Was Donald Trump ever a white robe-wearing member of the Ku Klux Klan? Numerous photographs on the internet would have you think so, but most say more about Photoshop than they do about the notorious KKK.
We do know that Donald’s dad Fred was very close to the Klan and there is little doubt that both Donald and dad shared their white-supremacist politics with these flaming cross conical and comical hat lunatics of the American far right. Donald still does today.
Born in the ashes of the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan became one of the biggest political movements in US history with an estimated membership of up to five million in the 1920s.
Although Black Americans have typically been the Klan’s primary target, it also has attacked Jews, various immigrant groups, gays and lesbians and sometimes Catholics, Muslims, Mexicans and even Native Americans and many other groups top the hate list today.
Consistently over the 150 years — since it was formed — the Klan has always promoted itself as a White Christian and preferably God-fearing, strict bible-belt-baptist organisation.
Despite its most bloody efforts the Klan failed to defeat the civil rights movement in the 1960s and much of the Klan slunk away after the defeat and quietly disappeared.
Membership dwindled, the unified nationwide organisation fractured and justice caught up with many members who finally went to prison for a string of murderous hate crimes.
Many US commentators reported that the Klan was dead, no more than a white-robed ghost, a pale memory of the hatred and violence that once dominated the headlines and TV news bulletins.
Yet today, the KKK is still alive and old dyed-in-the-wool members and newer white Christian extremists still dream of restoring the Klan to previous glories.
Klan members still gather under starry southern skies to set alight their blazing Christian crosses, often accompanied today by a blazing swastika.
Many of the tiny local independent Klan organisations are trying to merge into larger groups to build strength and influence. There is no doubt that having such a sympathetic president in the White House is helping the Klan’s revival.
Brent Waller, the grandly self-appointed imperial wizard of the United Dixie White Knights in Mississippi, has said that Trump’s policy of stopping immigration is the Klan’s number one issue today.
Arkansas-based Klan leader Thomas Robb explained why the immigration policies of Trump resonate with the modern Klan.
“You know, 40 years ago the Klan was saying we need to build a wall,” so Trump’s most publicised policy is a Klan demand from the 1980s.
Joining the Klan today is as easy as filling out an online form, provided you’re white and Christian.
Online you can buy one of the Klan’s trademark white cotton robes for £100 or £120 for a satin version. You can even buy Klan hats and robes in a range of bright colours but not all traditional klansmen approve.
Fashion is less important of course than policies and the racist actions and activities we see from the Klan of today.
“While today’s Klan has still been involved in atrocities, there is no way it is as violent as the Klan of the 1960s,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), the most effective organisation opposing extremist groups such as the Klan.
“That does not mean it is some benign group that does not engage in political violence,” he added.
Despite the best efforts to reunite the Klan nationally, most of today’s groups remain small and operate independently, kept apart by disagreements over such issues as whether to associate openly with self-declared nazis or hold public rallies.
Just as important is the fact that those grandly titled and often self-appointed imperial wizards want to hang on to power and not inconsiderable income that running their own Klan group can bring.
Some of the more traditional and long-established Klan groups prefer to avoid publicity and practise old rituals in secret while others have grasped modern campaigning methods using social media to post videos dedicated to preaching against racial diversity and warning of a coming white genocide.
Women are voting members in a few groups but not in most.
Children, often very young, are always publicly shown taking part in Klan publicity activities. Toddlers in Klan robes with White Power placards are one of the most obscene public faces of the Klan today.
Some leaders will not speak openly to the media, but others do, articulating ambitious and often overly grandiose plans.
It’s impossible to say how many members the Klan has today since groups don’t reveal that information, but leaders claim adherents in the thousands among scores of local groups.
The Anti-Defamation League, a key group that monitors Klan activity, describes the Loyal White Knights as the most active Klan group today but estimates it has no more than 200 members total. They put total Klan membership nationwide at around 3,000.
Formed just months after the end of the US Civil War by six former Confederate officers in Pulaski, Tennessee, the original Klan seemed more like a college fraternity with ceremonial robes and odd titles for its officers, but freed black slaves were soon being terrorised and the Klan was taking credit.
Hundreds of people were assaulted or killed within the span of a few years as whites tried to regain control of the defeated Confederacy.
Congress effectively outlawed the Klan in 1871 and the group seemed relegated to history until WWI, when it was resurrected as large numbers of war-torn refugee immigrants arrived aboard ships from Europe and elsewhere.
It grew again as the battle for civil rights sharpened post war. Best estimates place Klan membership at about 40,000 by the mid-1960s, the height of the civil rights movement.Klan members were convicted of using murder as a weapon against those fighting for equality.
One notable case saw Klansman and white Christian murderer Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr sentenced to life for his part in the Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing in 1963.
Four young African-American girls — Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair were cut down in this Klan outrage. Blanton is still in jail.
The Klan dwindled to nearly nothing during the 1970s and ’80s, as US leader David Duke tried to bring his hated organisation to Britain, working closely with Nick Griffin and his British National Party. The Klan had little success in Britain.
When the SPLC sued the Alabama-based United Klans of America over the 1981 murder of Michael Donald, a black man whose beaten, slashed body was hanged from a tree, the £5 million settlement left the Klan bankrupt.
Trump consistently refuses to condemn the Klan or indeed any of the other white-supremacist groups growing more bold and powerful under his sympathetic presidency.
He even described many of them as “fine people” after the racist rally in Charlotteville last summer which saw anti-racist Heather D Heyer murdered and 19 people injured.
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