KKK: Membership ‘booming’
“We got an email from two young people asking to join our klavern,” said Silversmith, as she perused several editions of TheDurango Klansman. “I had to explain that we were a library, and the KKK documents were just research materials,” she laughed.
The youths’ request may not have been a prank. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 12 white supremacist groups are currently active in Colorado.
“Membership is booming in Colorado,” said Cole Thornton, Imperial Grand Wizard of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the KKK, which claims to be the largest KKK offshoot in the United States and is active in Colorado.
Mark Potok, SPLC’s spokesman, said, “the truth is that the radical right in the U.S. has grown enormously in the last 10 years, particularly since Obama’s election in 2008.”
While white supremacy appears to be enjoying a minor renaissance nationally, it has a long history in Durango. Historian Duane Smith said that La Plata County was entirely “Klan dominated, about the 1920s and 30s.” In those years, the KKK - America’s most notorious white supremacist organization - boasted 5 million members, including the governors of Colorado, Indiana, Oregon, Texas and Arkansas.
Today, many view the Klan - which killed more than 3,440 black people between 1882 and 1968 - as a terrorist organization. Yale history professor David Blight said, “other than the American Nazi Party, the KKK is probably the most denounced, discredited and scorned organization in the country. Whoever has a toehold in the mainstream - even someone within the radical, evangelical right wing - wouldn’t claim membership.”
“It’s an uphill battle,” agreed Thornton. “There’s some of us that have taken on the challenge to rehabilitate our image. We’re working on publishing a book on the Klan’s good deeds.”
That book - along with adopt-a-highway initiatives, pamphleteering and aggressive use of the Internet - is just one part of the modern KKK’s awkward, increasingly sophisticated, advertising.