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Miriam Cisneros

The role of women in the Ku Klux Klan: 1920 – Present

- The role of gender in extreme right movements such as the Ku Klux Klan shows that terrorism does not differentiate between men and women, both are important assets in the radicalization of ideology.

The role of women in the Ku Klux Klan: 1920 – Present


The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is one of the most important examples of extreme right terrorism because today many people only study religious terrorism (the 4th wave) and do not have much information about this type of terrorism that is now and in the future is going to be more important in the international arena, since it is increasing exponentially as a reaction to massive immigration, the lack of opportunities in the countries and the continuous feeling of threat from jihadist terrorism. This group is the one that produces the most terrorist attacks within the United States, above jihadist terrorism, so the study of the KKK is very important to understand the history of the extreme right in the United States and how it affects the rise of ideology of white supremacy in American society.

In the first place, it is necessary to detail the ideology of the people of the clan, which helps them to radicalize their thoughts and is reflected in their behavior, as well as reflected in their actions that lead them to commit acts of terrorism, reminiscences of violence. and criminal activity within the country. His ideology is based on: white supremacy, nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, neo-Nazism and neo-fascism, anti-communism and Christian identity.

According to David Rapoport, terrorism is divided into four waves throughout history, today we are living the last one, since the Ku Klux Klan also has the same number of waves. The first was at the time of the Civil War and the end of slavery, the second was the period in which women entered the Organization, the third was the most violent and bloody. The last one is the most complicated for the members of the Klan since the popularity of the jihadist groups in acts of terror downplays its importance in the international arena and globalization and liberalism in public policies promote immigration in the US. .to maintain labor and economic growth; As a consequence, groups like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State are the main actors in terrorism.

Despite globalization, the KKK continues to work in the country, carrying out terrorist attacks and causing violence to other people, with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, this group is born again from the ashes, to show the country and the world that terrorism is not only related to the “UMMAH” it is also related to white groups repressed since the opening of the market and society, and we can see with the increase of followers in the US and support in other countries, helping to be stronger than in the past with more influence in politics and society.

Taking all this into account, what was the role of women in the Ku Klux Klan from 1920 until now? And to answer this question, we will first talk about the KKK as a group, emphasizing the ideology of women, their recruitment, their activities within the Klan, and their role in this century.

To develop the research work, it is first important to write about the origin and history of the Ku Klux Klan in the US, which began as a male fraternity, but in 1867 changed its status from a social fraternity to a military group for the purpose of preserving white supremacy against slave uprising and over the next four years began to follow, beat, kidnap, shoot, beat up, and scare African-Americans and Republicans throughout the South.

The Ku Klux Klan was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, especially in the office of Judge Thomas M. Jones on December 24, 1865, the meaning of the name of this group is Ku Klux which comes from Kuklos (circle or band) in Greek and Klan it was redundant. The founders were John C. Lester, John B. Kennedy, James R. Crowe, Frank O. McCord, Richard R. Reed and J. Calvin Jones who were the original group. At first the group was concentrated only in Tennessee and Alabama, but after 1868 it expanded its domains to include the Potomac, Rio Grande, and Kentucky.

“The origin of the order had no political significance, it was purely social and for their own amusement and it turned out to be a great blessing to the entire South and it did what state and federal officials couldn't. He brought order out of chaos, peace and happiness to our beloved South. I am proud to say that I have never heard of any acts performed by the K.K.K. original of which I am ashamed" (Crowe, 1880)

They emphasized their efforts in rebuilding a white nation against the advent of suffrage, human rights and the possible domination of blacks and as time went by, they became more organized and examples of this were the adoption of a ceremony, a ritual and subgroup naming. As already explained before, the membership of women was excluded from this organization. "Women, friends, widows and their homes will always be the special object of our consideration and protection." (Hodes, 1993)


The second wave of the Ku Klux Klan began with World War II (1920s) and grew rapidly across the country; this reconstructed Klan had an ideology that continues today, such as anti-black, Catholic, Jewish, immigrant, radical and homosexual racism. In addition, the reborn KKK exalted southern heroism, chivalry, and the Anglo-Saxon splendor of the past, reviving Protestant and white superiority over peoples that did not belong to it.

