Extremism Assessment Series: Ku Klux Klan

Image: Blood Drop Cross of the Ku Klux Klan. Common symbol found in public sources.

  • Founded in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan is America’s original hate group.
  • Targets for violence and bigotry include: African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and Muslims.
  • No longer one unified organization, the movement is divided into factions and affiliated groups scattered across the United States.
  • The Ku Klux Klan movement witnessed significant decline in recent years due to pressures from far-right movements gaining traction in the United States.

 Summary of Extremist Narrative

The Ku Klux Klan is America’s original hate group. Commonly referred to as “the Klan”, “KKK”, or the “invisible empire”, the hate group’s ideology involves the promotion of white supremacy and belief in white solidarity. Principally, African-Americans have been the main target of the group, however, others targets for violence and bigotry include: Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and more recently, Muslim Americans. The use of violence, intimidation, and hate speech, is widespread among members to silence any opposition to its narrative.

History of the group

The Ku Klux Klan was born during the period of Reconstruction in the South. Originally, the group was founded as a “social club” by six former Confederate army veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865. However, as the political climate shifted in support of newly freed black slaves, the former “social club” began to embrace terror and extremism in response to the changes. Exploiting fear, and utilizing brutal violence, the original Klan terrorized newly freed black slaves throughout the South, along with whites who opposed them. Outlandish costumes, extrajudicial killings, and cross burnings, all became synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan during this time, thus heightening its reputation. The once small group grew into a movement, stretching nation-wide, gaining considerable political and public support.

In 1871, the federal government enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act, which: “was designed to eliminate extralegal violence and protect the civil and political rights of four million freed slaves”. The movement witnessed significant decline due to this legislation as political and public support faded. The Ku Klux Klan saw a resurgence in popularity in the mid-1920s, and again in the 1960s, this time in response to the civil rights movement. Today, the Ku Klux Klan exists in limited scope and size. No longer one single unified organization, based around a rigid structure or hierarchy; it is now split largely between four main warring factions scattered throughout the United States, with numerous affiliated groups.

Current state of the Ku Klux Klan

Today’s Ku Klux Klan movement lacks unity, structure, cohesion, or purpose. After years of infighting, government interference, waning public/political support, and competition with other white supremist movements, the once powerful organization is now divided and weakened. The four main factions of the movement include: the Brotherhood of Klans (BOK); the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (National Knights); Imperial Klans of America (IKA); and Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK). Numerous Klan-affiliated groups exist outside of the four main factions; all with varying names and ideological influences.

The Ku Klux Klan remains in a state of decline as competition with other white supremist/far-right groups have intensified. Most find the ideology of the Klan outdated, and less appealing; compared to more organized and militant neo-Nazi affiliated groups operating in the United States. Some Klan groups have adopted neo-Nazi beliefs and ideas, attempting to regain relevancy and supporters. Desperation has led others to form partnerships with neo-Nazi affiliates as seen with the “Black and Silver Solution” in 2015. Increasingly more joint events are occurring between Klan and neo-Nazi affiliated groups, providing further confirmation of the Ku Klux Klan’s inability to garner attention on its own.

Ku Klux Klan affiliated groups are predominately involved with hate rhetoric and disorganized violence. Because of the fractious nature of Klan groups today, manpower and financial support are limited. Groups are relegated to low cost options for spreading their hate rhetoric, such as through leafleting campaigns. Following the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, Klan groups left bags of candy throughout neighborhoods across the South. Messages that praised the attack were attached, exploiting the atrocious act committed by Dylann Roof. Typically, leafleting by Klan groups is used to target African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people.

Instances of disorganized violence by current or former Klan members highlight the movement’s continued state of decline. No longer able to mount significant organized attacks like the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, the current model for violence by Klan members tends to be sporadic and disorganized. There often exists a criminal element to the violence separate from Klan related activities, as many current or former members have criminal histories. As shown with the case of Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., who in 2014 went on a murder spree killing three Jewish people in Kansas, instances of disorganized violence inspired by the Ku Klux Klan’s ideology is a significant threat.

Where is the Ku Klux Klan operating?

Ku Klux Klan affiliated groups operate across the United States and beyond. The Counter Extremist Project estimates there are “around 160 known active chapters across 41 states”, with most located throughout the South. The hateful ideology of the Ku Klux Klan is not limited to the United States, we see the movement spreading to countries like Germany as well. In Europe, far-right extremism is on the rise and spreading at an alarming rate. The Ku Klux Klan’s hate filled ideology is easily incorporated into the European far-right narrative.

