It is useful, on occasion, to stop and revisit a story that emerged, captured some attention and quickly faded away, if only to consider the story itself and what may have prompted whatever it is that occurred.
Today, let us consider the case of the Ku Klux Klan giving away candy in South Carolina. The story, that people woke up to find bags of candy and papers encouraging them to join the Klan, emerged in the middle of the month, garnering local coverage that begat some attention from larger, nationally-focused outlets. Headlines were fairly similar: “The KKK Is Using Candy To Lure New Recruits” (Vice), “KKK Gives Out Goodie Bags to Recruit New Knights” (The Wire), “Ku Klux Klan Now Recruiting With Subpar Candy” (New York), et cetera.
— KRON 4 News (@kron4news) July 16, 2014
So, for people who have not heard of this before, what does it mean? Is the KKK somehow rebounding or resurgent? We asked Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. His response: No, not at all. Rather, this sort of thing happens from time to time, and the attention it garners is probably the reason, Potok said.
In March, a several neighborhoods in Chesterfield County, Va., were papered with KKK fliers. Fliers were similarly handed out in Tallahassee, Fla., in June, and in several other states this spring and summer. Last year, there were several other cases like this. A woman in central Florida was angry after finding a KKK pamphlet in her driveway, while people in a neighborhood in Missouri were scared after finding similar messages. Authorities in the Atlanta area investigated fliers promoting the KKK that were placed near homes.
What happens, Potok said, is that these pamphlets are dropped off for recruiting purposes, stories get written about it, and then these stories prompt other people to write other stories. It’s “a kind of hysteria,” Potok said.
“As the narrative picked up that the Klan seemed to be resurgent, there were more and more and more stories about the Klan leafleting, and I think those stories prompted Klan groups to go out in pursuit of more press,” he said.
Potok pointed to one particular story about this narrative that the Daily Mirror published in April. This story proclaimed that the last time the KKK was so active was during the 1960s.
“I’m here to tell you that that’s ridiculous,” Potok said. “It’s not even close.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center counts KKK groups across the country. In 2010, there were 221 such groups. This year, there are about 150 groups, Potok said. As for the actual membership, while it’s difficult to know for sure, the SPLC estimates that there are somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 KKK members in the U.S. (By comparison, there were about 40,000 KKK members in the mid-1960s.)
This current activity has no relation to the rise in extremist groups the SPLC has monitored in recent years, because there’s very little overlap between the KKK and these other groups, Potok added.
The promotional attempts in South Carolina also directed people to call a phone number where a person decried illegal immigration, Fox Carolina reported, which may have also boosted interest in such stories at a time when the border crisis in Texas is capturing so much attention.
Still, despite their diminished numbers, the “KKK gives out candy” story wasn’t the only one involving the group this summer. A report recently came out linking two police officers in Fruitland Park, Fla., with the group, causing quite a bit of shock in the small town near Orlando.