We are white Christian patriots of the true Ku Klux Klan Invisible Empire of our great country. We are for the future of our White Christian Children and for our generations to come, join a traditional white klan that believes in the teachings of Jesus and therefore we do not believe in HATE. We are against homosexuals of both genders and we believe that marriage is between a man and a woman as taught by Jesus. Our country's Ku Klux Klan has never been more relevant than it is today, and we stand for the protection of our past history and our future. This is a message of hope, that we of the KKK believe in our country. Now there is a war against our people, our children, our precious war of life and our principles. We must stay true to our klan and to our brothers and family and pray that we can maintain our sense of loyalty to each other. Get up and let them tell you." (Ku Klos Knights, s.f.)

White women were active citizens in the US, whose motivation was to purify the country, focusing on issues of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and religion, drawing disapproval from Jews, African-Americans, Catholics, socialists, and other political radicals. . Approved policies within the WKKK were patriotism, militarism, racial segregation, and anti-miscegenation laws. In addition, their solemn obligation was the constant fight for white supremacy over the black race, having an anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic agenda but at the same time being aware of the idealization of the American woman by men as a threat from the Klansman, since he idealized women only in the home and in religious life and believed that political activism was a responsibility.

Recruitment of women

"I, the undersigned, a true and loyal citizen of the United States of America, being a white woman of sound mind and a believer in the principles of the Christian religion and in the principles of pure Americanism, very respectfully request membership in the Ladies of the Invisible Empire» (Candidate for Baltimore Klanswomen, 1922).

Those in charge of recruiting members of the Ku Klux Klan are called Kleagles. Possible candidates must be native white Protestants, represent their sex (gender) and share values with the organization. The KKK uses three different main ways to attract people like bloc recruiting as a strategy to recruit groups of individuals with the same purpose of 100% Americanism and the most common target is fraternal lodges and Protestant churches; the use of violence to impress potential Klan members and charity activities where they demonstrate their social commitment in the country which helps create a good perception of the organization and to attract new members.

During the second Klan, women were active members of the Ku Klux Klan, marking the first time in US history that women could enlist in a far-right group. They were recruited in a separate organization, specially created for women, so in this period the men have the Ku Klux Klan and the women have the Female Ku Klux Klan, each group had a different agenda and different activities, since the men they were more active in politics and women in social activities.

The expansion of the second Klan was the result of its ability to take advantage of all the prejudices that arose in American society after World War I. In the 1920s the Klan considered itself the guardian of the rights of white Protestant women, five hundred prominent women over the age of 18 and neither socialists nor communists from across the United States became members of the Klan.

Since the beginning of the WKKK, radicalization has been one of the most important pillars of the organization, since the recruitment process is based on elements of the communication cycle (fact, message, issuer, code, channel, receiver, and feedback) that it helps to promote their extremist ideology to potential new members and to reinforce the ideology in already active members. They used pamphlets (channel) with information conveying the Women's Klan's message and beliefs to recruit potential new members (receiver). Meanwhile, women did not participate as full members, but as auxiliaries to men; the first recruited were the wives, mothers, and daughters (feedback) of Klansmen and organized into patriotic women's societies as the "Ladies of the Invisible Empire" (L.O.T.I.E.). It is important to add that one of the requirements to be a Klanswoman was the personal investigation in which the background of each candidate was analyzed to prevent and reduce the infiltration of spies. However, in the 1980s women became full members of the Klan, dissolving the organizational divide of Klansmen and Klanswomen into a gender-neutral mix, post-fourth and modern wave women can share the Klan leadership with men, taking into account social and economic classes.