What are their primary recruitment methods?

The Ku Klux Klan movement relies largely on web-based media, leafleting campaigns, and public rallies, for recruitment of new members. Klan groups will often exploit mass shootings and other attacks committed by far-right actors for recruitment initiatives. Because of the increasing pressure from other white supremist/far-right groups, Klan recruiting is limited.

Pastor Thomas Robb, leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK), hosts a show on his website to attract potential recruits called, “This Is The Klan”. In the past he hosted a YouTube based program called “The Andrew Show”, with the channel name “ShowForWhiteKids”. These efforts are meant to showcase the movement’s technological side, appearing more up to date like other extremist movements.

Leafleting campaigns are used frequently for recruitment as well. Klan groups routinely distribute pamphlets and literature encouraging membership throughout the United States. New recruitment initiatives such as the “National Knight Ride”, incorporate candy with literature, to soften the movement’s image thus attracting more followers. Other leafleting campaigns mimic military style recruitment with catch phrases like “The KKK Wants You!”.

Lastly, public rallies are used to draw supporters in. This method has become somewhat outdated as recent rallies failed to deliver large scale Klan support or public attendance. A recent rally held in May 2019 in Dayton, Ohio drew approximately nine supporters with over 600 counter-protestors in attendance. This ratio of protestor versus counter-protestor is indicative of the Ku Klux Klan movement’s perpetual state of decline throughout the United States.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Suicide blast kills 18 and injures 145 as Taliban continue talks with U.S.

The Suicide blast kills 18 and injures 145 as the Taliban continue talks with the U.S. in Doha, Qatar. Taliban claimed responsibility for the car bomb explosion that targeted a police headquarters in district 6 of Kabul on Wednesday morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi.

13 Hours of Extremism: Domestic Terrorism Across the Political Spectrum Highlights Domestic Extremism Concerns

The two perpetrators of the Dayton, Ohio and El Paso mass shootings. (L) Connor Betts (R) Patrick Crusius. Image Source: Eurweb

Between August 3-4 2019, America was horrified by multiple mass killings across the nation. Dozens were left dead and even more injured. At least one of the events is being actively treated as an act of domestic terrorism, while the other appears to be linked to extremism. Below is a summary of the events, a summary of what is known about the perpetrators, and a summary of potential links between the attacks and societal repercussions of the horrific events.

The following summaries of the incidents and individuals are based on statements made by witnesses and relevant officials.

3 August 2019

Patrick Crusius, age 21, drove upwards of ten hours from his home to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Crusius exited his vehicle and entered the store where he sought to identify his potential targets based on the desire to kill and hurt as many people of Hispanic descent as possible. At the time of Crusius’ pre-attack surveillance, officials stated that there were between 1,000 and 3,000 people inside the Walmart. Crusius exited the store after satisfaction with the potential number of Hispanic victims inside. Just prior to the attack, a manifesto was circulated on digital extremist forums that highlighted anti-immigrant and racist conspiracy theories. The manifesto is posted under a pseudonym, however, it has largely been linked to Crusius. Crusius then prepared for the attack in or around his vehicle in the parking lot before commencing his plan. He was taken into custody near the scene. Twenty-two people have died thus far with dozens more injured.

4 August 2019

Connor Betts, age 24, appeared to have been active on social media on 3 August 2019. Earlier in the day, on the Twitter account associated with Betts, there was a retweet that called for Joe Biden to “Hurry up and Die”. In the wake of the news breaking about the attack in El Paso, the Twitter account “liked” several tweets that pertained to the attack. On the morning of 4 August 2019, Betts approached a popular bar in Dayton, Ohio, and began to open fire with a rifle. Law Enforcement was quick to respond, killing Betts on scene, but only after Betts managed to kill at least 9 people and injure dozens more. As of this writing, no manifesto or any communication of intent of the attack has been discovered. Prior to Betts’ Twitter account being taken down, it was discovered that Betts often commented support for various left-wing movements, stating his support for Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders. There was at least one retweet in favor of an account linked to the far-left ANTIFA extremist group.

What Do We Know About the Perpetrators?

