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Ku Klux Klan 'without robes' makes headlines, but influence fading, anti-hate group says

The Ku Klux Klan has been in the news in recent days in some dramatic ways.

A KKK rally turned violent in Anaheim over the weekend, leading to a dozen arrests. And Donald Trump has generated criticism for his mixed response to being endorsed by former KKK leader David Duke.

But for all the headlines, the KKK as a force is clearly on the decline, experts said. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members left. The center's map of KKK groups show three in California, two in the Central Valley and one in Northern California.

"Since the 1970s the Klan has been greatly weakened by internal conflicts, court cases, a seemingly endless series of splits and government infiltration," the group said. "While some factions have preserved an openly racist and militant approach, others have tried to enter the mainstream, cloaking their racism as mere 'civil rights for whites.'"

Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said the apparent ringleader of the Anaheim rally was William Quigg.

Quigg is the leader of the Loyal White Knights in California and other western states, a sect of the hate group that aims to raise awareness about immigration, terrorism and street crime, Levin said. They see themselves as a “Klan without robes” and model themselves after Duke, the Louisiana-based former grand wizard of the Klan, Levin said.

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Indeed, the Loyal White Knights' website claims the organization is not a "hate group." Rather, it claims to want to help restore America as a "white Christian nation." The group says it hates homosexuality, drugs and "race mixing."

The KKK's activities have been sporadic in Southern California in recent years. Last summer, at least 100 residents of Whittier and Fullerton awoke to find packets containing KKK fliers, rife with racist rhetoric, and candy in their driveways. A Santa Ana neighborhood was also blanketed with KKK fliers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day last year, police said.

An eight-foot-high cross was burned outside the home of a black man in Anaheim Hills in 2003, and the FBI investigated the case as a hate crime, but police did not specifically link that case to the KKK.

At a rally in Anaheim on Monday night, residents said the Klan had no place in their city.

The crowd cheered when Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait climbed to the podium to thank everyone for making "a loud statement" with their presence. The KKK members, he said, "have a right to their views and beliefs, but that doesn't mean they're welcomed here."

Ann Nguyen, the vice president of the Interfaith Council for the cities of Garden Grove, Westminster and Stanton, said the violence called for people to be “vigilant in our peacemaking.”

"We don't accept violence. It doesn't matter who started it. We need to work on listening and learning from each other,” Nguyen said.

While the event drew activists who have been participating in peace marches for generations, it also attracted the fresh energy of the young.

Priscilla Hernandez and Sarah Rubalcaba, seniors at Katella High School, cheered the older speakers' messages while waving a sign condemning the KKK. The classmates made the poster using Photoshop after experiencing "so much disappointment at the violence that is never the answer," Sarah said.

"Honestly, the people committing such acts could have handled it with much more class,” she said. “They could have used the teachings of Martin Luther King to solve the situation.”

Supporters praised Anaheim, citing Tait’s initiative to foster a “city of kindness.” Others noted the city’s readiness to begin holding district elections that will allow more proportional representation of ethnic communities. The city's population is more than 50% Latino.

Shelby Grad contributed to this report.

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