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Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan, with its long history of violence, is the oldest and most infamous of American hate groups. Although Black Americans have typically been the Klan’s primary target, it also has attacked Jews, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community and, until recently, Catholics.

Top Takeaways

After several years of declining numbers, the Klan experienced relative stability in 2019. While many groups dropped in numbers or shuttered altogether, others re-emerged and gained new chapters. The Tennessee-based American Christian Dixie Knights (ACDK) experienced the largest increase. However, the group has many conflicts with other Klan groups. Most notably, members of the ACDK argued online with members of the Alliance of American Klans, Honorable Sacred Knights and Ron Edwards’ re-established Imperial Klans of America. 

Key Moments

This year saw few public Klan events. The Honorable Sacred Knights, based in Madison, Indiana, held a Memorial Day weekend rally outside the Dayton, Ohio, courthouse. Nine Klansmen and women demonstrated for two hours, and the event cost the city an estimated $650,000. In an equally paltry, albeit less expensive showing, members of the Honorable Sacred Knights hosted a Labor Day weekend cookout in Madison. The event lasted all of 20 minutes. In another public showing, 10 members of the Loyal White Knights brought their lawn chairs out for a “flash demonstration” at the Hillsborough, North Carolina, courthouse. Community members gathered to protest the event. The Loyal White Knights, while losing members and chapters, remained active by flyering. Outside of these events, the Klan’s activity in 2019 consisted largely of private events structured around Klan traditions like cross lightings. 

What’s Ahead

After several years of steady decline in membership, the Klan may be at the beginning of somewhat of a plateau. It appears that 2019 efforts to remain relevant, from debuting new websites to content creation in the form of talk shows and flyers, have proven relatively effective in maintaining the Klan’s numbers. Those membership numbers are unlikely to rise in the coming year, due to infighting and difficulty maintaining alliances over the long term.

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.

2019 KKK hate groups
View all groups by state and by ideology.
*Asterisk denotes headquarters.

Alliance of American Klans
Cookeville, TN*
Mississippi
Dayton, OH
American Christian Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Tennessee*
Illinois
Indiana
Florida
Kentucky
Mississippi
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
American Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Moselle, MS
Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
South Bend, IN*
Kentucky
Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Richmond, VA
East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire
Pennsylvania
Exalted Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Tennessee
Honorable Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Madison, IN
Imperial Klans of America
Dawson Springs, KY
International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Florida
Georgia
Mississippi
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Harrison, AR
Ku Klos Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Lawrenceville, IL
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Pelham, NC*
Maryland
New York
Ohio
Virginia
Noble Klans of America
New Jersey
Nordic Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Indiana
Kentucky
Pacific Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
California*
Alpena, MI
Oregon
Patriotic Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Gladewater, TX*
Louisiana
Oklahoma
South Carolina
Rebel Brigade Knights True Invisible Empire
Martinsville, VA
Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Florida
United Dixie White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Mississippi
United Klans of America
Alabama
Morrison, TN
United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Ellijay, GA
White Knights of Texas
DeKalb, TX

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