After Former KKK Leader Shoots Up Jewish Centers, CNN Asks: ‘Can The Klan Rebrand?’

Klansmen file into an Atlanta church in 1949 to attend Sunday evening services CREDIT: AP
Klansmen file into an Atlanta church in 1949 to attend Sunday evening services CREDIT: AP

One week after a Ku Klux Klan member shot three people dead at Jewish institutions in Kansas, CNN is speculating, “Can the Klan rebrand?”

“Imperial Ancona, who lives in Missouri, insists there’s a new Klan for modern times — a Klan that’s “about educating people to our ideas and getting people to see our point of view to…help change things,” CNN’s Ashley Fantz writes. “He said he and those like him can spread that message without violence — a sort of rebranding of the Klan.”

To learn if this is possible, Fantz asked marketing and PR experts if America’s most infamous white supremacist group could shed its violent past. According to one quoted ad agency president, lynchings are not too different from products, like a car that kills people because of an exploding gas tank. In his words, “if you have a car that is killing people because the gas tank is exploding, it doesn’t matter how fantastic the ad campaign is for that car.” CNN should have also taken note that this is not the first time the KKK has declared it is “rebranding.”

The 2,000 word story has provoked backlash and derision on Twitter and in the media. Gawker described it as “a landmark expression of idiocy.”

CNN, in a roundabout way, answers its own question of whether this is conceivable. No, a hate group forever linked to lynchings and violence does not have a chance to transform into a kinder form of racism. A Time story called “The KKK Tries To Make a Comeback” arrives at a similar conclusion, quoting experts who say the idea is ridiculous. “Some groups do try to position themselves to say they’re just fighting for white rights, that they’re not racist. But that’s absurd. It’s just racism dressed up in a new language,” Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project told Time.

As far as taking the KKK’s messaging in a new direction, national director for the Knights of the KKK Thomas Robb has made a few minor, superficial changes at the top — things like changing the title “imperial wizard” to “national director” and requiring business suits instead of white robes. Nationally, the number of KKK members has shrunk from a height of nearly 4 million — counting law enforcement among its membership — to an estimated 5,000–8,000, according to SPLC. Today, the hate group passes out fliers and uses President Obama as an enlistment strategy, claiming to have tripled in size since Obama’s election. The number of hate groups in the U.S., along with the conservative Tea Party movement, have tracked the same path.