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What The Ebbs And Flows Of The KKK Can Tell Us About White Supremacy Today

With the spate of racist mass violence in recent years, it's helpful to consider past waves of white supremacist activity in the United States and what, exactly, caused those ebbs and flows.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan ceremonially initiate a new recruit at a meeting in 1922. Source: Topical Press Agency

As long as the United States has existed, there's been some version of white supremacy. But over the centuries, the way white supremacy manifests has changed with the times. This includes multiple iterations of the infamous Ku Klux Klan.

According to the sociologist Kathleen Blee, the Klan first surfaced in large numbers in the 1860s in the aftermath of the Civil War, then again in the 1920s, and yet again during the civil rights era.

Blee is a professor and dean at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement, as well as Understanding Racist Activism: Theory, Methods and Research. She says the anonymity allowed by the internet makes it difficult to track just how much white supremacist activity we're seeing today.

But despite this difficulty, she and other experts say there's been an indisputable uptick in hate crimes — and an overall: Earlier this fall, a gunman shot and killed 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue. In 2017, a clash with protesters at the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., left one woman dead. In 2015, the shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., killed nine black churchgoers. And in 2012, a rampage at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisc., killed six people.

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