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MEN WITH POINTY HATS ARE BACK.

Byline: MARIEL GARZA

IN recent decades, the once-formidable Ku Klux Klan has devolved from a force of fear into a force of farce in the mind of many Americans.

Once the sight of a group of grown men gathering in white sheets and pointy hats was a scary thing to behold. Nowadays, not so much. Such an event might only inspire a film-school student with a camera phone and a plan for a YouTube masterpiece set to the musical stylings of Alvin and The Chipmunks.

It was only natural that the influence of a hate-mongering organization such as the KKK would fade into obscurity once the nation moved away from discriminating against people on the basis of the color of their skin.

For a short time in the late 20th century, that big old well of hate we drink from regularly ran just a little bit low. Maybe it was the strong state of the economy. What's the point in a race war when just about everyone can afford a big-screen television and McD's?

Sadly, it seems that level in that ol' hate well is rising again, due in large part to resentment whipped up by the stalled immigration reform debates. And, consequently, so is the Klan.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League sounded the alarm saying that Klan membership and activity are on the rise. But this time, the group's got a new bogeyman -- Mexicans and other Hispanic immigrants.

Not to worry; the Klan still hates Jews and blacks just a much as always, not to mention the gays. It's just that the state of immigration has got people thumping mad these days. Hate groups, with their bad-news radars, haven't failed to notice.

"They're very good at looking for current hot-button issues," said Deborah Lauter, national civil-rights director for the ADL, "and immigration is one of those issues. If you look at history of the Klan, it's done well in periods of increased immigration in the last century."

It was news to me, because I assumed the Klan was a relic of the past. But, according to the ADL report, 2006 was a pretty good year for Klan chapters across the nation, which held a number of pep rallies, recruiting drives and expanded their presence in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.

The ADL has been at times just as controversial as the groups it documents. And it has been accused more than once of finding anti-Semitism where none exists. But this time, I don't believe the organization is crying wolf.

For one thing, I can tell just from my own e-mail inbox that there's a deep vein of anger and fear about the millions of Mexican and Central Americans who have settled in the United States, both legal and not. Any smart racist organization, even one of yesterday, would recognize the anger fueled by last year's stalled immigration-reform debate is something to capitalize on.

And for another thing, the two of the largest and most active Klan groups agree that the ADL assessment is right on target. Though, what else are they going to say?

Matthew Roberts, a spokesman for the Imperial Klans of America, which has chapters in 30 states, told me that membership in his group has more than doubled in the past year. While he wouldn't provide actual numbers, he noted that frustration over immigration was a big factor driving membership. "Immigration is opening people's eyes," he said.

The Brotherhood of Klans, or BOK, responded only via e-mail, noting its response to the ADL report on its Web page. "BOK KKK is growing daily and that is no exaggeration! We receive applications daily because people are becoming more patriotic and realizing their great land means a lot to them," the statement reads.

Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the ADL, said while the Klan has expanded its reach, it still doesn't have much presence in California. But don't think that's good news. The reason may be that California already has so many anti-immigrant groups competing for membership.

Anyhow, there have always been many compelling reasons why lawmakers should stop talking about fixing the country's broken immigration system and do it already. Now they have another reason: It sure would deflate the newly pumped up Klan to lose such a hot cause.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 11, 2007
Words:715
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