The Ku Klux Klan was undeniably a terrorist organization - but what made the Klan an especially insidious terrorist organization, and a threat to civil liberties, was that it functioned as the unofficial paramilitary arm of Southern segregationist governments. This allowed its members to kill with impunity, and allowed Southern segregationists to eliminate activists by force without alerting federal authorities. Although the Klan is much less active today, it will be remembered as an instrument of cowardly Southern politicians who hid their faces behind hoods, and their ideology behind an unconvincing facade of patriotism.
1866The Ku Klux Klan is founded.
1867Former Confederate general and noted white supremacist Nathan Bedford Forrest, architect of the Fort Pillow Massacre, becomes the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan murders several thousand people in the former Confederate states as an effort to suppress the political participation of black Southerners and their allies.
1868The Ku Klux Klan publishes its Organization and Principles. Although early supporters of the Klan claimed that it was philosophically a Christian, patriotic organization rather than a white supremacist group, a cursory glance at the Klan's catechism reveals otherwise:
The "inalienable right to self-preservation" is a clear reference to the Klan's violent activities - and its emphasis, even at this early stage, is clearly white supremacist.
5. Are you opposed to Negro equality both social and political?
6. Are you in favor of a white man's government in this country?
7. Are you in favor of constitutional liberty, and a government of equitable laws instead of a government of violence and oppression?
8. Are you in favor of maintaining the constitutional rights of the South?
9. Are you in favor of the reenfranchisement and emancipation of the white men of the South, and the restitution of the Southern people to all their rights, alike proprietary, civil, and political?
10. Do you believe in the inalienable right of self-preservation of the people against the exercise of arbitrary and unlicensed power?
1871Congress passes the Klan Act, allowing the federal government to intervene and arrest Klan members on a large scale. Over the next several years, the Klan largely disappears and is replaced by other violent white supremacist groups.
1905Thomas Dixon Jr. adapts his second Ku Klux Klan novel, The Clansman, into a play. Although fictional, the novel introduces the burning cross as a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan:
"In olden times when the Chieftain of our people summoned the clan on an errand of life and death, the Fiery Cross, extinguished in sacrificial blood, was sent by swift courier from village to village. This call was never made in vain, nor will it be to-night in the new world."Although Dixon implies that the Klan had always used the burning cross, it was, in fact, his invention. Dixon's fawning adoration for the Klan, presented less than a half-century after the American Civil War, begins to revive the long-dormant organization.