 Patrick Crusius

Few people from Crusius’ personal life have come forward since the attack, therefore less is known about him. However, Crusius appears willing to speak with law enforcement following his arrest, and the manifesto that has been linked to him is telling. Crusius admitted to law enforcement officials that he purposefully targeted Hispanics in his attack. In the manifesto, a sociological/political theory known as “The Great Replacement Theory” is discussed, which is essentially an anti-immigrant ideology that calls for the separation of races. It has been linked to white supremacist attacks internationally and has at least a marginal following amongst white supremacist groups worldwide. Accounts have been discovered on extremist forums that are believed to belong to Crusius. A LinkedIn account believed to have belonged to Crusius shows that he had been unemployed for at least the last five months. The account, which has been taken down, stated that Crusius was largely uninterested in a career but was interested in computer software, as he stated that he spent most of his days on a computer anyway. It was not immediately clear if Crusius had any education after high school, and his economic and social life was not apparent.

Connor Betts

Multiple people have come forward who reportedly knew Betts, most painting an image of a dangerous individual. It has been reported that Betts had been suspended from high school at least once in reference to possession (and believed production) of a “hit list” and “rape list”. Betts was a musician and had at least some college education. He was a self-described “leftist” and “atheist”, but was described by peers as a loner and outcast. Multiple sources have reported that Betts had an obsession with mass shootings for some years. A female has come out and stated that she was dating Betts, but had broken up with him in May of 2019 over his concerning behavior. It is not clear if Betts was working at this time and his economic situation is unclear.

Potential Link Between the Attacks in El Paso and Dayton

As was mentioned earlier, a Twitter account linked to Betts ‘liked’ several tweets in regard to the El Paso attack, just hours before launching his own attack in Dayton. The attack in El Paso was rumored to be inspired by white supremacist ideology relatively quickly after the news broke and was subsequently confirmed as more information came out throughout the night. It is possible that Betts was inspired to launch an attack in furtherance of far-left extremism in response to the far-right attack in El Paso. That being said, it is unclear whether the attack in Dayton was pre-planned. As had been reported, Betts was obsessed with mass shootings for some time, however, his online links to the far-left cannot be ignored. His apparent following of the events in El Paso potentially link the two attacks as a form of tit-for-tat extremism between individuals on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Online Extremism: A Domestic Issue

 Both Crusius and Betts were active, at least in part, in online communications with extremist accounts or forums. Crusius has been linked to the publication of the Manifesto as discussed above and has been connected to profiles in extremist forums on websites such as “8chan”. Betts’ link to online extremism has been less clearly defined, but on at least one occasion he was connected to an ANTIFA account and shared a message in furtherance of the group.

While it is too early in the investigation to begin making definitive judgements about the level of influence such digital extremism had on either Crusius and Betts, it is clear that there is a connection between their actions and the extremist rhetoric that they consumed.

Preliminary Recommendations

 It is too early for exact political and/or policy recommendations to be relevant. Both investigations remain active. However, as the attacks appear to be linked to the far end of both sides of the linear political spectrum, adding more rhetoric in an attempt to further politicize the event may serve to further radicalize individuals with like-minded ideas. People of influence on either side of the political spectrum should consider this when crafting their messaging to avoid further influence for extremism.

Digital extremism communications represent a real challenge for policymakers. Preventing the free exchange of ideas is fundamentally against the ideals of the United States, however, as events such as the ones discussed above demonstrate the potential dangers associated with the ideal. It is recommended, that any ‘red flag’ laws that are implemented should expressly allow for the admittance of online forum discussions in consideration of individual cases. Domestic law enforcement agencies must also develop capabilities for monitoring such forums that are linked to extremist ideologies. Intelligence-led policing must be brought to the forefront of the discussion as the leading chance for preventing domestic terrorism events.

John Patrick Wilson is the Director of the Domestic Counter-Terrorism Program at Rise to Peace with experience in law enforcement, political research, and counter-violent extremism research. 

Exclusive Interview with Phil Gurski on Female Extremism

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

As a part of The Women in Extremism Program, Rise to Peace’s Simone Matassa had the privilege of interviewing Phil Gurski to talk all matters of female terrorism. Phil Gurski, who is the President/CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, has over 30 years experience as a strategic intelligence analyst specializing in radicalization and homegrown Islamist extremism with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Public Safety Canada, and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The interview with Phil focused on the gender side of radicalization, female motivations for extremism, and women’s role in counter-terrorism initiatives.

What gender differences are present in radicalization processes and what do you think are the main differences between how women are radicalized compared to men?

Phil Gurski: I think the answer to this question is that there are a lot of unfortunate stereotypical myths that there are significant differences, and hence that women either have to be treated differently or [and this is more important and more dangerous] that somehow women’s roles are minor and not as serious. And, therefore, in instances where women have traveled to join terrorist groups that we tend to think it’s not nearly as serious and tends to treat them with kid gloves.

