
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Virginia)
Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Bruce, Mississippi)
Noble Klans of America (Statewide, Maryland)
Noble Klans of America (Statewide, New Jersey)
Nordic Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Dawson Springs, Kentucky)
Nordic Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Alabama)
Original Knights of America, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Philadelphia, Mississippi)
Pacific Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Alpena, Michigan)
Pacific Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, California)
Pacific Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Oregon)
Pacific Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Washington)
Patriotic Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Gladewater, Texas)
Patriotic Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, South Carolina)
Rebel Brigade Knights True Invisible Empire (Martinsville, Virginia)
Teutonic Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Shelbyville, Tennessee)
Texas Rebel Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Quinlan, Texas)
Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Custer, South Dakota)
Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Florida)
United Dixie White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Statewide, Mississippi)
United Klans of America (McMinnville, Tennessee)
United Klans of America (Statewide, Alabama)
United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Ellijay, Georgia)
United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (New Boston, Texas)
White Knights of Texas (DeKalb, Texas)

Klan glossary

AKIA: A password meaning "A Klansman I Am", often seen on decals and bumper stickers.

Alien: A person who does not belong to the Klan.

AYAK?: A password meaning "Are You a Klansman?"

CA BARK: A password meaning "Constantly Applied By All Real Klansmen."

CLASP: A password meaning "Clannish Loyalty A Sacred Principle."

Genii: The collective name for the national officers. Also known as the Kloncilium, or the advisory board to the Imperial Wizard.

Hydras: The Real officers, with the exception of the Grand Dragon.

Imperial Giant: Former Imperial Wizard.

Imperial Wizard: The overall, or national, head of a Klan, which it sometimes compares to the president of the United States.

Inner Circle: Small group of four or five members who plan and carry out "action." Its members and activities are not disclosed to the general membership.

Invisible Empire: A Ku Klux Klan's overall geographical jurisdiction, which it compares to the United States although none exist in every state.

Kalendar: Klan calendar, which dates events from both the origin and its 1915 rebirth Anno Klan, and means "in the year of the Klan," and is usually written "AK."

Kardinal Kullors: White, crimson, gold and black. Secondary Kullors are grey, green and blue. The Imperial Wizard's Kullor is Skipper Blue.

K.B.I.: Klan Bureau of Investigation.

KIGY!: A password meaning "Klansman, I greet you!"

Klankfraft: The practices and beliefs of the Klan.

Klanton: The jurisdiction of a Klavern.

Klavern: A local unit or club; also called "den."

Kleagle: An organizer whose main function is to recruit new members. In some Klans, he gets a percentage of the initiation fees.

Klectokon: Initiation fee.

Klepeer: Delegate elected to Imperial Klonvokation.

Klonkave: Secret Klavern meeting.

Klonverse: Province convention.

Kloran: Official book of Klan rituals.

Klorero: Realm convention.

SAN BOG: A password meaning "Strangers Are Near, Be On Guard."

Terrors: The Exalted Cyclops' officers