by: Paul Boyd Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Southern Poverty Law Center said there are currently 16 white nationalist hate groups operating in North Carolina, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
The founder of a popular neo-Nazi website has been linked to Charlotte but the majority of the hate groups operate in rural North Carolina counties.
Experts said North Carolina remains one of the most active states in the country for white nationalist groups.
David Goldfield, a professor of history at UNC Charlotte, is also a respected historian and author of "America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation" and "Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History."
Goldfield said the KKK has broadened its attack beyond the black community and merged on some levels with other white nationalist groups.
"They amplify their numbers and their influence by joining these other groups and that's what you saw this weekend," Goldfield said. "Their membership has waxed and waned, depending upon national, political, social and economic conditions (but) a number of studies have indicated that actually the largest Klan membership is in North Carolina."
The Ku Klux Klan has taken on various forms over the past 150 years in North Carolina and other historians believe there were upwards of 10,000 KKK members in the state in the 1960s during the peak of civil rights protests.
"The movement in North Carolina was consistently violent," Goldfield said.
In November 1979, members of the KKK attacked protesters in Greensboro. Five people were killed that day.
There have also been tense protests on the streets of uptown Charlotte in recent history.
The KKK and neo-Nazi groups held a rally in 2012 that was met with counter protesters wearing clown outfits.
There was no violence that day, in stark contrast to Charlottesville over the weekend.
Goldfield believes President Donald Trump's "America First" message has emboldened hate groups.
"It wasn't that they didn't exist before Donald Trump, it's just that they become more bold," Goldfield said.
The history professor hopes Americans look at the Declaration of Independence now for guidance.
"'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and we should live by that creed," Goldfield said.
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