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Aspiring KKK member killedThe Ku Klux Klan is emerging from decades of disorganization and obscurity, and the turnaround is acutely evident — more than 200 hate-related incidents have been reported since the Nov. 4 election. By Howard Witt Reporting from Bogalusa, La. – Barely three weeks since America elected its first black president, noose hangings, racist graffiti and death threats have struck dozens of towns across the country. More than 200 such incidents — including cross burnings, assassination betting pools and effigies of President-elect Barack Obama — have been reported, according to law enforcement authorities and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. Racist websites have been boasting that their servers have been crashing because of an exponential increase in traffic. And America’s most potent symbol of racial hatred, the Ku Klux Klan, is reasserting itself in a spate of recent violence, after decades of disorganization and obscurity. Nearly two weeks ago, the leader of a cell based in Bogalusa, La. — a backwoods town once known as the Klan capital — was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of a woman who allegedly sought to become a member but then changed her mind. Late last month, two men with ties to a notoriously violent Klan chapter in Kentucky were charged in a bizarre plot to kill 88 black students and then decapitate an additional 14 students — and then assassinate Obama by shooting him from a speeding car while wearing white tuxedos and top hats. “We’ve seen everything from cross burnings on lawns of interracial couples to effigies of Obama hanging from nooses to unpleasant exchanges in schoolyards,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala. “I think we’re in a worrying situation right now, a perfect storm of conditions coming together that could easily favor the continued growth of these groups.” Experts attribute the racist activity to factors including the rapidly worsening economic crisis; trends indicating that within a generation whites will not comprise a U.S. majority; and the impending arrival of a black family in the White House. The FBI is investigating whether the recent Klan-related incidents involve conspiracies. And the Secret Service is monitoring the racist activity “to try to stay ahead of any emerging threats,” according to spokesman Darrin Blackford. One white supremacist leader, describing himself as moderate, professes alarm. “There is a tremendous backlash” to Obama’s election, said Richard Barrett, the leader of the Nationalist Movement in Learned, Miss. “My focus is to try to keep it peaceful. But many people look at the flag of the Republic of New Africa that will be hoisted over the White House as an act of war.” The FBI has no hate-crime statistics yet for 2008. But based on local media reports, some experts are calling the rise in hate incidents surprising and unprecedented. “The rhetoric right now is just about out of control,” said Brian Levin, director of Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “When you get this depth of hatred, it usually is the smoke before the fire.”
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