When Donald Trump failed to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke on CNN Sunday, the notorious racist group suddenly became one of the major issues of the campaign cycle.
Fellow Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has skewered Trump’s dithering response and the media has been relentless in its covering of the controversy. Some, like Rush Limbaugh, have even speculated that the reason the Republican front-runner wavered on denouncing the Klan is because he didn’t want to alienate any of his supporters. (RELATED: Limbaugh Suggests Trump Didn’t Disavow KKK So He Doesn’t ‘Tick Off’ Potential Voters)
While there is a lot of present concern over the Klan, the group is in reality incredibly small and irrelevant. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the KKK only boasts about 3,000 members.
To put this in perspective, far more people believe they have been abducted by aliens than claim allegiance to the Klan. Hundreds of thousands of Americans believe they have been taken by extraterrestrials. One support group for alien abductees says it receives 1500 reports per year of involuntary UFO contact.
Additionally, groups of a much more frivolous nature than white supremacy are far larger than the Klan. The number of adherents to the Jedi religion — a faith inspired by Star Wars — is 175,000 in the United Kingdom alone.
Pastafarianism, a religion created to worship a Flying Spaghetti Monster, has thousands of devotees in the U.S. The Church of the SubGenius, a parody religion which teaches its members are descended from the Yeti and predicts an alien race is set to invade Earth soon, claims to have 10,000 members worldwide.
And it’s not just joke groups that have more members than the KKK.
The Flat Earth Society, an organization created to revert science back several centuries, has an estimated 3,500 members.
In spite of its pathetic numbers, the KKK likely receives heavy media attention because it serves as a useful tool for the Left to tar Republicans as racists. Searching through The Huffington Post’s “Ku Klux Klan” category, you’ll find many articles trying to connect to the Republicans to Klansmen. An example includes: “WATCH: What Homophobic Politicians’ Recent Rhetoric Has in Common With the Ku Klux Klan’s.”
Before the KKK disavowal controversy, two black men dressed up as Trump-supporting Klansmen outside of a Nevada caucus site last week in an apparent attempt to make it appear the racist group was campaigning for the Republican. (RELATED: Media, Twitter Freak Out About Probably Fake KKK Trump Backers)
During his presidential campaigns in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was hounded by the media about what his thoughts were on the KKK because some members of the organization endorsed him for president. Reagan forcefully disavowed the endorsement.
Oddly enough for all the attention on supposed connections between the GOP and the KKK, the two most prominent Klansmen in American society post-World War II — besides David Duke — were Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. Both men were Democrats and avowed liberals.
As should be expected since the KKK has problems receiving support outside of its infinitesimal ranks.
Duke, its most famous living former member, disavowed the Klan in 1980 due to the large number of members who did “stupid [and] violent things.”
Support for the KKK in its traditional home, the Southeast, is incredibly low. In a 2011 poll asking respondents in Deep Southern states like Mississippi whether they prefer the KKK or the NAACP, the vast majority chose the black civil rights group. The very few people who selected the Klan when asked the question may have selected the option less out of support for white supremacy than out of opposition to the NAACP.
The KKK also appears to no longer have much of a known-presence in the Deep South. According to Charleston church shooter and white supremacist Dylann Roof, there were no groups in his area of South Carolina that shared his views.However, the Klan has had two high-profile rallies recently, but both marches attracted far more counter-protesters than supporters. Last weekend’s Klan gathering in Anaheim, California, which erupted in violence saw only a handful of white supremacists show up while over a hundred counter-protesters arrived to demonstrate their opposition.
After South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of its state capitol last summer, Klansmen decided to host a rally at that same state capitol. Only 50 showed up in support of the Klan, while 2,000 came to the capitol to oppose them.
The racist group once could boast membership in the millions and claim serious political power — in the 1920s. Prominent politicians could be in the Klan and still hold office. In the 21st century, though, the Klan seems to be just a few cranks who are brought up when the media needs a bogeyman.