Ku Klux Klan Introduction

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Michael Daucke AAU, SIS English, 6th Semester 27-05-2014

Bachelor Project

Ku Klux Klan

1. Introduction

Throughout history there have been a lot of different social movements, which have had a significant impact and effect on the given society in which they were established. Some have been for the better and some have been for the worse, however common for all the many notable social movements is that they all differ in ideology and scope. Even though there are many distinct differences, there are specific analytic similarities, which are important when regarding the life cycle of the social movements.

For more than a century the word Ku Klux Klan has been associated with pictures of hooded figures, which practiced violence often randomly aimed at black people, and often they would get away with it. Ku Klux Klan to this day still exists as an organization, but it is cornered and does not pose any reliable threat and does not have immediate power in the United States of America of today. Nevertheless, the idea about “whites” and their supremacy over the “blacks” has not entirely gone out of style, as we still witness “hate crimes” and other attacks on whites which are caused by blacks. Other than that, it would be naïve to believe that the right-wing extremists of USA do not still share the racist opinions and messages of the Clan.
So how does an organization such as the Ku Klux Klan stay remain apparent and alive in the society we live in today? One some accounts, we live in an open-minded and, relatively judgmental-free world, where there is a place for everyone, despite religious beliefs, sexuality or political opinion, as opposed to the narrow-minded and prejudice-filled world of the 1800s, where you were ridiculed and maybe even harmed if you were different. How did, what began as a social movement, evolve into an officially declared terror organization? (Atkins: “The Ku Klux Klan: America’s Forgotten Terrorists”). How did an organization, with such a controversial set of values and opinions, gain as firm a foothold in America as they did? Documents have shown that both former President Harry Truman and former President Woodrow Wilson where members of the Ku Klux Klan, although they might have been minor members and for short periods of time (according to an article in the website www.kkklan.com), it is a sign of how big the Ku Klux Klan were at one point.

In this project I will be attempting to comprehend and explain what went before the creation of the Clan, and how it came to be what we know today. I will be applying different theory to explain its rise, how it has stayed alive, and how it, as a social movement, operated and later on declined.

2. Problemformulation

I have chosen to create the following problem-formulation, in order to ensure I properly describe and analyze the lifecycle of the Ku Klux Klan, and furthermore because this is the angle I find the most interesting and relevant. It is as follows:

How did Ku Klux Klan evolve from being a social movement to an officially declared terror organization?
I wish to specify and concretize how I will be answering this problem-formulation, and I intent to determine and establish some subquestions, which will aid me in that. I will be covering areas such as:

- What is a social movement?

- How has the Ku Klux Klan evolved over the years?

- How has the Ku Klux Klan been presented and perceived over the years?
3. Method

It has been somewhat difficult obtaining original material and sources, especially when regarding the theories of the lifecycles of a social movement, by Herbert Blumer, which is called: “Theory of collective behavior”, and which was originally published in 1962. I was not able to acquire the original texts by Blumer; however, I substituted it with a text by Jonathan Christiansen which is called “four stages of social movements”, which was published in 2009, by EBSCO Publishing Incorporated. In this study, he applies a lot of the theory by Blumer and often refers to his original texts, and therefore I saw as very credible and reliable source, even though it might have been an ‘indirect’ source.

In general, my choice of sources has very much been a matter of, ‘what has been available’ in addition to which kind of data I actually needed to obtain. A lot of the history and information regarding the Ku Klux Klan is somewhat hidden or maybe even ‘lost’, therefore the information regarding the emergence and the first sign of the Clan back in the 1860s has been quite limited and this is the reason as to why I have used a Danish source, which was John Christensen, “Ku Klux Klan - Sydens usynlige Imperium“, which was published in 2001, by the publishing house “Emil”. Christensen presented a lot of credible sources at the end of his book, and this was able to assure me of the fact that it was reliable material, and therefore it would not be a problem for me to use it in my analysis. A lot of the internet-links and websites I have applied have not been randomly chosen either; it has for instance been information from the official website of the Ku Klux Klan, it has been studies made by scholars from different websites, for example from “Harvard.edu”, or it has been articles from different newspapers or information-based websites, such as “Infoplease.com”.

