The Ku Klux Klan has been active in America both before, and in the aftermath of, Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential elections. While Trump is no Klansman himself, his victory has clearly emboldened KKK cultures, among other white supremacists such as the so-called ‘alt-right’, in America.
Strikingly, on social media there were various reports of hooded KKK activists openly marching about in the hours after his victory. Other examples of KKK support in the election include the KKK magazine The Crusader, a week before Trump’s victory, explaining it backed Trump because he would make America a ‘White Christian Republic’ once more.
Meanwhile, leader of the Arkansas KKK group Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Thomas Robb explained that ‘America’s white voting majority, men and women, have spoken by electing Donald J. Trump … They have recognized that this was a last chance election’. Trump’s victory was also heralded by former KKK leader David Duke, who tweeted that election night had been ‘one of the most exciting nights of my life’. Finally, in North Carolina, one of the larger KKK groups, the Loyal White Knights, announced they intend hold a pro Trump rally in early December 2016.
The Ku Klux Klan is quite fragmented, and primarily an American organisation, though with an eye to the wider world too. It grew following the Civil War, and again following the First World War, though since has broken into various elements claiming the name. In part, the KKK’s mythology is steeped in British roots, and the term ‘Klan’ is itself believed by activists to be derived from Scottish roots. Documents in the Searchlight Archive linked to the KKK highlight some to its history too.
For example, in an edition of The Klansman from 1977 some the key underpinnings of its white supremacist viewpoint stand out. This was the publication of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and its introduction ‘for the benefit of new readers’ stated the KKK’s first principle was ‘Racial Purity’, explaining:
‘We believe that all civilisations were the result of the creativity of the white race and that the fall of civilisations in the past resulted because of the decline of the racial purity of the culture creating race – the WHITE RACE.’
While seeing the ‘white race’ as an international force, it also added that American citizens needed to be put first.
It set out some details as to the culture of the KKK. It explained that followers did not burn Christian crosses to destroy them, but rather KKK activists set light to a ‘cross which symbolises the light of Christianity … a dedication to our belief in Christ as the light of the world’. Regarding robes and hoods, it added (rather euphemistically) they were ‘only worn in official gatherings and ceremonies. Much of the charitable work in which the Klan has historically taken part, required anonymity’.
Despite being primarily focused in America, historically the KKK has been an organisation of inspiration, at least, for white supremacists outside the states as well, including in Britain. Before the Second World War, some British extremist groups borrowed from KKK culture, such as the White Knights of Britain. After 1945, British fascists looked to America for inspiration too. By the 1950s, this included borrowings from KKK culture.
Clive Webb’s essay on the topic in my edited book The Post-War Anglo-American Far Right: A Special Relationship of Hate explains that the riots in Britain of 1958 certainly saw some racist activists turn to the American South for their understanding of race relations; while in 1959 Webb highlights the black civil rights campaigner and Labour Party candidate, Dr David Pitts, received a death threat from people identifying as Klansmen.
In the 1960s, pockets of influence continued. In June 1965, a small British Ku Klux Klan organisation formed in Birmingham, and briefly received support from across the Atlantic. The Klan Imperial Wizard, Robert Shelton, promised to travel from Alabama to Birmingham to lend his weight to the development, though Home Secretary Frank Soskice prevented this, and added he would deport foreign citizens who tried to promote the KKK in Britain too.
While this Birmingham KKK group quickly withered, other notable KKK influences on British extreme right cultures during the 1960s included interest from the Racial Preservation Society. They made contact with American KKK activists to help them develop their own pro-white propaganda. However, neo-Nazis in Britain of this period, such as Colin Jordan, were very critical of the efforts to develop a British version of the KKK. For him, such developments would only further divide the already fragmented extreme right culture of the 1960s – which he sought to lead.
More recently, US KKK publications have taken an interest in British and European politics. To give an example, seeing an international threat from anti-fascists, in 1989 an edition of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan magazine White Beret set out a lengthy criticism of Searchlight, the British anti-fascist magazine. Here, its editor Gerry Gable was described as a dangerous ‘leftist extremist’, along with various high profile American promoters of human rights, including Lenny Zeskind and Chip Berlet.
