The infamous Ku Klux Klan is an example of when an organization with clear terrorist overtones has not been officially recognized as terroristic. It should be noted that the supporters of the clan terrorized and killed no fewer Americans than the Islamic terrorists. Despite this fact, the oldest American terrorist organization was officially referred to and classified as a hate group by the US government.
By categorizing the actions of the Ku Klux Klan as hatred, but not terror, the US government enabled this organization, unlike the Islamic State, to hold rallies in the country, attract funding, and even foster and spread their ideology through television. One of the leaders of the KKK Frank Ancona showed up on the national television and menaced to use the lethal force against the black demonstrators. The Ku Klux Klan was founded a few days after the abolition of slavery in America. Since that time the bombings, lynching, and other forms of terrorism were used against those people who challenged the idea of the superiority of the white race. At its peak in the 1920s, the KKK had almost 8 million members nationwide (Alexander 183).
One of the obvious facts is that till the present moment, the US government fails to recognize the Ku Klux Klan as a domestic terrorist organization, which may indicate the lack of the national dedication to battle terrorism as well as a weak promotion of the racial equality. In this essay, I discuss the main features and characteristics of terrorism and terrorist organizations in order to reaffirm my position that the KKK by definition and action has not been labeled, but should be regarded as a terrorist organization.
It is necessary to analyze the features and typical characteristics of organizations in order to understand what constitutes a terrorist organization. In general, terrorism is an ideology of violence and practices related to and aimed at intimidating the population (Wolf 42). Terror is the way to achieve the objectives in the political, ideological, and other struggles with the help of physical violence and moral and psychological intimidation of individuals and the society. As a criminal phenomenon, terrorism is illegal; it includes criminal acts that lead to an explosion, arson or other actions that create a dangerous setting that threatens the life of individuals, cause significant damage to property or lead to other socially dangerous consequences. These actions are committed for the purpose of disrupting public security, terrorizing the population or influencing the decisions of the authorities (Kumamoto 216). Any form of terrorism includes the ideology of violence and terrorist activities in various forms. Terrorist activities include planning and creation of terrorist organizations, involvement in terrorist activities, funding and other assistance to these activities, promotion of violent methods to achieve social and political goals, as well as the actual terrorist acts.
Terrorist organizations commit crimes with the aim to undermine public safety, human life and health; to destroy the infrastructure, natural and informational environment; to influence public administration, as well as the state and public figures. There are many forms of terrorism, which include political, nationalistic, religious, and criminal terrorism (Kumamoto 240). Quite often, the terrorist organizations use several methods to achieve their goals.
Nationalist terrorism is expressed in the statement of the superiority of a particular nation or race, aimed at inciting the ethnic intolerance, discrimination against members of other nations, and it seeks ways to intimidate or displace other nation or race (Kumamoto 230). Nationalist terrorism is organically linked with separatism aimed at changing the existing state system or the legal status of the national state or the administrative-territorial entities, at the violation of the territorial unity of the country, the yield of certain territorial units from the state, and even the formation of an independent state.
Forms, methods, forces, and means of terrorism, tactics of its implementation, as well as the effectiveness of anti-terrorism measures of national and international systems of counterterrorism, define the severity of threats of terrorist acts (Laqueur 170). Also, organizations use a variety of ways to carry out their terrorist acts; in particular, they apply a certain order and sequence of the means and methods to commit a terrorist act. The most common methods of terrorist attack include both open assault and in an ambush; mining the industrial, transport, communications, and military facilities, as well as residential and administrative buildings; mining places of the permanent location of the object of a criminal assault; the use of explosives and toxic substances; armed hostage-taking, and other methods of violent acts (Laqueur 210).
The most important feature of the majority of the terrorist groups is that they are formed on an ideological basis (Wolf 42). Most members of these groups are fanatically committed to achieving their goals. They are often willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve these goals. History had a lot of examples when members of terrorist groups were eager to commit a terrorist act knowing that they or their families might get injured.
Ku Klux Klan and Its Terroristic Features
Despite the formal establishment of the Ku Klux Klan in the XIX century, the full flowering of this ultra-right terrorist organization began in the twentieth century. The secret society, which had similarities with the Masons, was founded by the natives of the southern United States territory after the Civil War of 1861-1865. It was founded by the judge Jones and six veterans of the Army of the South who were McCord, Lester, Kennedy, Crow, Jones, and Reed. All of them lived in Tennessee (Alexander 26). According to the first version, the name of the organization came from the Greek κύκλος, which means “circle”, “wheel”. According to another version, the Ku Klux Klan got its name from the characteristic sound when juggling the rifle bolt. According to the third version, the name came from the Latin cucullus – “hood”.
Initially the KKK did not set out any radical goals; for instance, they got dressed in white sheets and frightened people when traveling on the horseback. However, in April 1867, the Ku Klux Klan transformed into an organization called Invisible Empire of the South. This change occurred because the southerners rallied around a large number of small racist organizations and unions of the Confederate Veterans (Alexander 56). The official leader of the KKK was declared to be Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, who received the title of the Grand Master. At the same time, they developed the Prescription, which was something similar to the code of laws for the members of the clan. The KKK’s ideological laws were the foundation of this organization, which, in its turn, is a key feature of terrorism. The Prescription highlighted the main objectives of the Ku Klux Klan to save the country from the invasion of the black people and to preserve the white race from humiliation; they did not want to give the blacks the same right as the whites and did not allow equality of all the people (Parsons 73).