The KKK uses social media to recruit younger members and these would-be recruits who become radicalized through podcasts and Youtube videos such as "White Youth Focus" created by Billy Graham, "The Andre Show" on ShowForWhiteKids channel by Tomas Robb, and White Women's Perspective" by Rachel Prendergraft, because the channel is cheaper and doesn't take much time, as the group doesn't need to search for potential candidates, they just need to create content on the web and interested people go looking for the issue.

In 2018 the United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan made a new strategy in New York to recruit members, the fact of interest of this tactic was the target, since the children were the ones, the KKK put candies with a ruffle KKK recruiting card on a Ziploc bag emphasizing the right to join this group. The use of recruitment flyers are being common in different cities of the United States such as Atlanta and North Carolina, writing «Save the earth. Join the Klan," "we are a law-abiding Christian organization," or "the KKK is awake."

The role of women

To begin this chapter, it is important to add that the role of women within the Ku Klux Klan was paramount in shaping the far-right organization as it is today, and in the second decade of the 20th century the women of the Klan worked in social activities to pursue their objectives based on their own racial and religious prejudices. "While far-right men are often the ones in the headlines, it is women who often do the job of bolstering supremacist movements." (Darby, n.d.)

Being a woman at that time was very important in the development of terrorist attacks, because while men carried out violent acts in the public sphere, women were behind them, recruiting and radicalizing new members. Men and women formed an excellent group, since the functions were perfectly established by sex and each one knew that they were competing and their role.

The first female leader in the Ku Klux Klan was Mary Elizabeth Tyler in 1920, she was responsible for the entry of women into the Klan, she also believed that women would not be a dependent auxiliary of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they should be an equal partner with men. Currently, another important woman in the KKK is Rachel Pendergraft, who is the Spokesperson for the National Coordinator of Members of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, also known as The Knights Party, she is the daughter of Thomas Robb, the National Director of the Knights Party of the KKK and was raised in the Klan, absorbing Klan ideology from her father, attending rallies since she was a child. She believes the KKK is not a hate-mongering organization, but one that promotes family values, instead she argues that families can help the Klan grow.

For them, the family and the community were their objectives, because they used family reunions, church dinners and social gatherings to announce information related to the Ku Klux Klan, in addition their participation in the Klan was very important to curb Catholicism. , Judaism and black culture in the South of the USA. The Ladies of the Invisible Empire (L.O.T.I.E.) put their efforts into the compulsory teaching of the Bible in public schools, the restrictions on immigration, to curb the interracial marriage, work and equality.

Likewise, Kamelia was another group of women from the Ku Klux Klan that competed with LOTIE, their work was oriented to the role of women in politics and in the American public administration and to make crowdfunding campaigns for orphanages. The Women of the Ku Klux Klan was an official parallel organization that replaced the LOTIES and the Kamelia in 1923, which were located in 48 US states, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas and with a greater presence in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and for Of course Arkansas.

Its functions were the same principles of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan but with special work in education, Americanism, public entertainment, legislation, child welfare, delinquency, citizenship, civics, law enforcement, disarmament, peace and politics and its main Activities were organizing rallies, festivals, ritual carnivals, burning crosses, lectures, speeches, boycotting anti-Klan groups, wedding services, funerals, christening ceremonies, lobbying legislatures, and writing negative reports of non-member candidates. the Klan in politics.

"Women were major players in the Klan, responsible for some of its most vicious and destructive results" (Blee, 1991). Although Klan women also participated with Klansmen in acts of violence and terrorism, such as lynching, but most of them put their efforts into protecting and promoting their rights as whites and stopping the advance of socialist women in politics and economics.

The role of women in the third wave of the Ku Klux Klan that began in the 1960s was less than in the past, despite being integrated members of the Klan, the KKK focuses on the membership of rural men from the South of the United States without high quality of education and life, and in this wave it was where more terrorist attacks have occurred in the United States.