None of my sources are chosen randomly or without assuring they are reliable and appropriate. I was determined to make sure that the data I have used has been properly obtained and that it arrives from scholars who are credible.

I have chosen to structure my paper the way that I have, because of how I would like the reader to gain the information and data I have presented, and also because I believe my project will benefit the most from this structure. I saw it as beneficial to present my problem-formulation and subquestions, and thereby state what I wanted to investigate and illuminate, and after that present the necessary theory, which I would need in order to answer my problem-formulation and my subquestions. All of the included theories relate to different perspectives on how to understand and analyze the role of social movements in society. I was then able to apply my theory of lifecycles of social movements in the analysis section, where I, combined with some background information regarding the Ku Klux Klan, could established how the lifecycle of the Ku Klux Klan looked, and how and when the four stages of the social movement occurred. I furthermore applied theories of ‘WUNC’ by Charles Tilly, which made able to discuss and determine the worthiness of the Ku Klux Klan. The final section of my paper is the concluding discussion where I apply and combine all of my theory and analysis and then will be able to answer my subquestions and ultimately my problem-formulation.

As I stated, I saw this structure as the most appropriate, relevant and also the most beneficial, not only for the reader, but also for the project itself. I find it difficult to do it any other way than what I have done here, which was: present the intent, purpose and problem-formulation of the assignment, present the necessary and relevant theory, apply the theory and analyze, and finally reach the purpose and answer the problem-formulation by applying the gathered data and information. I believe it has worked very well, and according to what I initially intended.

I chose the problem-formulation: “How did Ku Klux Klan evolve from being a social movement to an officially declared terror organization?” because of how I wanted to do this assignment, and what I saw as the most interesting area to investigate. The subquestions I chose to create were supposed to aid me in my answering of the problem-formulation, and help clarify what I intended to find out and investigate in this project. Therefore there is a definite connection and correlation between my problem-formulation, my theory, and my analysis. It is clear that, when I present a problem-formulation and subquestions which relate to my problem-formulation, my paper and my investigation will revolve around acquiring the data and information I need in order to answer it. There necessarily has to be a red-line throughout my theory and my analysis, and basically my entire project, which in the end will result in me accumulating all my obtained data, where after I then will be able to answer the overall problem-formulation.

I believe I have reached a proper and well thought out structure, which makes the paper comprehensible for the reader.

4. Theory

4.1 Social movements

Defining a social movement is not necessarily as straightforward a venture as you might think. It is neither a political party nor in interest group, as both of these are stable political entities which have many resources and regular access to political power and many of the political elites. On the other hand, social movements are also not trends or fads, which are unorganized, fleeting and without intent or purpose. They are believed to be somewhere in between. Social movements can be thought of as organized yet informal political and social entities which are engaged in a certain “extra-institutional” conflict which is pointing towards a specific end or goal. These goals differ in size as the can be aimed at a narrow and specific policy, or aimed at more broad and wide cultural or political change. De La Porta and Diani stated about social movements that they are: “involved in conflictual relations with clearly identified opponents; are linked by dense informal networks; [and they] share a distinct collective identity”. (Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movement, page 15).

4.2 Four stages of social movement

Social movements do not just happen or occur randomly. They require a number of resources and are developed through many stages. This means that people do not simply form a social movement because they become upset with a policy or a certain ruling system. Instead they are formed and developed through four specific stages. Herbert Blumer, as quoted by Christiansen, was one of the earliest scholars to study the processes of social movements. He came up with the four stages of social movement’s lifecycles; he identified and described them as “social ferment”, “popular excitement”, “formalization” and “institutionalization”. Scholars have since the early works of Blumer refined and renamed these four stages, however the underlying themes and meaning remain pretty much the same. The four stages we know today are the following:

  • Emergence

  • Coalescence

  • Bureaucratization

  • Decline

(Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movement, page 15-16).
Stage 1: Emergence

