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America's oldest terrorist organization and one of the most famous hate groups in the world, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee as a vigilante group shortly after the Civil War. The members were mostly Confederate veterans, and were originally a vigilante organization targeting "carpetbaggers" and Northern con-men during Reconstruction, but quickly turned their violence towards newly freed blacks. Terrorizing blacks and Northerners, the KKK became a dire threat to Reconstruction, but was put down in the 1870's, only to resurface in the 1910's.
The new Klan was formed as a response to immigrants from Eastern Europe, most of whom were either Catholic or Jewish, although they still continued their violence towards African-Americans. In the 1920's, the KKK had over 4,000,000 members in the United States and pulled in a lot of political influence, but waned in both power and numbers during the Great Depression and World War II, only to resurge in the 1950's and 1960's to fight the Civil Rights movement.
In the 1970's, the Ku Klux Klan decentralized and broke off into various splinter groups. The hatred towards Catholics has died off in most Klan groups (save for a few), but the hatred towards black people, Jews, and immigrants remain. With changing dynamics, these immigrants are now mostly Latino instead of Eastern European, and now Muslims, Liberals, and LGBT individuals are added to the list of people hated by the various KKK splinter groups.
There are four distinct Klans, each with their own history.
- The First Klan (1865-1872): The earliest Klan group, founded by Confederate veterans as a vigilante group that quickly became a hate group and America's first terrorist organization. Early Installment Weirdness is in effect for this group, as much of the imagery associated with the KKK (white robes, conical hats, the Confederate Flag) is largely absent. The First Klan did wear masks and hoods to conceal their identity though, and the title of Grand Wizard (the chief leader of the Klan) originated here.
- The Second Klan (1915-1944): The most powerful and arguably most well-known iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, the Second Klan was founded as a response to the waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe, most of whom were either Catholic or Jewish, as well as inspiration from the film "The Birth of a Nation" which glorified the First Klan. Membership in the 1920's reached over 4,000,000, but the Second Klan declined during World War II, before dying out in 1944. A lot of the common images of the Klan such as conical hats, white robes, and burning crosses started here.
- The Third Klan (1945-1970's): The Third Klan was formed to combat the Civil Rights Movement, gaining power in the 50's and 60's. It was also the last fully unified Ku Klux Klan. Hatred towards Jews and Catholics continued, but the main focus once again shifted to black people. Sometime around the mid-1970's, after the success of Civil Rights legislation and increasing pressure from the FBI and local police, the KKK fizzled out and splintered into various smaller groups. By 1980, there was no unified Klan.
- The Fourth Klan (1970's-Present Day): The current Klan, or more accurately, Klans. This generation of the Ku Klux Klan is different from any previous generation, namely due to lack of unity, close connections with Neo-Nazis, and loosening of membership restrictions (The First and Second Klans only considered Anglo-Saxon Protestants and occasionally Scottish and Irish Protestants to be "white", while most modern Klan groups will allow any white supremacist to join, and many Klan groups such as the Imperial Klans of America even accept Catholics) as well as a shift in the direction of their violence. The lynchings and cross-burnings have been largely replaced with brutal beatings of innocent people and other hate crimes. Over 32 groups claim to be Ku Klux Klan orders.
Traditionally, the KKK has been associated with the South, but the Second Klan was a nation-wide organization (New Jersey had many issues regarding the KKK's political influence in the 1920's) and more modern Klan groups are focused mainly in the Midwest as well as the South, with some chapters in Europe and reports of Klan groups as far away as South Africa and Russia.
Related tropes are Those Wacky Nazis
, White Gang-Bangers
, and Rebels with Repeaters
As one of the most well-known hate groups in recent history, the Ku Klux Klan has appeared a lot in fiction, usually as villains.
- The Birth of a Nation was one of the earliest films ever, and portrayed the KKK as heroes.
- The Klan appears in O Brother, Where Art Thou?? as enemies midway through the movie, as Everett, Pete, and Delmar must rescue their friend Tommy from the Klan.
- Featured prominently in Mississipi Burning.
- Appear as comedic villains in Blazing Saddles.
- In Forrest Gump, Gump says he was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
- In the Samuel L. Jackson remake of Shaft, a black man named Trey was dining in a mainly "upper class" restaurant and was racially harassed by a Jerkass white diner named Wade. After ignoring the first few public insults, Trey walks over to Wade's table, cuts two holes in his cloth napkin, and puts it on top of Wade's head, where it resembles a KKK hood, to the laughter of some of the onlookers.
- Bad Boys II has Mike and Marcus shooting it out with a chapter of the Klan in the movie's first major shootout
- Appear in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Five Orange Pips.
- A minor enlisted character in Crusade is described as a "Kard-Karrying Klansman", and is noted to have put on shows in blackface on our Earth. He ends up being lynched by USS Walker's other enlisted men after raping a Lemurian female.
- The 1905 novel "The Clansman" which inspired The Birth of a Nation
- An episode of the History Channel series Gangland featured the Imperial Klans of America
- On Boardwalk Empire the Klan are a problem for Nucky Thompson because he gets a lot of his political support from the black community and the black gangster Chalky White is one of Nucky's main associates. In season one when one of Chalky's people is lynched, Nucky allows him to torture a Klan leader for information. In season two, the Klan has its revenge when they attack Chalky's liquor warehouse and kill four of Chalky's men. When Chalky kills one of the Klansmen in self defense, Nucky has to pull a lot of strings so Chalky is not tried and executed for murder. However, the Klan has little power in Atlantic City so they are never too serious a problem for Nucky.
- The Ramones' hit song "The KKK Took My Baby Away"
- Appear several times in South Park, most notably in "Chef Goes Nanners" and Cartman's ghost costume in "Pinkeye" resembles a KKK robe, much to Chef's dismay.
- The KKK is often mocked in Family Guy as well.