We certainly saw that especially with Islamic State, where a lot of women played that card and claimed they were coerced by their male companions and actually had no real part in terrorist activity – that they took more of a background-position. I think this myth has had an effect on how people look at female terrorists [female jihadis]. Agency is the key issue here as there has been this unfortunate assumption that women don’t have agency and have somehow been forced or duped.

People often assume that Muslim women don’t have choices, as it’s a male-dominated faith, and that the women actually never agreed to do anything and were actually just following their husbands. The cases I was involved with women were very much as devoted to the cause as their husbands, brothers, boyfriends, etc. so I think we have to be very suspicious when women try to deny they had any role to play and that they were somehow innocent victims of a terrorist movement. From that perspective, the penalties and approaches should be the same – I don’t see a gender distinction.

Do you think gender roles play a big part in how women are viewed in terrorism? Are women just as equally capable of carrying out terrorist attacks compared to men or do gender roles prohibit them? 

Phil Gurski: Historically, women played incredibly important roles in terrorist groups i.e. IRA, Baader–Meinhof in Germany, LTTE in Sri Lanka. So there is no question that women have and are capable of carrying out active roles in terrorist groups up to and including carrying out attacks and killing themselves in suicide attacks. When looking at Jihadis early on, there certainly was a gender division within most groups which saw women as the support role.

Leaders such as Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri would say this. They would say we welcome our female members, but this is very much a man’s job. Then Islamic State came along and really reversed the paradigm. They very much stated that isn’t actually true; women are capable of carrying out activities on our behalf and this is – I think – why you probably saw a larger percentage of women actively going to join Islamic State with or without partners.

We had a famous case in Canada in 2015 where three young women in high school sought to join the Islamic State and got as far as Cairo before they were turned back by authorities. But this was completely on their own accord. I do not think that there is inherently a different role or paradigm for women terrorists. There may be some physical differences in strength etc. but when we try to maintain this while saying women are the weaker sex, we do a disservice to women who are terrorists and I think we also underestimate the role they can play.

What are women’s motivations for joining a terrorist organization- do they differ from that of a man joining a terrorist group?

Phil Gurski: I do believe they are one and the same. Using the Islamic State as an example: the Islamic State was remarkably successful in doing a couple of things. First of all, establishing the Caliphate as the ideal Islamic homeland that had appeal for an awful lot of people.

I know from the investigations we carried out people would talk about this; that they finally have a real Islamic State where Islamic law will be practiced and everything would be great. Secondly, they appealed to people to help build this State. And thirdly, they were very successful in pointing out atrocities that true Muslims have to reverse, whether these were atrocities carried out by the West or carried out by dictatorships.

This appealed to any believing Muslim who wanted to make a difference, so I think the motivation would be the same for both men and women. There is also a sense of adventure and an intense hatred for the societies in which they live. We saw a lot of people turn their backs on Western society saying they can’t live in this apostate regime anymore and that they have to go to where Islam is being practiced. I definitely saw this as much with the women as I did the men, so I would say there is not a major distinction between the motivations as to why either gender would choose to join a terrorist group.

What part can women play in countering terrorism and preventing the processes of radicalization?

Phil Gurski: The fact that more women have joined terrorist groups means you have more women coming back, and women who have abandoned the cause and can talk about the experience in the sense that it wasn’t what they originally thought. A small percentage of those women want to go public, but the vast majority want to leave it behind them due to the repercussions.

I think there is room for women who do come back to say here is what I saw, here is what I believe to be the case, and here is how it proved to be a complete lie. I think they can play the same role as former men could, I don’t see any difference in that respect given the fact we are seeing more of them they could maybe appeal to a different audience then the men could. We are in a time now where we have greater numbers than we have had historically in terms of women who have gone to fight or gone to support Islamic State as members and have got out. But I do think women could have something to say especially to children – kind of like the scared straight programs in prisons where they basically use their own experience to show others that it’s not worth it.

Conclusion

What can be taken from this interview with Phil Gurski is that there is an undeniable relationship between gender and extremism that is largely unexplored. While current societal stereotypes halter women’s roles in terrorism, there is still a need to be vigilant while looking at the female side of extremism.

As Phil alluded, when people underestimate the power and role of women, it becomes dangerous and creates an environment where women can go unnoticed for their violent actions.

More research and demonstratable interest in female extremists is needed to pave the way to preventative measures in helping tackle the gender issues in terrorism and to shaping policy in how female extremists are prosecuted.

View the full interview below:


Simone Matassa, a counter-terrorism writer and Head of the Women in Extremism Program at Rise to Peace.

