By Matthew Bigg
Thu Feb 8, 4:43 PM ET
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The white supremacist Ku Klux Klan is on the rise in the United States and is exploiting the issue of illegal immigration to attract new members, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League.
The Klan has declined dramatically since the 1960s when its members dressed in white robes, burned crosses and spread terror through lynchings but immigration is helping to revive its fortunes, said the league which monitors hate groups.
"The (Klan's) thinking is that if the average Joe is against immigration then we are against it too. They are trying to gain a foothold in the mainstream community," said Allen Kohlhepp of the league's southeast region on Thursday.
"Ninety percent (of Klan members) will never commit a crime but their rhetoric will influence the one in the group who may go off and do something," Kohlhepp said in an interview.
The secretive Klan probably has several thousand members nationwide and has gained hundreds of new members over the immigration issue and its exploitation of opposition to gay marriage and fear of crime, Kohlhepp said.
It has expanded in parts of the country including the Great Plains and the West Coast where it used to be inactive.
In one example, the Brotherhood of Klans attempted to recruit members in Iowa towns such as Denison and Storm Lake where immigrants from Mexico and Laos have settled recently, the report said.
The Klan fits into the broader picture of right wing militant and neo-Nazi groups that sprang to prominence with the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 but they have been marginalized and weakened by in-fighting, the report said.
They also no longer have close relationships with law enforcement officials and local government that enabled them to spread terror in the Deep South in the decades before the 1960s, said the league's report.
Most Klan members no longer wear white and instead frequently dress like racist skinheads and Neo-Nazis at meetings with whom they cooperate, Kohlhepp said.
About 80 members of the National Socialist Movement and Klan groups met in Laurens, South Carolina, to discuss ways to increase cooperation, the report said.
Klan members remain identifiable at meetings with other groups by the Klan symbol they wear of a red drop of blood in the center of a white cross on a blood red background, said Kohlhepp.