You May Have Heard That the KKK Is Now Accepting Black Members. Here's What Is Actually Happening.

A multicultural Klan?


Here is a misleading headline in the International Business Times:


Similar stories, with similar errors, have appeared in The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, The Huffington Post, and other outlets.

The IMDb's description:
SGS Productions

What you need to understand here is that there are bunch of different organizations out there that call themselves the Ku Klux Klan. None of them is "the" organization, and none of them is directly descended from the original Klan, which died out over a century ago. Anyone can buy some sheets and set up shop as a Klan, but he won't be speaking for anybody but himself and whoever he can convince to join him.

In this case John Abarr, a Montana Klansman who claims to have given up the idea of white supremacy, has created yet another KKK grouplet. It's called the Rocky Mountain Knights, and he says he's opening its doors to minorities. There are no signs that any have actually joined. (This is not, I should add, just a case of white separatists trying to cooperate with black separatists. That's a phenomenon with a long history, but it does not generally entail inviting African Americans into the klavern.)

Needless to say, if Abarr really has given up on the Klan's core ideology, it would make more sense to throw away the brand name and call his club something else. But I suppose he thinks this will get the group publicity, and evidently he's right.

The IBT report wavers back and forth when it comes to recognizing that this is one oddball's effort and not a general move toward a tolerant, cuddly Klan. It mentions that the Rocky Mountain Knights are a "new KKK group," and it quotes another Klansman dismissing Abarr's project. But it describes that critic as coming from "the more traditional elements of the organisation," as though they were all paying dues to the same coffers.

If nothing else, this is an interesting inversion of a dynamic that the far right saw in the '90s, when the militia movement came to prominence. The militias tended to focus on issues such as gun control and paramilitary law enforcement, not on policing racial boundaries, and many militiamen were overtly hostile to white supremacists. While some racists returned the disdain, others tried to enter the movement by forming militia groups of their own. If Abarr is sincere about his ideological conversion—and that's a big if—then this is basically the same process happening in reverse.

I don't expect it to go far, though, because I can't imagine many anti-racists would be interested in adopting the Klan brand name.

Bonus link: For an interesting case in the '30s of some people who did use the Klan's brand name for rather different purposes, even inviting some nonwhites into the fold, check out this story from Studs Terkel's Hard Times, in which a West Virginia Klan with two black members staked out a militant position in labor's battles with the coal companies.

Another bonus link: I explored the Klan's history in this piece from 2005.

[Via Corey Robin.]