Democracies versus Terror Groups. The Case of America’s Forgotten Terrorists

Term Paper, 2015

11 Pages


Table of content


The first Klan

The second Klan

The Klan ideology

Government intervention



Terrorist groups have been prevalent in democracies across continents, and the basis of their proliferation has been associated with the dynamics existent in democratic institutions. As Chenoweth (2006) articulates, the fact that democracies offer non-violent approaches to conflict resolution provides the avenue for the rise of terrorist organizations. Additionally, civil and political liberties correlate positively with terrorism as the democratic permissiveness allows for terrorist groups to act against their own or foreign governments. In essence, terrorist groups find that democracies provide the right environment or have the opportunity structure for them to thrive.

Regardless of the reason for the formation of any terrorist group, terrorist organizations in any democracy pull back on the development and progress in these democracies and infringe on human rights. The United States is considered as the very definition of democracy, and it has had to deal with the ripples caused by foreign or local terrorist organizations. In the country’s history lies the dark past of the Ku Klux Klan, regarded as one of the oldest terrorist organization in the country. The report that follows analyzes the profile of the Ku Klux Klan over the years, with a focus on how terrorist organizations grow in democracies and how governments intervene for the sake of democracy.

The first Klan

Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was first founded in the post-civil war era in 1865 by six men from Pulaski and began as a charitable organization dedicated to serving widows and orphans. The group would later turn into a white supremacist group and started its terror campaign threatening the Klan’s political opponents (, 2012). Through its actions, the KKK was held responsible for thousands of deaths of non-Americans, as well as the weakening of the Republicans and Southern Black’s political power. The group focused on white supremacy and was often at the centre of racist activity in the South. A notable event occurred in 1866 when a quarrel between black and white veterans escalated into a riot in Memphis. White majorities engaged in violent activity aided by white police officers and tore through the section designated for blacks (, 2012). At the end of the rampage, schools and churches had been torched, 46 people had lost their lives while 70 lay injured. Two months later, a white mob affiliated with the group attacked a black suffrage convention and killed 37 African-Americans and 3 of their white allies.

The group grew in strength with increased violence against African-Americans and transformed into a hooded terror group by 1868. Members of this organization adopted the name ‘The Invisible Empire of the South’ and had their first leader- Nathan Bedford, also known as ‘Grand Wizard’, a former confederate in the Civil War. There was increased membership especially from white southerners, and increased membership meant that there was increased criminal activity. The KKK would punish the free blacks for ‘crimes’ such as ‘impudent’ behavior towards the whites and the whipping of teachers in black schools. Most importantly, the group was focused on wiping away the Southern Republican’s influence through killings directed towards the party’s leaders and those voting for the party (Lay, 2005).

A major attack occurred in the lead-up to the presidential election of 1868, where Seymour, a Democrat, was pitted against Ulysses Grant, a Republican. KKK’s intimidation antics led to the killings of 2000 Republicans in Kansas, with 1000 more were murdered in Louisiana (Lay, 2005). Though Democrats had victories in the two states marked as decisive for the Republicans, the Northerners had voted for the Republican candidate, as they envisioned the effecting of harsh laws to combat the violence and protect the freed blacks in the south. Ulysses Grant would later win and gain the Northerners support in the 15th amendment that sought to make all black men eligible to vote.

Under Ulysses Grant, there were harsher restrictions imposed in the South under the First Reconstruction Act. Congress would later pass the Enforcement Acts that criminalized any activities seen as interfering with office-holding, voting, voter registration, or black jury services. Also passed by Congress was the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871, where the government gained the power to act against terror groups such as the KKK. Though these laws were not rigorously enforced, thousands of Klan members were arrested with some of them being convicted.

Grant’s era marked the death of the first KKK, with its secrecy and lack of membership rosters being the prelude to its death. Klan members had no common ideology, as members were extensively sadists, guerrilla bands, displaced democrats, employers wary of labor discipline, and even some freedmen (, 2012). The only common attribute between them was the Klan’s name.

The second Klan

Following the outlawing of the KKK by Congress in 1871, the Klan disbanded and would later come up in 1915 under the leadership of Joseph Simmons. According to Lay (2005), the reemergence of the Klan was partly influenced by the movie The Birth of a Nation, released in December 1915 at Atlanta. Also significant in the reemergence of the group was the Frank Leo case of August 1915 where Leo was accused of having raped and killed a white American girl. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation glorified the KKK and fueled racism in the United States while Frank Leo’s case aroused anti-Semitism, both of which influenced the reemergence of KKK.

Unlike the previous KKK, Simmons had a membership restriction to only American-born white Protestants. He would later design the hooded uniform, compose an elaborate ritual, and secure a charter from the state of Georgia. On the night of thanksgiving in 1915, the group led by Simmons and members of the Knights of Mary Phagan ignited the flaming cross that is synonymous with the Klan on Stone Mountain and declared the rebirth of KKK (Lay, 2005). There was slow growth in membership during World War I, but the Klan later devised new growth strategies such as the formation of chapters that conducted initiations.

Established as a profitable organization, every chapter would conduct initiation, collect initiation fees, sell the group’s hooded uniform, and split the proceeds between the chapter, state, and national headquarters. The Klan was largely a secret organization in the 1920s and actual numbers were hard to know. As a terrorist organization that was opposed to democratic developments, the Klan preached anti-immigrant, anti-catholic, and anti-Jewish ideologies that were bound to propel violent activities.


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Democracies versus Terror Groups. The Case of America’s Forgotten Terrorists
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David Ngila (Author), 2015, Democracies versus Terror Groups. The Case of America’s Forgotten Terrorists, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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