Ku Klux Klan, often abbreviated KKK and informally known as the Klan, is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically expressed through terrorism. Since the mid-20th century, the KKK has also been anti-communist. The current manifestation is splintered into several chapters and is classified as a hate group.
The first Klan flourished in the South in the 1860s, then died out by the early 1870s. Members adopted white costumes: robes, masks, and conical hats, designed to be outlandish and terrifying, and to hide their identities. The second KKK flourished nationwide in the early and mid 1920s, and adopted the same costumes and code words as the first Klan, while introducing cross burnings. The third KKK emerged after World War II and was associated with opposing the Civil Rights Movement and progress among minorities. The second and third incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan made frequent reference to the USA's "Anglo-Saxon" and "Celtic" blood, harking back to 19th-century nativism and claiming descent from the original 18th-century British colonial revolutionaries. The first and third incarnations of the Klan have well-established records of engaging in terrorism and political violence, though historians debate whether or not the tactic was supported by the second KKK.
The first Klan was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a charitable organization to help widows and orphans. by veterans of the Confederate Army. They named it after the Greek word kuklos, which means circle. The name means "Circle of Brothers."
Although there was no organizational structure above the local level, similar groups arose across the South, adopting the name and methods. Klan groups spread throughout the South as an insurgent movement during the Reconstruction era in the United States. As a secret vigilante group, the Klan targeted freedmen and their allies; it sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder, against black and white Republicans. In 1870 and 1871, the federal government passed the Force Acts, which were used to prosecute Klan crimes. Prosecution of Klan crimes and enforcement of the Force Acts suppressed Klan activity. In 1874 and later, however, newly organized and openly active paramilitary organizations, such as the White League and the Red Shirts, started a fresh round of violence aimed at suppressing blacks' voting and running Republicans out of office. These contributed to segregationist white Democrats regaining political power in all the Southern states by 1877.
In 1915, the second Klan was founded in Georgia. Starting in 1921, it adopted a modern business system of recruiting (which paid most of the initiation fee and costume charges to the organizers) and grew rapidly nationwide at a time of prosperity. Reflecting the social tensions of urban industrialization and vastly increased immigration, its membership grew most rapidly in cities, and spread to the Midwest and West out of the South. The second KKK preached "One Hundred Percent Americanism" demanded the purification of politics, calling for strict morality and better enforcement of prohibition. Its official rhetoric focused on the threat of the Catholic Church, using anti-Catholicism and nativism. Its appeal was directed exclusively at white Protestants. Some local groups took part in attacks on private houses and carried out other violent activities. The violent episodes were generally in the South.
The second Klan was a formal fraternal organization, with a national and state structure. At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation's eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men. Internal divisions, criminal behavior by leaders, and external opposition brought about a collapse in membership, which had dropped to about 30,000 by 1930. It finally faded away in the 1940s. Klan organizers also operated in Canada, especially in Saskatchewan in 1926-28, where it attacked immigrants from Eastern Europe
The "Ku Klux Klan" name was used by many independent local groups opposing the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, they often forged alliances with Southern police departments, as in Birmingham, Alabama; or with governor's offices, as with George Wallace of Alabama. Several members of KKK groups were convicted of murder in the deaths of civil rights workers and children in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Today, researchers estimate that there may be approximately 150 Klan chapters with upwards of 5,000 members nationwide.
Today, a large majority of sources consider the Klan to be a "subversive or terrorist organization". In 1999, the city council of Charleston, South Carolina passed a resolution declaring the Klan to be a terrorist organization. A similar effort was made in 2004 when a professor at the University of Louisville began a campaign to have the Klan declared a terrorist organization so it could be banned from campus. In April 1997, FBI agents arrested four members of the True Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Dallas for conspiracy to commit robbery and to blow up a natural gas processing plant.