What are the “cult-like” aspects of the Ku Klux Klan? [Justin Brown]

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Justin Brown


Focused Inquiry 112


What are the “cult-like” aspects of the Ku Klux Klan? [Justin Brown]

The Ku Klux Klan is a white supremacist organization that has been in action since post-Civil War America. The Ku Klux Klan, more informally known as the KKK was founded by a former Confederate Army general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. In the years following the Civil War blacks held considerable political power in the southern states. In an effort to terrorize the newly enfranchised black voter, the Ku Klux Klan was born (“A Brief History of the Ku Klux Klan”, 1996). The Klan was formed to combat the rise of equality amongst the races that began to take place during the United States’ Reconstruction period. The Klan is famously know for riding into the night with white cloaks and the sight of a burning cross. “The cloak and hood, which served to hide the identity of the Klansmen, also frightened black southerners with a ghostly image of deadly terror,” (“A Brief History of the Ku Klux Klan”, 1996). “And with good reason. Cross-burnings are closely linked with lynching, racial hatred and intimidation,” (Dunphy A01). “A Brief History of the Ku Klux Klan” published by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education describes the many clan details from their inception to their more meager membership status as of the present. But what makes the KKK a classify as a cult are the various “cult like” characteristics that they exhibit. Some of those characteristics being a loyalty to their leader, the constant need to recruit new members, an elitist mentality, as well as performing strange practices and rituals.

In order for a group to survive it must expand. “Why Don’t You be a Klansman?” The Anglo-Canadian Support for the Ku Klux Klan Movement in 1920’s New England describes the recruitment of new members into the Ku Klux Klan, even those who were not naturalized U.S. citizens. The KKK started off as a nationalist group attempting to reclaim southern territory from the Union occupation of the South, but as their motives changed to combat racial equality they adopted members who had no intent of preserving nationalist ideals. Canadian immigrants who had settled in the states like Washington, Oregon, and even Colorado supported KKK ideals and joined splinter groups of the KKK, one being known as the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, (Richard 509) To survive the Klan needed to survive and live on, and to survive means to recruit new members, and to do that ideologies must be changed, such as the Klan embracing themes such as Americanism, nativism, prohibitionism, and traditional moral values, (Richard 510). Also the Klan has a standing formal leader at all times known as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Whatever the Grand Wizard demands of the Klan the action is performed with utmost urgency. The Klan also maintained a large amount of secrecy, the white hoods used also to maintain the Klansmen’s identities. Klansmen could be anyone from highly revered citizens such as politicians and police officers to average everyday citizens and neighbors, (“A Brief History of the Ku Klux Klan”, 1996). People often thought they knew members of the Klan but their white hoods concealed their identities from any and every one, (Branham p. 55)However out of the twelve “cult-like” characteristics that the Ku Klux Klan exhibits, there are two in particular that the Klan is widely known for. Whether it be lighting one hell of a bonfire out of a religious symbol or committing horrible, murderous acts to convey a message of supremacy.

Cross burning, the all-knowing sign of the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in any area. Whether they’re in the middle of the forest or in the middle of the street, the burning cross is the symbol of the KKK. Used largely as a fear tactic the burning of the cross implants an image of fear into mind of whoever witnesses the sight, (Dunphy A01) However the burning cross was not always a symbol primarily in use by the clan. The burning cross was once a vital signal in Scotland, used to signal the approach of various enemy armies, but since the Klan’s adoption of the signal all of its past references have been erased from people’s minds, (Dunphy A01). As such is the case in Bill Dunphy’s article, “Cross-burning heat; Call for reprimand of MP for comments.” Published by The Hamilton Spectator. A minister Hedy Fry mentioned the burning of crosses in Prince George, British Columbia despite no evidence of cross burnings. Cross burning is a known tactic used by the Klan and any insinuation of the act strikes fear into people’s hearts, “And with good reason. Cross-burnings are closely linked with lynching, racial hatred and intimidation, (Dunphy A01). Just like the Swastika is a defining symbol of the Nazi party in the 20th century, white robes and cross burnings are a defining symbol of the Klan, especially during the Klan’s resurgence in the mid-20th century during the Civil Rights era, (Dunphy A01). Also due to the Klan’s founding on the basis of maintaining white supremacy, especially in the South, many hellish crimes were performed out of spite for those that the KKK deemed inferior, those inferior races being minorities, predominantly African-Americans. “My Life and Travels” is book written by Levi Branham describes some of the hellish activities performed by the Klan, many of those activities are outlined in Chapter XII. These activities include lynching and even a shootout between a black man and Klan members. Klan members murdered various people such as three colored men in Spring Place, (Branham p.52) and a man known only as Ward when Klan members entered a general store demanding 40 feet of rope to hang him with, (Branham p.55) simply for the fact that they knew they would not be prosecuted or receive any type of punishment for their actions.

These two characteristics that the Ku Klux Klan exhibit are the most known and easily identifiable cult characteristics. While they do exhibit 12 of the aforementioned 15 strange activities and rituals as well as an elitist mentality stand out above all of the other 10 characteristics.
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