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Currently the KKK is usually classified as a subversive or terrorist ‘organization’ — even though in its current form consists of numerous small, unconnected groups that use the KKK name but are not organized or guided from a central authority.
The movement is significantly weakened by infighting, ongoing splits and government infiltration.
The Ku Klux Klan derives its name from combining the Greek kyklos (κύκλος, circle) with clan.
[Ku Klux Klan] designation mainly given to two distinct secret societies that played a part in American history, although other less important groups have also used the name.
The first Ku Klux Klan was an organization that thrived in the South during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.
The second was a nationwide organization that flourished after World War I.
Subsequent groups calling themselves the Ku Klux Klan sprang up in much of the South after World War II and in response to civil-rights activity during the 1960s.
– Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
Not a Single Organization
Part of the KKK’s enduring draw is that it refers not to a single organization, but rather to a collection of groups bound by use of now-iconic racist symbols — white hoods, flowing sheets, fiery crosses — and a predilection for vigilante violence.
The Klan’s following has tended to rise and fall in cycles often referred to as “waves.”
– Source: David Cunningham, The Ku Klux Klan in History and Today
The first ‘wave’ of the KKK, 1865–1870s, had an unknown number of adherents.
The second ‘wave,’ 1915–1944, is thought to have had anywhere between 3 and 4 million members.
The third ‘wave’ of the Ku Klux Klan, 1946–present, is thought to have 5,000-8,000 followers. The Southern Poverty Law Center in its profile on the KKK says these numbers are “split among dozens of different – and often warring – organizations that use the Klan name.”
After a static period, the Ku Klux Klan is growing rapidly, fueled by job losses, urban crime, gay marriage and illegal immigration from Mexico, a civil rights organization and a Klan leader say.
The trend is described as “surprising and troubling” by Deborah M. Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League’s civil rights director.
“The KKK believes the U.S. is drowning in a tide of nonwhite immigration, controlled and orchestrated by Jews, and is vigorously trying to bring this message to Americans concerned or fearful about immigration,” Lauter said.
The debate over immigration in America is “credited with re-energizing the Klan” in Michigan and 18 other states in the South, Midwest, Great Plains and Mid-Atlantic, she said. Phil Lawson, the imperial wizard of the United Northern and Southern Knights, the largest KKK group in Michigan, said membership has grown at an “astounding pace.” He said Klan membership has doubled in the past few years.
– Source: KKK on the rise? The Oakland Press, USA, Mar. 25, 2007
Map: Active Ku Klux Klan chapters
Video: Inside the Ku Klux Klan