By analyzing the organizational structure, it is possible to notice the KKK’s complexity and ramifications that characterize the majority of terrorist organizations. Nevertheless, despite the establishment of a hierarchy, the interaction between the structure components went bad. This led to the fact that in 1868, the clan’s Prescription was amended. However, the geographical coverage of the Invisible Empire of the South has grown; the branches of the organization already existed in 11 states, and the most popular clan divisions were in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Louisiana (Alexander 183). Nevertheless, in 1881, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest announced the dissolution of the Invisible Empire of the South. The reasons for this decision are still not clear.
A few decades after the inglorious collapse of the KKK, it revived. The organization the Invisible Empire, which has become a disguise for the Ku Klux Klan, became legal (Alexander 260). The organization comprised of several hundred thousand people. The new slogan of the KKK was that America was the country for the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants exclusively. On February 12, 1928, the KKK announced the establishment of their headquarters in Washington.
It is important to note that the organization itself had a huge level of security (Pegram 141). The members of the KKK never gathered in one place at the same time, none of its members knew the date and time of the next meeting in advance. The members would die if they revealed the secrets of the society. There was also a complex password system. The names of the members’ were also a secret.
It has been since 1915 the racist subtext of the Ku Klux Klan began to come to the forefront (Lacy 207). From a secret society with signs of Freemasonry, which existed in the US South in the XIX century, the organization has decided to turn into an organization to publicly oppose all persons with non-white skin color (Pegram 279). The scheme of getting rid of the unwanted people was clear and the organization planned it thoroughly; from 10 to 500 people participated in each act of violence. Before each murder, the victim got a sign, for example, an oak branch, melon seeds or grains of orange. After this warning, the individual had to either renounce his or her views or leave the United States. The people who disobeyed would die.
The murders were also notable for their sophistication and cruelty: the victims were drowned, hanged, killed by acid or maimed. The KKK killed not only black citizens but white Republicans as well. There were cases of liquidation of the Whites, who arrived from the United States north to work in the environment with black employees (Parsons 113). They also killed the employees of the Federal Army.
In contrast to the persecution of the KKK of the XIX century, Jews, Catholics, Communists, trade union and strike leaders, new immigrants and homosexuals joined the list of potentially unwanted persons in the XX century. Later, during the Great Depression and the Second World War, the KKK ceased to exist. Officially, the Ku Klux Klan was dissolved in 1944, restored in 1946, and then split into a number of fractions in 1949. The third revival of the clan was in the 60’s when the public front was fighting for the civil rights, the leaders of which, as a rule, were blacks (Parsons 267). In the 70’s, the number of the organizations’ members has increased, but the US law enforcement agencies have managed to take control of the situation by arresting the leaders of the movement.
Despite the fact that many researchers, scientists, and activists agreed that the organization did not emerge as a terrorist, but as a secret society with vague objectives similar to the Masonic, it has been developing the clearly racist overtones. Gradually, its operations have become indeed extensive with a variety of ways to achieve their goals. Every year, with an increase in the power and strength of the organization, the number of victims and the extent of the cruelty of the KKK’s members increased. In addition, they have created a complex information network to commit murders, arson, and other illegal actions, which, in turn, characterizes KKK as a terrorist organization. The group size depending on the operation ranged from 10 to 500 people that acted very quickly and did not leave any witnesses. The murders were becoming more violent; the victims were hanged, were drowned or mutilated and tortured.
In 1880, Wilson, a member of the House of Representatives, claimed that 130 hundred people were killed only because of their political activities. Further, the KKK acted not only using the brutal force. For instance, Gibbs, one of the radicals in Florida, possessed a true arsenal at home by surrounding himself with guards. It should be noted that not only the black people were subject to terror, but white Republicans as well. Any white person who came from the north to work among blacks was attacked by the terrorists. The Commission has reported numerous cases of violent terroristic acts against the whites; in particular, of the killings of soldiers and officers of the federal army. Summarizing all the facts and analyzing all of the above, I can conclude that the KKK is directly related and should be perceived as a terrorist organization.
Alexander, Charles. The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015. Print.
Kumamoto, Robert. The Historical Origins of Terrorism in America: 1644-1880, Abingdon: Routledge, 2014. Print.
Lacy, Michael. “White Innocence Heroes.” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 3.3 (2010): 206-227. Print.
Laqueur, Walter. A History of Terrorism, Piscataway: Transaction Publishers, 2011. Print.
Parsons, Elaine. Ku-Klu, Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 2015. Print.
Pegram, Thomas. One Hundred Percent American, Lanham: Ivan R. Dee, 2011. Print.
Wolf, John. Antiterrorist Initiatives, New York: Springer, 2012. Print.