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.Research Based Analysis: Ku Klux Klan Recruitment in the 1920's

Psychologist Solomon Asch, in his study “Opinions and Social Pressure”, argues that a person's decision making can be influenced by pressure from society. If this holds to be true, then the second Ku Klux Klan was to recruit an empire of over four million people by pressuring individuals in society. The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's, known as the second Ku Klux Klan, became one of the largest fraternal organizations of all time. The second Klan started as a small group with few members but expanded into an “invisible empire” through successful recruitment tactics. Many recruitment methods were utilized by the Klan depending on the recruitment situation. The Klan at this time was focused on nativism and patriotism, due to an increase of immigrants coming the United States, and not hate towards minorities. Instead of recruitment based on white supremacy, the second Klan's recruitment tactics are seen as methods that rely on pressure from society, and pressure from leaders. The success of the Klan's recruitment strategies can be further analyzed and understood through scholars such as, Philip Zimbardo, and their research.  

This paper will explore the methods used by the second Ku Klux Klan to convince people to join the Klan. The paper will begin by exploring the founding of the second Klan, and the ideals that the Klan focused on. Then, the three main recruitment methods will be introduced with proper explanations. Each recruitment tactic will be further explained through a scholar's research and article. Finally, conclusions will be drawn based on the information previously introduced.

Foundations of the second Klan

The second Ku Klux Klan was founded by William Joseph Simmons, a Methodist minister who lived in Atlanta, Georgia. According to Roland Fryer Jr. and Steven Levitt, authors for the Oxford University Press, state that “Historians argue that the release of The Birth of a Nation led to the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan” (Fryer Jr. and Levitt 1886). Simmons gave the Klan the name of the “Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Incorporated”, according to Charles Alexander, professor of history at the university of Houston (Alexander 349). Simmons wanted the second coming of the Klan to follow patriotic values, and to be harmless. The members of the second Klan were to refrain from racial threats. The Klan was designed to be a respectable, fraternal organization that was focused on financial gain. Within the business aspect, the Klan's business was very lucrative for those at the top of the chain of command. The leaders were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, in today's money. The scholars Roland Fryer Jr. and Steven Levitt describes the second Klan's structure as “organized like a modern multilevel marketing firm” (1888).

The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's was characterized by a rapid rise to power and changing societal values. The 1920's were a time where many Americans were losing their jobs to immigrants, and therefore many native, Caucasian citizens wanted patriotic values to be reinstalled into American society. The marketing experts, Edward Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler, that worked for the Klan saw this problem in society as an opportunity to grow the Klan's membership. The Klan began utilizing many recruitment methods to expand their membership. These tactics became very successful for the growth and expansion of the Klan. The Klan peaked at an estimated 5 million members in 1925. This rapid rise in power became possible because of the Ku Klux Klan's highly effective recruitment methods which included Kleagles, Bloc recruitment, and recruiting through politics.

Although the second Ku Klux Klan was characterized by a rapid rise to power, the decline of the 1920's Klan was just as quick. By 1930, “its membership had declined to perhaps 1% of its peak” (Fryer Jr. and Levitt 1886). There are no direct factors that contributed to its decline, but likely the Klan's money-making scheme was realized by the lower members that had received little benefits.


Without the help of white supremacy ideals to help recruit new members, the second Ku Klux Klan utilized Kleagles to help build their invisible empire. Kleagles are publicity and recruiting agents, that are paid commission for each recruitment they make. Each new member was to pay an eight-dollar recruitment fee; of these eight dollars the Kleagle that recruited them kept four, the domain sales manager kept one dollar and fifty cents, and two dollars and fifty cents went directly to Mr. Clark and Mrs. Tyler (Alexander 351).  Kleagles were locally employed and would recruit fellow members of their town or city. These recruiters would target eligible friends, protestants, and even co-workers. Kleagles became one of the most affective recruitment methods, and “at its peak in 1924, the Klan generated $25 million dollars-equivalent to $300 million in current dollars” due to the success of Kleagles in recruiting (Fryer Jr. and Levitt). Kleagles were the first recruitment method invented by the second Klan, and perhaps the most effective.

