The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), or just the Klan is the name of three distinct movements in the United States. Six well-educated Confederate veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee created the original Ku Klux Klan in 1865, during the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. The name was formed by combining the Greek kyklos (κύκλος, circle) with clan. They played a violent role against African Americans in the South during the Reconstruction Era of the 1860s.
Nearly 50 years later, in 1915, “Colonel” William Joseph Simmons, revived the Klan after seeing D. W. Griffith’s film Birth of A Nation, which portrayed the Klansmen as great heroes. In his first official act, he climbed to the top of a local mountain and set a cross on fire to mark the rebirth of the Klan. In its second incarnation, the Klan broadened its message of hate to include Catholics, Jews and foreigners along with blacks. The Klan promoted fundamentalism and devout patriotism along with advocating white supremacy. Appealing to folks uncomfortable with the shifting nature of America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation, the Klan attacked the elite, urbanites and intellectuals. Their message struck a cord, and membership in the Klan ballooned in the 1920s. By the middle of the decade, estimates for national membership in this secret organization ranged from three million to as high as eight million Klansmen. And membership was not limited to the poor and uneducated on society’s fringes. Mainstream, middle-class Americans donned the white robes of the Klan too. Doctors, lawyers and ministers became loyal supporters of the KKK. The Klan devised a strategy called the “decade,” in which every member of the Klan was responsible for recruiting ten people to vote for Klan candidates in elections.
The current manifestation consists of numerous small unconnected groups that use the KKK name. They have all emphasized secrecy and distinctive costumes, and all have called for purification of American society, and all are considered right-wing. The current manifestation is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members as of 2012.