The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan calls itself the largest Klan group in America. But it doesn’t take much these days to claim that mark.
The Knights, who on Saturday will rally at the steps of the South Carolina Capitol to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag, claims a few thousand active members nationwide, a figure that researchers say is exaggerated but remains a tiny fraction of the 5 million Americans who were on the rolls of Klan chapters 90 years ago.
Now the Loyal White Knights says the Klan is poised for a return from the extreme fringe of American culture.
The group is trying to tap into anger among many Southern whites over a backlash against the flag that followed the killing of nine black church parishioners by a white man last month. The Klan says the reaction was excessive, and has fueled a broader feeling of dispossession among those who believe their country is abandoning “white heritage.”
If that’s true, then the rally in Columbia, South Carolina, will be a pivotal test for today’s KKK, which is less a cohesive organization than a collection of disjointed mini-Klans that pop up and die off.
The Klan, which has historically relied on public displays of violence and intimidation, is struggling to find its place within the contemporary white supremacist movement’s think tank-style organizations and sophisticated-looking websites that argue for “white civil rights.” The groups advocate for complete separation of the races — Jews included — and a return to white-dominated communities where separatist symbols like the Confederate flag continue to fly.