By Lukas Voelkner '24; Image by Bettmann/Getty Images
The Ku Klan Klan is a United States terrorist organization that has been active since 1866 and focuses their efforts on the protection of white supremacy, in particular targeting African Americans and Jewish Americans. From research into the group’s founding, strategies, and cultural impact on the US that the history of the KKK is the history of the United States. The Klan has played a large part in shaping the political landscape in this country for the past 150 years. However, as I learned more about the Klan, I wondered why the extreme Right Wing, in its current configuration, shies away from Klan activities. Rejecting the organization, leaving the Klan as the black sheep organization amongst the extreme Right.
The answer is not as simple as I first expected. In fact, within the field of terrorism studies, many political scientists argue on the reasoning behind the Klan’s renunciation. However, I am drawn to the claims made by political scientist Brian Palmer, writer for the Washington Post, the New York Times, amongst other publications.
According to Palmer the answer is simple: too much competition from other extremist groups. Palmer states that, “The KKK is suffering from a proliferation of competitors. People who wanted to join a white supremacist movement back in the 1920s didn’t have a lot of choices. Today, there are countless options, enabling an extremist to find a group that matches his personal brand of intolerance. The more extreme groups in the burgeoning patriot movement cater to anti-Muslim, homophobic, and xenophobic sentiment, with less animosity toward African-Americans and Jews.” Simply put, the Klan’s ideology is no longer the dominant hate speech within America. The Klan is based on pre-Abolitionist notions of the re-establishment of slavery and the glorification of the Confederacy that are no longer applicable to the modern-day world. While the latter has increased in relevance in recent years, the Klan has not. The perceived threats preached by the extreme right wing are more complex than the aging Klan ideology. The Klan is not specific enough to deal with the variety of hate that its potential members look for.
Later in his piece, “Ku Klux Kontraction, how did the KKK lose nearly one-third of its chapters in one year?”Palmer introduces an interesting concept that is not only applicable to the Ku Klux Klan but for the wider field on terrorist studies. Palmer claims the following, “Many young racist activists aren’t bothering to join groups at all anymore. Former KKK Grand Wizard Don Black in 1995 launched the website Stormfront, which enables individuals in the white supremacist movement to share ideas and read news stories reported from a racist perspective. The community-building site, and others like it, lessens the need for racists to socialize at Klan barbecues or introduce their children to Klanta Klaus at the KKK Christmas rally.” Palmer states that the ease of access that social media and technology allow, they remove the need for a formal organization altogether. Why would a young extreme right wing activist risk meeting in person when online forums provide anonymity with the potential of a much larger audience for your rhetoric? We have seen with the raise in lone wolf terrorism that many young terrorists are turning to this medium for they hate speech.
So, the question of where the Ku Klux Klan fits in the modern American extreme Right Wing does not have a simple answer. Experts will be debating this issue for years to come; however, my personal opinion aligns with Brian Palmer; the Ku Klux Klan has an archaic ideology that is being compounded by a shift in the way terrorists organize those results in diminishing relevance within American society.