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A report released in February 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that the number of active Klan groups increased from 72 in 2014 to 190 in 2015 – a 163% increase which includes an explosion of new chapters within existing groups, and the reappearance of older groups.In 2015, the Klan experienced some reinvigoration from the hundreds of pro-Confederate flag rallies across the country that followed South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds, which came after a gunman massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston.Not only is the Klan growing, but it is also driven by a more robust ideology similar to that of the second wave.
Regardless, it is important to remember that extremism is not bound to a single color, shape, or ideology, and that right-wing extremists are just as capable of carrying out attacks as jihadists.
There have been some promising steps towards more effectively addressing the threats posed by radical right-wing extremists, like the re-establishment of the Attorney General’s Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee (DTEC) in June 2015 and the creation of a new Domestic Terrorism Counsel position at the National Security Division (NSD). It is critical that law enforcement officials at every level of government have all the necessary tools at their disposal to effectively counter the potential threat posed by the Klan and other radical right-wing extremists.
During the Klan’s height of power in the mid-1920s, the Indiana Klan’s Grand Dragon David Curtis Stephenson became involved in a series of legal scandals, including reports of attempted rapes and sexual assaults.
His ultimate downfall occurred when in November 1925 he was convicted of murdering a woman named Madge Oberholtzer.
Threatened by other competing right-wing groups such as the Aryan Nations and the Order, the Klan largely faded into the background during the latter decades of the 20 century.
Although some believe the current period is a continuation of the third wave, the recent Klan activity detailed by SPLC’s 2016 report points to a different story.When the third wave of the Klan rose during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, it looked much different.What appeared was a highly decentralized Klan with dozens of competing autonomous groups each claiming to be the ‘true’ ideological descendent of the original Klan.To be sure, the Klan consistently espoused hatred for these various groups, but it did so to varying degrees across the waves.Structurally, the first and second waves were hierarchical and centralized, while the third was much less so due to a series of legal scandals in the 1920s that swayed favorable public opinion away from the Klan and shattered the ‘moralistic’ and ‘law-abiding’ image it had built during the second wave.(For more examples of KKK violence, see the SPLC’s hate crime incidents database).After 9/11, law enforcement efforts shifted towards the threat from jihadist terrorism, and as a result, ignited an ongoing debate about whether right-wing or jihadist terrorists have killed more people.In each case, the Klan’s initial rise was influenced by periods of momentous civil transformation and subsequently fizzled out.Although the first and third waves of the Klan had an overtly narrow ideology – the belief that African Americans should be subordinate to white Americans – the extremely powerful and influential second wave of the Klan embraced a much more robust one: Catholics, Jews, immigrants, anti-Prohibitionists, and more were all fair game.According to the evidence presented during the trial, Stephenson savagely raped and bit Oberholtzer all over her body causing severe lacerations and leading her to attempt suicide by mercury poisoning.Oberholtzer died a few weeks later from a combination of infection from the lacerations and organ failure from mercury poisoning.