Aside from attacks on those calling out racism and prompting equality and freedom, social activities were also announced in this edition of White Beret, which give a taster of KKK life. In one section, members were invited to the first ‘REVOLUTION RALLY’, to celebrate ‘our WHITE founding fathers’.
The event was held on private property, where there would be ‘over nite Kamping’ facilities. Aside from a talk by leading promoter of ‘leaderless resistance’ activism, Louis Beam, there was a barbeque too, and so people were invited to:
‘… Grab the wife and kids, and BRING YOUR BUNS to Klansas City, Missouri for fellowship, whole-music, speeches, cross lighting, fireworks and just good plain Klanishness.’
Aside from promoting such social activities, the US KKK of this period did reach out to Europeans too. Martin Lee’s The Beast Reawakens highlights that, in 1991, Dennis Mahon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan went to Germany. He wrote in White Beret that he made hundreds of Nazi salutes on his journey, despite this being illegal, and took with him a wide range of ‘National Socialist and Klan ‘T’ shirts, patches, stickers, Jewellery and literature’. Mahon also apparently met with Ian Stuart Donaldson in this trip, an initiated the lead singer of Skerwdriver into the Klan.
More recent effort to develop a British Ku Klux Klan group saw more activism claiming the name emerge towards the end of the 1990s. This included the rise of a group calling itself the network Invisible Empire, United Klans of Europe (IEUKE), whose ‘Realm of England’ section developed a magazine called January 30 around 1998. This was published by an activist called Alan Winders, and a copy of this British KKK publication in the Searchlight Archive highlights the ways in which KKK activism inspired racism in Britain.
It was steeped in the most ridiculous sense of white victimhood, with statements such as the following:
‘Contrary to populist opinion, it is not yet illegal to be White in Britain. Not even under Tony Blair’s blatantly ZOG-puppet Labour government. But how long we can rely on this is another matter. The mud races have full “rights” now, which means they will be given every job, every benefit possible, and the police are not allowed to arrest them for their “cultural” activities, such as mugging, raping, drug-dealing or just acting like filth.’
Another section, called ‘The rise of Allah – The fall of Britain?’, developed extreme Islamophobia, underscoring this was not merely a feature of the extreme right after 9/11. Claiming that in the 1990s ‘Nationalists … have become Jew-obsessed to the point where we don’t see the bigger, more terrifying threat: ISLAM’, it called for a new crusade, and asked readers to ‘Fight back now for the Aryan Race, by any means necessary!’.
Surprisingly the publication was positive regarding the idea of including women in this British KKK, and included a piece called ‘A woman’s place is in the Klan!’ Seemingly least least written by a female author, it idealised the role women could play in promoting the white race. Another feature of the publication was a rather bizarre racist word search competition. The first correct entry sent in would ‘receive a copy of “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon, jnr, signed by the Imperial Wizard!’
In a more sinister tenor, elsewhere a page spread promoted David Lane’s 14 Words slogan; while another idealised a pamphlet outlining the history of Brutish fascism published by the magazine Final Conflict. The magazine was threatening towards those who sought to expose British KKK activities as well, and gave a number of names and addresses of Anti-Fascist Action supporters. It even gave tips on how to collate such information: pretend to be an anti-fascist, develop an anti-Nazi petition, and then get people to sign. ‘Most of these vermin will sign it, so make sure there is a section for their address’, it stressed.
The KKK’s influence in Britain has only ever been as a fragmentary movement, as these historical examples highlight. More recent cases where British figures have played with the KKK ideals include British links to the European White Knights, as reported by the Daily Mirror in 2012. They do all suggest that, at least for some racist activists, developing a sense of connection to such a notorious American phenomenon is alluring.
Finally, whether the KKK in America, and other white supremacists, will continue to feel emboldened in the coming months – as has been the case up to this point – is still, perhaps, an open question. To kerb them, it would be helpful if Trump would meaningfully denounce such support from white supremacists. However, as he assembles his new team, this does not look in any way likely.
With this in mind, those concerned by issues of racism need to think more about what impact an emboldened set of white supremacist cultures in America will have on the UK, and Europe. What is certain is that it is unlikely to be a negative one, and so there may well be some more chapters to the history of the KKK in Britain and Europe to come.
This blog is based on material taken from The Searchlight Archive, a major collection of material related to extreme right at the University of Northampton. Click here to find out more about this collection.