KKK and Terrorism?Unquestionably, the post Civil War KKK was a terrorist group, organized to terrorize blacks and prevent them from voting. Sadly, they were quite successful. My question deals with...

KKK and Terrorism?

Unquestionably, the post Civil War KKK was a terrorist group, organized to terrorize blacks and prevent them from voting. Sadly, they were quite successful. My question deals with the KKK of the 1930's which dedicated itself to "100 per cent Americanism," and whose members often attended church services to promote their brand of "Americanism." Obviously, their conduct and principles were odious; but do they rise to the level of terrorism? 

Asked on by larrygates

10 Answers

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Wikipedia should never be a source of accepted academic scholarship given that anyone can change the content, although it might be a good jumping-off place when beginning research.  Again, in my "ignorant and disgusting state", I repeat:  today's Klan is NOT the Klan of origin.  Do your research before calling names and fanning flames that aren't there.  I never said I approved of their behaviors--obviously the original KKK opposed free slaves and rights for these individuals; however, they were attempting to protect what little bit of southern life there was left by protecting those who were unable to protect themselves amidst the blackened chimneys and rubble that was left after Sherman and others decimated--not just defeated--the South.

The following quote is from a book (researched and written by acclaimed historian and author Michael Andrew Grissom) called Southern by the Grace of God , published in 1988.

The clandestine organizations which proliferated across Dixie were called by different names, including the Knights of the White Camellia, the Red Shirts, the White League, and the White Brotherhood; but, the association which attracted the most attention was the Ku Klux Klan.  Not to be confused with the Ku Klux Klan of the present day, the original Klan was organized for the same reason as the White League of Louisiana--to rid the land of the curse of the carpetbag tyranny (italics are mine, not Grissom's).  Formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan quickly spread across the South.  The members wore robes and hoods of symbolic, mysterious designs in order to frighten negroes and whip scalawags and carpetbaggers.  An alarmed Radical Congress passed two acts in 1870 and 1871 aimed at suppressing the Klan, and by 1877, there was no more need for secret societies; therefore, the last units of the Klan were disbanded.

Again, if the carpetbaggers and others from the North and West were not there to take advantage of those in a weakened state (namely widows, elderly, orphans, freed slaves, etc.), there would have been no need for these secret societies which were born to rid the South of these opportunists--terrorists in their own right--who preyed on defenseless southern elderly, women, and children.






brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Like any group whose sole purpose was to promote hatred and violence, the KKK had terrorists within its ranks.  Some historians can assert it is not a terrorist organization in the same way that Hamas is the legitimate government of the Palestinians.  They are a democratically elected government, yet they also promote, sponsor, fund, and tacitly overlook violent elements within their own membership.  I can say that the Klan was formed to look out for the interests of veterans and confederate widows, and I can say Hamas funds social programs in the West Bank in the interests of Palestinians.  The Klan of the 1930s fomented violence and spread fear in order to gain popularity, and using such methods made them irrelevant, as you can only sustain such a level of fear for a limited time. So, to me, whether or not they were terrorists in the 1860s, or the 1930s, or today is seemingly a moot point.  Violent, murderous acts within their number, both then and now, permanently discredit them whether they are officially deemed a terrorist group or not.

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I am in agreement with #2.  Whatever the KKK has morphed into, it was founded as an organization to protect the widows and orphans of the south who had lost their men due to the war and were left to the terror inflicted on them by others who would do them harm (rape, theft, burning their crops and buildings, etc.).   It was not a terrorist group but a group to protect those left without "homeland security".

These people saw that no one else was doing anything to help these people (and of course, this was a time when people didn't depend on the government as much of society does today to help them make a living) so they stood up for their own and did it themselves.  That sense of independence and pride is definitely part of what I would call "Americanism". 


rskardal's profile pic

rskardal | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Elfgirl's link to Wikipedia should not be ignored, particularly since the article contains political cartoons that highlight the hanging of Americans by the KKK. The Civil War ended in 1865 and these hangings had by 1868 come to warrant national attention expressed in the media. I'm afraid that the "defense of women and children" interpretation of the KKK's origins may be exactly what elfgirl has suggested: an attempt to revise history. I think everyone will agree that it does not excuse the hanging of innocents for a political agenda, an action that I think satisfies the definition of terrorism.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

No, the KKK of the 1920s was not a terrorist organization, at least not in the parts of the country other than the South.

To me, the KKK during that time was really more like a conservative populist group -- maybe not that different from the Tea Party today.  And I mean that not to denigrate the Tea Party but to point out that the KKK of that time (especially in places like Indiana) was really more of a movement to protect what they saw as traditional Americanism.  We see their views as odious today, but they were certainly not terroristic.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I agree with other editors above in stating that, initially at least, the KKK was not a terrorist organisation. Of course, as #4 implies, a lot depends on how you actually define the word "terrorism," and to what extend violence or the threat of violence is suggested or openly used. But certainly the KKK in its initial stages was not a terrorist organisation but one that was trying to do something that they did not see the government doing anything about.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

An interesting look into the KKK is presented in Freakonomics, Chapter 2. The chapter discusses how the Klan worked, namely in the 1940s, by their established reputation--one of fear and terror. While the KKK might not seem similar to modern terrorist organizations, it certainly possessed the ability to strike fear into its targets and was managed much like a mafia or terrorist organization with leaders, lower members willing to do violence, etc.

ask996's profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

I don't think you can ever separate the KKK from terrorism. Terrorism is defined in Webster's Dictionary  defines terrorism as the "systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion."  It seems to me that while maybe the actions of the KKK did not seem as extreme, I have no doubt that they still terrorized and coerced through intimidation both actual and implied.

lrwilliams's profile pic

lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

By the 1930's KKK membership was down from an estimated 5 million members to about 30,000 supporters. As mentioned above it was most active in the southern states and at that time was not as violent as it had been in the past.

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jojo56's profile pic

jojo56 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on


After the Civil War, many groups were founded to perform public service, rebuild lives, and re-order a devastated countryside. Other groups also included discussions of both the social and military implications of the war. The most prominent of these, the Ku Klux Klan, was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1865. 

Granted, the initial impetus was lost as the havoc of Reconstruction was loosed. Yes, within a very short time the founders of the KKK were driven out by the same sort of group-think many have presented here. And yes, the KKK became a terrorist group. By that time, however, the original group had been disbanded.

By the way, every month in every state, a group called the Civil War Roundtable meets. According to its notes, the most common area of interest is in General Lee's lieutenants. Does this mean the group is pro-Confederate?

There are many anomalies concerning the Civil War. NE Alabama and NW Georgia had the largest number of troops go AWOL. Why? These foothills are hardscrabble and the presence of slaves was very, very rare. The men who were drafted knew this was not their war and choose not to fight. Even Sherman, though he marched through my town, understood and he didn't torch it. Another myth about the Dirty South collapses.