After years of dwindling membership, the Ku Klux Klan is on the rise again by successfully exploiting the highly charged issue of immigration, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League titled "Extremism in America."
"If any one single issue or trend can be credited with re-energizing the Klan, it is the debate over immigration in America," said Deborah Lauter, ADL civil rights director. "Klan groups have witnessed a surprising and troubling resurgence by exploiting fears of an immigration explosion, and the debate over immigration has, in turn, helped to fuel an increase in Klan activity, with new groups sprouting in parts of the country that have not seen much activity."
The ADL has documented a spike in activity by Klan chapters nationwide, with that activity particularly intense in the South, where former Confederate soldiers founded the violent hate group in 1865. There are now active or growing Klan chapters in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
While gay marriage and urban crime have occasionally served as rallying issues for the group, illegal immigration has been the main driver behind its recent surge. That represents a reversion of sorts to the group's nativist origins, one expert recently told the Christian Science Monitor:
"While we generally think of it as a white supremacist organization, the Klan at its peak was virulently anti-immigrant, particularly with regard to Catholic immigrants, Irish, and southern Europeans," says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
The immigration issue has inspired established Klan groups to become more active, the ADL says. For example, the long-moribund Brotherhood of Klans moved from Illinois to Henderson, Tenn. and began organizing large "Unity Gatherings" with speakers, vendors and multiple cross-burnings. The Indiana-based Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held rallies in South Carolina in late 2005 and 2006 and also held an anti-immigration rally in Russellville, Ala. in May 2006 at which marchers yelled, "Let's get rid of the Mexicans!"
The Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally and cross-burning in Itawamba County in November 2006 and a recruiting event in Amory, Miss. in April 2006, while the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rallied in Smackover, Ark. in September 2006. Thom Robb's Knights of the Ku Klux Klan organized a "50th Anniversary and National Congress" in September 2006 in Harrison, Ark.
New Klan groups have also appeared in different parts of the country, including the South, ADL reports:
One of the best examples of this phenomenon involves the Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The Empire Knights is a newer Klan group, formed in 2005 in part from former members of the Southern White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. From Florida, it expanded across the South, into the Mid-Atlantic, and even as far as Oregon. In January 2007, it boasted chapters in 18 states.
Texas has been a strong scene of Empire Knights activity. In early August 2006, members of the Empire Knights of Texas, based in San Angelo, held a heavily publicized anti-immigration rally in the northwest Texas city of Amarillo. It was only one of several recent Empire Knights events in Texas. In June 2006, over 20 Empire Knights held an anti-immigration rally in the west Texas city of Midland, while in November 2005, they held a protest against gay marriage in Austin. The Empire Knights also held an event in July 2006 in Leesville, South Carolina.
The ADL has documented efforts by the Klan to form alliances with neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. For example, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held an event with the Minneapolis-based National Socialist Movement -- the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States -- in Fairdale, Ky. in August 2006. The ADL reports that some Klan groups have become increasingly "Nazified," giving up the traditional hoods and robes and adopting the regalia of neo-Nazi and racist skinheads. Meanwhile, the Kentucky-based Imperial Klans of America -- one of the larger Klan groups -- announced last year that it would also accept as full members "Odinists, National Socialists, Skinheads, Nazis, Defenders, Confederates [and] other White Racialists."
Unfortunately, the mindset that lumps all Latinos together as a threat to America and targets them for brutality isn't limited only to extremist hate groups. Last November, the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit over a massive series of legally questionable searches and detentions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that terrorized residents of several small towns in Georgia two months earlier.
While the agents claimed they were trying to locate undocumented immigrants who worked at a poultry plant in the small southeastern Georgia town of Stillmore, they fanned out across residential communities and stopped motorists, broke into people's homes and threatened residents with tear gas and guns.
"These ICE agents swooped into town, armed with everything but search warrants, and started rounding up people -- citizens and non-citizens alike -- merely because they had brown skin," Morris Dees, SPLC's founder and chief trial counsel said at the time. "Imagine the fallout if this had happened to white people."