Extremism Assessment Series: Far-Left Extremism

Image Source: Fox News, Lukas Mikelionis

  • Based on Marxist principles – left wing extremists believe that the working class should revolt against those in power; Can often be classified as “antifascist”.
  • One of the major goals of left-wing terrorism is the creation of a “utopian” society
  • There is absolutely no religious facet of leftist ideology
  • One of their biggest tactics is “provocation” – provoking those in power to overreact in order to garner more sympathy and members
  • Primary targets are government buildings, symbols of authority, and right-wing conservative rallies/demonstrations

Summary of Extremist Narrative

 The leftist narrative can be defined as a desire to overthrow the current political state and replace it with an anarchist or communist system. Members of these left-wing groups are often-times autonomists, which is a term used to describe individuals who are anti-authoritarian and believe they exist outside of the political system. One of the biggest characteristics of these groups is the desire for society as a whole to rise up and revolt. These left-wing groups do not discriminate and allow anyone who believes in their ideology to join their ranks.

 History of Ideology in the United States

 Leftist ideology originated around the time of the industrial revolution. Many were flocking from the countryside to find jobs in new factories, making the demand for work very high. Factory owners had no trouble filling vacant spots. Karl Marx, a German law student, saw the differences between the workers and the factory owners and started to describe the working class as “proletariat” and the factory owners as “bourgeoisie”. He saw that the factory owners did not have to work as hard as the working class, yet they kept getting richer and richer. Marx called this a “capitalist society” and believed that a revolution of the working class was inevitable. He believed that the working class would be victorious and a “communist society”. This formed the basis of leftist extremism, with individuals believing that a classless, moneyless, and stateless society is the only option.

During the 1980’s, left-wing terrorism was attributed to 74% of all terrorist attacks in the US Left wing terrorist groups today are based in communism, anarchism, or socialism, which are all connected to Marx’s teachings. Today, these groups are reflections of the current political climate meaning that members of these groups believe that the political culture of their country is too right-wing or fascist. Throughout history, there have been several known leftist groups that operated within the US, including the United Freedom Front, New World Liberation Front, Weather Underground, Black Liberation Army, and ANTIFA. Some of these groups are supported from outside countries such as Cuba, China, and Russia. They have also found support in the Communist Party of the USA.  Just recently, Trump declared that he may soon try to classify ANTIFA as a major terrorist organization.

 Current State of Far-Left Extremism

 Left-wing extremists are still active, not only in the U.S., but around the world. While these leftist groups serve different purposes, they all have an underlying theme of replacing the existing political system and removing class labels. Some even aim to carve out new nations within the US. Although the FBI reports that right-wing extremists are more of a concern today than left-wing extremists, they also acknowledge that left wing extremism still exists and should not be ignored.

As David Rapoport has stated, terrorism comes in waves. Left-wing terrorism was highly active in the 19060’s to the mid-1980’s, after which right-wing terrorism became active. This suggests that left-wing terrorism will become more active in the coming years. Due to the fact that left-wing extremists are more likely to be educated and from urban areas, they are better able to effectively organize demonstrations and attacks than their right-wing counterparts.

One of the more active left-wing groups in the US today is ANTIFA. ANTIFA’s main ideology is rooted in the antifascist movement, which was first seen under Hitler’s rule in Nazi Germany. Today, the antifascist movement is violent and threatening to society at large. ANTIFA members attend alt-right movements and demonstrations in order to protest and put an end to “alt right messages of hate.” ANTIFA leaders have called for violence in order to confront conservative groups, often times putting innocent people in danger. Some of their tactics include burning cars, attacking right-wing protestors, and destroying property/businesses.

ANTIFA does not have a clear, hierarchical structure, bringing us back to one of the main characteristics of left-wing groups; anyone can join and participate as long as they support the cause. There are times when ANTIFA members will call for non-members to meet them at rallies in order to protest against right-wing conservatives.

Left-wing extremist groups are primarily operating under capitalist systems where they believe that there are inexpressive amounts of marginalization and inequality at the hands of the current political party. These groups often attend right-wing conservative rallies in order to violently protest and oppose right-wing hate rhetoric.

As mentioned earlier, left-wing groups do not discriminate against members and believe that anyone who believes in their antifascist cause can join their movement. There are no religious undertones, making this group very diverse and fluid in their recruitment. Left-wing groups also utilize social media in order to attract individuals to their movement. They will often call on others to join their cause, recruiting individuals who may feel marginalized or disgruntled with their current political climate.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.