As earlier mentioned, the first stage of the lifecycle of social movements is “emergence”, or as Herbert Blumer referred to it, the “social ferment” stage. Obviously, in this the very first stage there is little to no organization, as this is the preliminary stage of the lifecycle. In most cases a social movement begins with the participants being unhappy with a certain policy or social condition, and therefore the “emergence” stage can also be thought of as the stage, where a widespread discontent is established. Individual action my have taken place at this stage, but no collective action. Furthermore there might be an increase in media coverage concerning the discontent, negative conditions and unpopular policies, which most likely therefore will contribute to the general sense of discontent. These elements of the early stage can also be found and considered within the certain social movement organization, or a so-called SMO. An SMO is an organization which has been associated with a social movement, and it also carries out any tasks which are necessary in order for any social movement to survive and be successful. A proper example of an SMO would be the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee or the SNCC which is formed in the 1960s. This was one of the many SMO’s which were formed and organized during the American Civil Rights Movement. This means that during the “emergence” stage the SMO’s serve and operate as agitators, who raise consciousness around issues and they help to develop the sense of discontent among the general population (Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movement, page 17).

Stage 2: Coalescence

At this the second stage of the life cycle of social movements, we witness how they have overcome what a lot of them never have the ability to overcome. On many occasions the discontent or the dissatisfaction, which people might have with a certain agenda or situation, passes without any organizing or mobilization. For instance, we all recognize how we might be dissatisfied with certain legislations or something else regarding our place and situation in a community, but while we may complain to each other, we rarely unite and come together to take the situation to the next level. The coalescence stage, or simply stage two, is also known as the “popular stage” because of how, at this point, the sense of discontent is much clearer in definition, as it is no longer a general sense of unease, it is much more a sense of what the unease is regarding and who or what might be responsible. Jonathan Christiansen expresses on page 17 of his article “Four Stages of Social Movement” that at the coalescence stage “unrest is no longer covert, endemic, and esoteric; it becomes overt, epidemic, and exoteric. Discontent is no longer uncoordinated and individual; it tends to become focalized and collective”. He also states that “this is the stage when individuals participating in the mass behavior of the preceding stage become aware of each other”. This is the stage where strategies for success are thought out, and where leadership emerges (Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movement, page 17).

Furthermore, it is in the coalescence stage, that demonstrations might develop in order to establish the power of the social movements, and to make their demands clear. But the most significant part of this stage is the fact that it becomes more than simply random upset individuals; at this point of the lifecycle that the social movements have organized and developed strategies.
Stage 3: Bureaucratization

This is the stage where, as it is indicated in the word bureaucratization, higher levels of organization and strategies are being formalized. At this point, the social movements have succeeded in having raised awareness to the degree which makes it necessary to coordinate strategies across all of the social movement organization or the SMOs. At this stage social movements can no longer rely on rallies or inspirational leaders in order for them to progress, achieve their goals and build the desired constituencies. It is a necessity for them to rely on trained staff and professionals to carry out the functions of organizations. This also entails that this stage implements more political power than the previous stage, because of their access to the political elites. Many social movements fade away in this phase, because they fail to bureaucratize properly, and it becomes difficult for most of the participants to sustain the high level of emotional excitement which is necessary in order to continue their mobilization, and because the very mobilization can become too demanding (Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movements, page 18).

Stage 4: Decline

The final stage of social movement-lifecycle is decline. However, when we talk about decline in relation to social movements, it does not necessarily mean failure. Scholars have come to believe that there are four ways in which social movements can decline. The four ways are:

  • Repression

  • Co-optation

  • Success

  • Failure

(Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movements, page 19).

The first way in which a social movement can decline is through repression, which means that authoritarians of any kind use certain measures (also violent), in order to regain control and obliterate the social movements. This could for example be that a state introduces legislation to ban a certain type of movement. It is furthermore stated in the article Four Stages of Social Movement by Christiansen on page 19, that: “repressive actions may be defined as legitimate by the state … but they are never legitimate from the perspective of the movement”. What this statement obviously means, is that governments often will pass laws, making it justifiable for authorities, such as the police, to attack them, as the social movements members have somehow been declared outlaws and maybe even posing danger to the public order. When governments apply this way of legislation it becomes exceedingly difficult for the social movements to carry out their activities and also recruit additional members. An example of this sort of repressive action towards social movements could be the New Left Organization, where many where spied upon, put to jail, and even killed by many U.S. authorities during the 1960s and early 1970s, and it eventually resulted in the dissolution of the movement (Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movements, page 19).