Women in the 21st century

Currently, the KKK is a large organization made up of small groups and there are no official national figures for the number of members that exist in the Klan, but the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 in the nation, for so there is no database of exactly how many women are in the Klan.

With the global use of the Internet, online spaces provide a safe platform for far-right extremists to communicate their ideas without fear of being singled out by American society. On these websites you can find the main keywords used by the Klan such as racial purity, marriage and motherhood focusing on the US government, law enforcement, military, legal system, the immigrants, Muslims, skin color, racism, xenophobia and anti-government, these sentiments being supported by an inclusive online forum than an identity supremacist.

Based on the previous paragraph, the following image shows what are the main words that the Klan woman publishes on these social networks and we can assume what her perception of American life is like.

Although there is no longer a distinction between men and women within the Ku Klux Klan, there is still a female faction of the LOTIE and the White Kamelia. Women are the same as men in the Ku Klux Klan, but now you don't see much activity from women in the KKK, as men continue to focus on causing violence and women continue to work in charity and try to influence politics. Amanda Barker is now one of the most active women in North Carolina in since 2017, she is an Imperial Commander in the Loyal White Knights of the KKK and maintains that being part of the Klan is excellent for having contacts and a family with which to share symbology, rituals and have picnics.

Protests, rallies, cross burnings, and marches are the main activities of Ku Klux Klan women today across the country, one example being the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 in response to to the decision by the State of Virginia to remove the statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee and the Ku Klux Klan march in Frankfort, Kentucky in 2012.

With the arrival of Barack Obama to the presidency, the Ku Klux Klan became angry and considered the Obama administration as a black period in history, the members of the klan were against the policies implemented by him, just because he is black, descendant from Africa and was open to immigration. Lastly, the women of the klan have supported the presidency of Donald Trump since he was a candidate in 2016, because his campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again”, since they think that Americans are dreamers in the US too, not only immigrants as the last presidents said. As a candidate and former president, Donald Trump used anti-immigration and pro-white supremacist rhetoric, and thanks to this narrative, members of the Ku Klux Klan voted en bloc, helping Trump win the 2016 election.

"We have been saying for 40 years that a wall must be built on the border with Mexico as Trump proposes" (Robb, 2016). According to the far right followers, American politics is following the ideology of the KKK and the line they want for the United States, as an example, the nationalist mentality is spreading throughout the country and the desire to contain immigration since 1920 is now a reality, although now President Joe Biden has a different strategy. And in the coming years the rise of white supremacist groups with a significant presence of women will be observed as a counternarrative of jihadist terrorism on the extreme right, against legal and illegal immigrants and especially against Muslims due to the great economic crisis, inflation, low wages, low quality of life of the natives in the countries.


The analysis of the Ku Klux Klan is one of the topics of greatest interest today, because if one understands its work model, its motivations, its ideology and the form of recruitment, it is possible to distinguish other extreme right groups, since they share similarities and a symbiosis occurs with the others.

It is very important to understand the new phenomena of right-wing terrorism, since with the 4th wave of terrorism, the experts focused only on religious terrorism and forgot about this kind of manifestations. Now, with the population tired of always living in fear of not knowing when and where the next jihadist terrorist attack will be, supremacist terrorists are reborn as a response to extremist Muslims, and the important role of women in these attacks cannot be forgotten. terrorist attacks.

Now, with the fight for equal rights between men and women in Western countries, girls are equally involved in decision-making and are more committed to the cause that may threaten their lives and that of their close group. , thus being active members in the fight against jihadism.

The role of gender in extreme right movements such as the Ku Klux Klan shows that terrorism does not differentiate between men and women, both are important assets first in the radicalization of ideology, second in the recruitment of new members, third in the development of violent actions and terrorist attacks, four to create fear in the target and five to implement the ideology in public policies. Currently, the klanists are seen as the representatives of traditional values in American society and are a pillar in the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, because they make the right-wing movement visible as humane and sensitive to American citizens.


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