A new report finds an explosion in the number of “patriot”/militia and hate groups in the U.S., tied in part to the economy, and the election of Barack Obama as president. But one organization isn’t a part of the trend: the Ku Klux Klan.
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In fact, the report, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, finds the number of Klan chapters is on the decline — dropping from 221 chapters to 152, last year alone.
So what’s happened to the nation’s oldest hate group?
Consolidation and defections. The Klan is not a stable organization. There’s no real national leadership, and chapters are constantly appearing, disappearing, splitting, and merging. In 2010, to take one example, the True Invisible Empire Knights of Pulaski, Tenn., merged with the Traditional American Knights from Potosi, Mo. to form the True Invisible Empire Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. (Note: this link, like others in this article, leads to an extremist website.) Such mergers decrease the number of chapters without necessarily changing membership totals. Not all the Klan’s losses are just on paper, though. Jeremy Parker, who led the Ohio-based Brotherhood of Klans, left the KKK for the Aryan Nations in 2010 and likely took a significant number of members with him. The Brotherhood of Klans was the second-largest Klan association in the country, with 38 chapters.
Membership totals are hard to track, because the Klan doesn’t willingly release member lists. Over the long term, the KKK is clearly contracting, since its rolls have shrunk from millions in the 1920s to between 3,000 and 5,000 today. But no one knows how membership has changed in the last few years.
Klan-watchers, however, suspect that the nation’s oldest domestic terrorist organization is indeed struggling to keep pace with other racist hate groups. Young racists tend to think of the Klan as their grandfathers’ hate group, and of its members as rural, uneducated, and technologically unsophisticated.
Read more on hate groups and “moderate racism” at The Grio.