The Ku Klux Klan appears to be on the rise again after years of irrelevance and splintered obscurity.
"Due to the successful exploitation of hot-button issues," the Klan has seen "a surprising and troubling resurgence," states a new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Gay marriage and urban crime are part of the picture. But, in particular, it is the debate over what to do about the nation's nearly 35 million immigrants, of whom about 11 million are in the US illegally, that has become the Klan's main recruiting tool.
"If any one single issue or trend can be credited with reenergizing the Klan, it is the debate over immigration in America," says Deborah Lauter, the ADL's civil rights director. "New groups [are] sprouting in parts of the country that have not seen much activity."
In addition to the South, where the Ku Klux Klan was founded by Confederate Civil War veterans in 1866, this now includes active or growing Klan chapters in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
There is no centralized organization, and membership numbers are estimates at best – 5,000 to 8,000 in as many as 179 Klan groups, according to the ADL, a group that fights bigotry, especially anti-Semitism, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights law firm and education center.
But it is the increase in activity, including rallies, recruitment drives, and distribution of racist literature, and the partnering with skinheads, neo-Nazis, and other kinds of hate groups, that civil rights groups find troubling.
As it did from its founding, the KKK views itself has having a religious dimension. Members see "lighting" a cross as a symbol of faith. Today, Christian Evangelicals are much more likely than mainstream Protestants or Roman Catholics to believe that "newcomers threaten traditional American customs and values," according to the Pew Research Center.