When it comes to violent menaces, our attention these days is understandably focused on Islamist terrorism, a worldwide scourge and, as we have repeatedly seen, a grave threat not only to our brethren in Eretz Yisrael, but to all nations, including Americans on American soil.
But there are homegrown evils here too, hate-filled groups that claim no allegiance to Islam, that in fact call themselves Christian. And while their acts of terrorism have been less frequent than those of their Islamist counterparts, they rightly merit our concern — and that of law enforcement.
The Ku Klux Klan, born in the wake of the Civil War, peaking after World War I and resurgent during the 1960s civil rights era, has reasserted itself in recent years. It is a mere shadow of its once formidable self, but it is a dark shadow. And shadows have a way of spreading toward evening.
KKK members have been convicted of murder in states like Mississippi and Alabama, where one Klansman remains imprisoned for planting the bomb that killed four black girls in a Birmingham church in 1963.
The following year, civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were abducted and killed by a mob of Klansmen outside Philadelphia, Mississippi. One of the men convicted of participation in the murder, a county deputy sheriff named Cecil R. Price, congratulated the mob at the time of the slayings, saying “Well, boys, you’ve done a good job. You’ve struck a blow for the white man.” It was only last month, though, that federal and state authorities declared the decades-long investigation into the murders closed.
Earlier this year, three people were stabbed in a melee involving Ku Klux Klan members and counter-protesters in Anaheim, California.
More recently, in June, 10 people were wounded, two seriously, during a brawl in Sacramento, California, between rallying members of a white nationalist group, the Traditionalist Worker Party, and counter-demonstrators. The TWP’s chairman last year declared that “Right now we are living in an environment where the entire western world is, for better or worse, doped up on Jewish propaganda and on this idea of multiculturalism.”
And just over a year ago, white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof was arrested for the shooting of nine black worshippers to death at a Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Another white supremacist, Harold Covington, the founder of the Northwest Front, while condemning those murders, called the attack “a preview of coming attractions.”
In a recent series of interviews with The Associated Press, Klan leaders said they feel, in the news organization’s words, “that U.S. politics are going their way, as a nationalist, us-against-them mentality deepens across the nation. Stopping or limiting immigration — a desire of the Klan dating back to the 1920s — is more of a cause than ever.”
The contemporary incarnation of the Klan is a disjointed creature, lacking the unified national nature of the KKK of old. And it is drastically smaller.
It’s impossible to say how many members the Klan has today, since most of its disparate groups don’t divulge that information. The Anti-Defamation League puts total Klan membership nationwide today at around 3,000; the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center estimates twice that number. But Chris Barker, the “imperial wizard” of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Eden, North Carolina, claims that his branch, or “klavern,” alone has close to 3,800 members.
Whatever its numbers, the movement’s membership is a far cry from its estimated 2 to 5 million members in the 1920s.
But limited numbers aren’t synonymous with limited threat. Even with a lack of unified structure and far fewer members than in its heyday, the Klan and other white supremacist groups, like Islamist groups, are able to obtain dangerous information on the internet and to make use of the various forms of surreptitious communication it offers. Even untethered to each other or to any central entity, white power hate groups pose real and present dangers to Americans.
And, as the Associated Press discovered, such groups feel empowered by anti-immigrant sentiment in parts of the broader American populace. “You know,” says Thomas Robb, a Klan leader in Arkansas, “we began 40 years ago saying we need to build a wall” to keep Mexicans from entering the country illegally.
The overwhelming majority of Americans, including those concerned about illegal immigration and the intentions of some would-be legal immigrants, see the Klan and other supremacist groups as an ugly stain on the American landscape. But those groups themselves, imagining that their racist, hateful thinking is shared by many others, feel emboldened.
As America celebrates 240 years of freedom, it needs to take all those that the threaten the liberty and safety of its citizens, seriously.