Another way for a social movement to decline is if, through co-optation, the organizations of the social movements come to depend greatly on centralized authority or on charismatic leadership. The phenomenon co-optation occurs when the leaders of the different social movements come to be involved with and associate more with authorities than with the constituents of the social movements. An example could be a leader who is asked to work for an organization, which is the target of a certain social movement and then having the purpose of changing things from the inside. However, the leaders may then become integrated in the organization and also come to employ its values and slowly neglect the values of the social movement. Furthermore, leaders can be bribed or paid off by authorities in order for them to offer activities in their favour.


Obviously some social movements do not end in defeat or fail through co-optation or repression; some actually decline because they are successful. The smaller and more localized movements, with clearly defined and very specific goals often have the best chance of succeeding. Miller, as Christiansen refers to, uses the example of an area where mobilization happens in order to delay or even put a stop to the construction of an airport. Another example is his mentioning of the women’s suffrage movement which was an international organization that achieved its goals and afterwards declined. Both of these examples had very clear and specific goals, whereas a lot of other social movements have a lot broader agenda or less clearly defined goals and therefore they do not decline by having been successful.

This particular instance is similar to what Miller, according to Christiansen, suggested was what happened to Students for a Democratic Society or the SDS, which was an organization from the 1960s established by students, and it represented a lot of the ideologies which students and youth in general believed in and stood for at the time. This particular organization was one of the largest youth and students based organizations which organized protest against the Vietnam War, and also protested for school democratization. Many of its members were participants in the early 1960s Civil Rights struggles and, as Miller argues (through Christiansen), they were also influenced by that struggle. Miller furthermore argues that the rapid growth and expansion of the organization led to the decline, and thereby, their success became part of their demise (Christiansen, Four stages of Social Movement, page 20).

The failures of social movements which are caused by organizational or strategic failings are quite common among a lot of social movements. Christiansen argues (using Miller) that when failure occurs at the organizational level; it is usually because of two reasons: either factionalism or encapsulation. If we take the example of SDS into consideration once again, we can consider how it grew due to its open structure in which everybody was encouraged to take part in the decision making process. Due to this growth, the organization started being controlled by different factions who were operating within the organization in order to benefit both the inside and the outside of the organizations. In this instance with the SDS, they had to deal with the increasing power of the Progressive Labor Party faction. Christiansen argues (using Miller), that as factionalism grows worse and repression continues, groups become increasingly insular which leads to encapsulation. This is where a group of activists become isolated from the broader social movement because of how they came to share habits, values, culture and so on, and therefore their ideology and worldview become identical to one another’s. The movement will become such a major part of their life and they will be so dedicated it, which means that they will fail to sympathize with those people, whose lives are not so dedicated to movement, in the same way it is difficult for new recruits to enter these groups (Christiansen, Four Stages of Social Movement, page 21).

I have employed this specific theory regarding the different stages of a lifecycle of a social movement, in order to gain a comprehensible picture about how the Ku Klux Klan has evolved over the years. This theory will aid me in answering my second subquestion, which is: “How has the Ku Klux Klan evolved over the years?”, and by helping me answering my second subquestion, it will also ultimately aid me in answering my overall problem-formulation.
I have presented how a social movement emerges and evolves from mere discontent, into an organized and strategized entity which is able to affect society and achieve which ever goal they intent to accomplish. I furthermore established how a social movement will ultimately fade away and decline and I established the many ways in which it might happen. In my analysis section, I will apply this theory unto the case of the Ku Klux Klan and thereby be able to establish how they have emerged, evolved and eventually declined.

