During the sixties, the Ku Klux Klan lost the battle over segregation and the federal government broke up the organization using the fourteenth amendment. Following their defeats, they regrouped to combat busing and blacks. Additionally, the poor economy provided hate groups with a pool of potential recruits. Lastly, they learned the lessons of the sixties and decentralized to make it harder for the government to clamp down. Although never totally defeated, this era’s Ku Klux Klan fell apart as a result of lawsuits.
After winning the battle for segregation and voting rights, the Civil Rights Movement focused on busing as a way to integrate. Many white suburbanites opposed busing. They did not want their kids to go to inner city schools nor did they want inner city school children in the suburbs. Of all places, liberal Boston provided the most opposition. The sometimes violent and often passionate busing battle reinvigorated the KKK.
Many white suburbanites worried about their future. The Vietnam War, Watergate, energy crisis, and a sagging economy shook their faith in the American system. As a result, they viewed busing as another shot at their status. Busing, affirmative action, and immigration meant a smaller slice of pie. This anxiety fueled the Klan resurgence.
The resurgent Ku Klux Klan continued the violent tradition of Klan‘s past. In 1971, they bombed public school buses in Pontiac, Michigan. In 1980, the Tennessee Klan murdered four elderly black women. In 1981, the group beat, hanged, and slit the throat of 19-year-old Michael Donald. The Klan committed many other similar crimes. However, victims struck back through the courts.
Beulah Mae Donald sued the Klan for her son’s death and won. The Southern Poverty Law Center launched a number of suits against the Ku Klux Klan for violence. Although criminal courts did not always convict, the trial lawyers managed to win several judgments. The lawsuits combined with FBI assaults severely weakened the Ku Klux Klan.
Law enforcement and lawsuits crushed this version of the Klan. By the eighties, the improving economy marginalized the group further. The Klan continued on, but increasingly became fodder for comedians and trash talk shows. By the late eighties, the once feared KKK was a national joke. However, they quickly retooled and returned in the nineties.
Although the third version of the KKK failed and lost the segregation battle, the group lived on through a fourth version. Essentially, this fourth version was simply an extension of their predecessor. They continued the hate and violence and attacked busing, affirmative action, and immigration. The FBI and civil rights attorneys helped bring down the fourth Klan through a combination of solid investigative techniques and lawsuits. By the mid-eighties, their efforts marginalized and bankrupted the Klan.