Thursday, September 17, 2020
Sam Brunson (Loyola-Chicago), Addressing Hate: Georgia, the IRS, and the Ku Klux Klan:
In 1944, the Ku Klux Klan officially suspended its operations. Two years later, it had entirely ended. In part this was the inevitable result of a decade of declining influence and membership. In part, though, it was the result of actions by the federal government and the state of Georgia.
In 1916 the Ku Klux Klan incorporated as a Georgia fraternal organization, following a model of the Masons and other fraternal organizations. It also claimed to be a tax-exempt fraternal beneficiary society under the new federal income tax. These legal statuses provided the Klan with legal rights and benefits and also shrouded it in a cloak of respectability: it could claim that it was not merely a terroristic white supremacist group, but that it provided fraternal benefits to its members and the surrounding community.
Its incorporation and tax status provided it with benefits, it also imposed obligations on the organization. The Klan ultimately proved incapable of meeting these requirements. It violated the terms of its corporate charter and of tax exemption as a fraternal beneficiary society. The Bureau of Internal Revenue assessed a $685,305 tax on the Klan and, when the Klan did not pay, filed a lien. The state of Georgia in turn revoked its corporate charter. While these moves did not cause the second Klan’s death, they did seal its death.
This Article relates the story of the Klan’s corporate and tax statuses.
It focuses on this story both because the story has never been related in any detail and because it provides a perspective on how government can deal with contemporary white nationalist groups without violating the Constitution.