Over the past four months, "Nightline" has been granted rare access to the Klan -- its rituals, its members, its message of racial segregation, which it spreads with a new urgency.
"We have to protect ourselves, or they will kill us!" Steven Howard, a Grand Wizard, said.
To get to the heart of it, we headed south to meet Howard, the Grand Wizard of the Mississippi White Nights of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the klavern made famous in the film "Mississippi Burning." The area is scarred by the battles -- the lynchings and church bombings -- of the civil rights era. A jail was named after Martin Luther King Jr.
The area is also home to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is in Montgomery, Ala. Senior Fellow Mark Potok and his SPLC colleagues have been fighting the KKK in courtrooms and classrooms for decades.
Potok agreed with some Klan members' view that President Obama had been the Klan's most effective recruiting tool in the past four or five years.
"I think there's some truth to that," Potok told "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden. "Immediately after Obama was elected, we saw two of the largest hate websites in the country crash."
Potok said they had seen the Klan rise, fall and rise again. By the late 1980s, it had dwindled to a few hundred. But now, the story is very different.
"The Klan and other [similar] groups grew pretty significantly by our account," Potok said. "Six hundred groups in the year 2000 to 1,018 last year."
"And that's not the half of it," he continued. "Militia groups have come back, and have come back with a force that is amazing."
The aforementioned Grand Dragon is Steven Howard, 31. We followed him to a remote spot with a trailer next to the woods. Cell phone service was spotty. Howard's wife, Nicole, was cooking and serving food, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a regular Saturday-night barbecue. The Howards' 11-year-old daughter was there.
"You cannot get any better southern dish than what you get here!" Howard said.
When the interview began, the regular feeling ended.
"Black people and white people are nowhere related," Howard said. "In my opinion, black people evolved from animals. That's what I think they evolved from: apes."
"[You] can't trust [blacks] -- it's just facts. It's just facts, you can't trust them. You can't trust them," Howard said.
Later, Klanspeople gather in the remote location for what they call a "cross lighting." It is legal in the woods, on private property. It is punishable with 10 years in federal prison if done on a black resident's lawn.
Torches were wrapped, the cross prepared. The air reeked of kerosene.
"This is what we call the Klan cologne," Howard said.
Howard explained the ritual that would unfold when evening came.
"Through lighting the cross we signify that the cross is the light of the world, and we purify our race and we purify our people. ... We're lighting crosses to let people know that America is in turmoil right now, and there is people here to protect the Ku Klux Klan, and that's what we're here to do."
His fellow Klansman, who asked not to have his face shown on camera for fear he'd be fired from his job, resumed preparations for the evening's rituals.
"You're wearing the robes of traditional terrorists, traditional haters," McFadden said.
"That's just the outlook that they want to give you," the man answered. "That ain't truth; not everybody was like that."
Did he think he was being a good Christian?
"Yeah, this is state of Christianity. This is our Christianity ... plain and simple."
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