The success of Kleagles in recruiting new members to the Ku Klux Klan can be explained through Stanley Milgram's experiment The Perils of Obedience.  In his experiment, Milgram had random subjects, the teacher, give increasingly painful shocks to a learner whenever they got a question incorrect. This study explored how people are willing to do almost anything when under the presence of an authority figure. Milgram concluded that the subjects have an “extreme willingness to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority” (62). The Perils of Obedience experiment can explain why Kleagles were so effective because Kleagles appear as authority figures to the public. Kleagles can be perceived as authority figures because they wear red robes, as opposed to the white robes of normal members, therefore distinguishing themselves from other Klan members. Also, Kleagles are the head of the Klan for their particular town, which places them in position of authority. So, since Kleagles are seen as authority figures, then citizens are more likely to follow their message of recruitment, then a normal Klan member.

Bloc Recruitment

Once a Kleagle has been employed by the Ku Klux Klan to recruit new members to the Klan, they utilize multiple different recruiting methods, but the most successful of these methods is bloc recruitment. According to Rory McVeigh, the professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame “Anthony Oberschall created the term ‘bloc recruitment', which refers to the way in which social-movement organizers recruit people that are already organized for a different reason” such as a social gathering (McVeigh 34). Kleagles employed this strategy because it was extremely efficient, and more importantly the tactic was more effective than attempting to recruit isolated people. When using bloc recruitment, recruiters for the Klan would often go to events held in town-squares or protestant churches. Bloc recruitment worked extremely well within protestant churches because “the Klan and Protestantism worked hand and glove”, according to Robert Moats Miller, a professor at the University of North Carolina (Miller 356).

The effectiveness of bloc recruitment can be explained through the scholar, Solomon Asch's, study Opinions and Social Pressure.  In the study, Asch explores the affects that group pressure has on a person's options and decision making. The experiment functioned by tasking the subjects with picking the correct line length from a series of lines; the participants could often find the correct answer but would change their answer to the answer selected by the majority, so that they could follow the group. Asch concluded that individuals display an extreme willingness to conform to the opinions of the majority. Asch's study can explain the success of bloc recruitment because the tactic relies on people conforming to authority. Individuals that were at gatherings where the tactic was being used, would feel more compelled to join the Klan due to the peer pressure of joining placed on them by their peers then if they were to be recruited individually. So, since the second Klan recruited members in groups, their recruitment became extremely effective, and was one reason they were able to build an invisible empire.  

The Klan embedded in Politics

The second Ku Klux Klan was strongly embedded in politics in the 1920's. The hood-wearing fraternal organization was so influential in politics that they organized the election of 16 congress members in the 1920's. The Klan would often endorse candidates in states where their power was weak in an attempt to swing the public's view of the Klan and gain new members. University of Florida professor, David Chalmers, regarding the KKK in politics, stated the Klan was “sufficiently concentrated to play an important role in the political life of many states” (235). The Klan coined the name “decade” for their political strategy. This strategy entailed that each member of the Klan recruit ten people to help elect candidates backed by the Klan. Once these Klan-supported political candidates were elected, the politicians would put out positive messages about the Klan in order to recruit new members. In some states, including Indiana, the Klan was able to get so many Klansmen into the government that they practically controlled it. Recruitment through politicians greatly helped expand the invisible empire.

The prosperity of the Klan's recruitment through politics strategy can be analyzed through “The Perils of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram. As previously explained, Milgram's experiment analyzed obedience of people to authority. Milgram concluded that “the essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out the other person's wishes” (Milgram 62). Although the Klan's recruitment tactics of Kleagles and political recruitment can both be understood through the lens of Milgram, political recruitment was successful for different reasons then Kleagles. People hold the opinions of elected officials in high esteem, and that is why when politicians promoted the Klan in a positive way, new members were more likely to join.  So, since elected government officials are authority figures, people are more likely to follow their opinions.


The second-coming of the Ku Klux Klan became so successful because they were able to build an “invisible empire” through multiple recruitment tactics. The first successful recruitment method that was used by the Klan was Kleagles, and the success of this method can be understood through The Perils of Obedience by Stanley Milgram. The second tactic used by the Klan was Bloc Recruitment which, was recruiting in groups, and the success of this method can be analyzed through the study, Opinions and Social Pressures by Solomon Asch. The final method that the Klan used to build an empire was using politicians to convey the message of the Klan to civilians, and this also can be further understood with the research of Stanley Milgram as a lens.  Through, the use of these three tactics the Klan was able to build one of the most successful and lucrative, fraternal organizations of all time.

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