What is the role of Ku Klux Klan on the American right wing extremist scene?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. As the suspected in Jewish Center attacks is reportedly a former leader of Ku Klux Klan, how much is this organization perceived as the violent one?

2. What is the role of Ku Klux Klan on the American right wing extremist scene, does it have any privileged position among other similar organizations?

Answers:

J. M. BergerInvestigative Journalist, Specialist on Homegrown Extremism, Author of Jihad Joe

Miller does not appear to have been involved with the Klan for many years. He most recently seems to have endorsed the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, but it’s not clear to me if he was a member.

The KKK is still perceived as a violent organization, and it was once the dominant force in white nationalism in the United States, but it has been in decline for a long time. Neo-Nazi groups are more prominent now, along with “race realist” groups that try to put a softer face on racism and criminal gangs that have white supremacist elements, but the overall white nationalist scene is the U.S. is pretty fractured and divided, and there isn’t a clearly dominant faction.

They are still very much capable of violence. We’ve seen a steady stream of white nationalist plots and attacks over the past several years, including some involving the Klan. But the problem is more diffuse than a single organization, and the center of gravity for the ideology today is found more often online communities than “bricks and mortar” organizations.

All of this applies only to the U.S., it’s obviously very different in Europe. And what happens abroad does affect the movement here, so things are constantly changing.

Ryan  KingAssociate Professor of Sociology, Ohio State University

1. The Klan has been substantially weakened during the past 30 or 40 years, and there are very few openly active members. I think the perception is that the KKK is capable of violence, but it’s been quite some time since we’ve had an act like this with an active Klan member directly involved. In short, every American knows the KKK can be violent, but we also know that the organization is a fraction of its size and influence compared to a century ago.

2. Response to question #2: Right now the KKK is not particularly influential. By that I mean that it is not the “head of the snake” that is directly influencing other far-right groups in the country. Right now there’s an estimated 5000-8000 Klan members operating in several states with a very loose organizational structure. To the extent that the KKK influences other right wing groups, I think it’s via the Klan’s past practices. Current right wing groups might speak reverently about the heyday of the Klan, but they’re not taking orders from the ‘grand wizard’ (the head of the Klan).

Glenn Feldman, Professor of History, University of Alabama at Birmingham

1.  Unfortunately, the Ku Klux Klan has a violent and blood-stained history in America that goes back to 1865.  Since that time, there have been various incarnations of the Klan, but all have shared a taste for violence.  That does not mean that all Klan members have been violent.  In the 1920s the KKK reached massive proportions in the U.S., between an estimated 4 and 6 million members, and many of them joined for a variety of reasons.  However, even in the 1920s the Klan violently targeted many, many people.

The targets of Klan violence have varied over time and place in American history.  But the main targets have been, in all manifestations, blacks, Jews, Catholics, and recent immigrants. So it is not that surprising that a Klansman would target, as it appears in this case, Jews.  The Klan has targeted people that it considers “the other”–not true Americans, or as it put it in its 1920s motto, “100 percent Americanism.”  This definition usually refers to white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants (or WASPs)–which one has to be in order to join the KKK.  But targets of its violence have also, at times, included in addition to the staples of blacks, Jews, Catholics, and recent immigrants–independent and “unconventional” women (those that worked outside the home); whites who aided blacks in learning to read, write, vote, or in any other way; and people, of all races, who were moral  nonconformists, that is, engaged in drinking, dancing, gambling, prostitution, or even just teenaged couples “making out” or “petting” in automobiles.

2.  Yes, the Ku Klux Klan has always been the preeminent organization on the extreme right wing in America.  While its numbers and influence have fallen off considerably since the 1970s, it still is the stuff of right-wing Klan lore.  Much of this is due to the organization’s bloody history and willingness to use violence to achieve its ends.  Its violent past includes thousands of incidents of murders, lynchings, brandings, beatings, bombings, poisonings, castrations, mutilations, and other atrocities.

It has faded in influence and social acceptance and been pushed to the margins of society in America, yet the organization, its members, and message of hate has never gone completely away.  Other white-supremacist groups have risen, such as the “Skinheads” and Aryan Supremacy groups, yet the KKK is still the “grand-daddy” of them all.  Among the extreme right-wing, there is significant cross-over in membership and leadership between these groups.  That is, you can find former-and present Klan members populating the Aryan Supremacy groups and Militia movement in the U.S.

Jack Kay, Professor of Communication, Eastern Michigan University

1. Since its beginning in the 1860s, the Ku Klux Klan has promoted its message of white supremacy through violence and intimidation. In recent times there have been isolated violent incidences, with most Klan members and chapters sending their messages of hate through various websites on the Internet.

2. The Ku Klux Klan does not enjoy any privileged position among white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Nations, the Church of the Creator, and Christian Identity groups. Although many of the other groups welcome the message of the Klan, many feel the Klan is outdated and more into rhetoric than action.

Mathieu DeflemProfessor, Department of Sociology, University of South Carolina, Author of the book  The Policing of Terrorism

1. The Klan is by definition violent. Yet it’s members rarely practice the hatred they preach by criminal deeds. They’re too cowardly. So I see this more as an individual act by somebody who’s associated with the Klan and white supremacy more generally.

2. The Klan is very very small, nothing what it used to be. It’s not popular at all. This one tragic case will get them more attention than they deserve.

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