4.3 Bad Civil Society

When we discuss social movements, it is inevitable to consider the idea regarding social capital and civil society, as social movements in one way or another make it their agenda to affect the given society and legislation. When we talk about bad civil society, we think of something illiberal and anti-democratic in a society, however, it is probably best understood if given an example, as Chambers and Kopstein wrote: “Benjamin Smith, a member of the World Church of the Creator, went on a shooting rampage targeting Jews, African Americans, and Asian Americans. Despite the Church’s disavowal of any connection or support for his action, one look at the Web site of the World Church of the Creator makes it quite clear where Mr. Smith nurtured his hatred and fear”. (Chambers & Kopstein, Bad Civil Society, page 837). This World Church of the Creator is an example of bad civil society when we consider how and what they promote on their official Web site. The general debate regarding civil society is rather intriguing as there are many versions to the discussion and it is often quite difficult to completely determine how civil society can enhance liberal democracy. Why do people join such “bad” organizations? Chambers and Kopstein are presenting a couple of answers to this problem statement; firstly they present the idea of not all associational activities being supportive of democracy, and having a tendency to undervalue the danger which many hate groups (ex. Ku Klux Klan) pose. The second idea is regarding the strategies which deal with hate groups and how they often fail to consider the socio-economic factors, and how they contribute to the attractiveness of these hate groups. When we consider the “bad” organizations or hate groups, it is not so much their existence which is the worrisome factor; it is on the other hand the existence of the reasons for people to join these groups. (Chambers & Kopstein, Bad Civil Society, page 845).

Robert Putnam states: “Bowling alone does not produce ‘social capital’; that is, it does not produce the networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Kopstein & Chambers, Bad Civil Society, page 840). At first glance at this sentence, we can not but agree to what Putnam is stating here. It will most likely not be beneficial for the society, for public relations and so on, if people go bowling alone. However, if we look closer at the argument, it implies that if people bowl together, in leagues, in teams etc. it will produce the kind of social capital which is needed in order to strengthen our society and community. This is not necessarily true, as many bowling leagues might not create the proper kind of social capital, for instance a “whites only” bowling league. The issues of trust and solidarity, which rises by developing a bowling league instead of bowling alone, do not strengthen the community or society when the league, instead of just the one person, is still only concerned with the league and do not go beyond this particular group.

For example, if we apply this theory unto the case of the Ku Klux Klan, it is clear that they try to promote solidarity and trust, however, even though they try to turn “I’s” into “We’s”, the associational premises of solidarity within the Ku Klux Klan organization is hatred, discrimination and degradation against other human beings, and this is obviously not the kind of social capital which will strengthen society (Kopstein & Chambers, Bad Civil Society, page 840-841).

As Sheri Berman also states: “Robert Putnam argues that civil society is crucial to “making democracy work”, while authors like Francis Fukuyama and Benjamin Barber (who differ on everything else) agree that it plays a key role in driving political, social, and even economic outcomes. This new conventional wisdom, however, is flawed.” (Berman, Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic, page 401). According to Putnam’s beliefs, the democratic government is strengthened, and not weakened, when it is facing a vigorous civil society; however, this is not what Sheri Berman believes. She presents how associational life flourished in Germany through the 19th and early 20th century, and suggests how theorists, such as Putnam, would predict that these high levels of ‘associationism’, which are absent strong and responsive national government and political parties, would serve to fragment the German society rather than unite it. According to Sheri Berman, the main problem in the Weimar era in Germany was not the weak civil society; it was the weak political institutionalization. Sheri Berman furthermore states: “societies with highly active and mobilized publics and low levels of political institutionalization often degenerate into instability, disorder, and even violence”. (Berman, Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic, page 402). This very well sums up the point I was trying to make by applying Sheri Berman into this discussion. Putnam is to some extend not correct, and it might be better to bowl alone rather than bowling in teams if it is with the sole purpose of causing mayhem, chaos and disorder.
At one point in the discussion about bad civil society, it becomes obvious to ask the question: “When is the state justified in limiting an association for the sake of promoting liberal democratic values?” (Chambers & Kopstein, Bad Civil Society, page 851). This is obviously as a constitutionally regarded question and, at a certain point, for the government to decide upon. In general when concerning the hate groups, it is believed that the interest in them is actually an interest in the moral and legal issue of freedom of association opposed to the state interest and where the line has to be drawn. Very often it comes down to cases of discrimination or free speech, as we see in for instance many cases concerning the Nazis, but also the Ku Klux Klan. These types of cases are often very important, as they raise moral questions which involve how the goods of freedom of association is balanced, and also other good like equal opportunities and rights. (Chambers & Kopstein, Bad Civil Society, page 851).

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