They appear out of the darkness, men and women moving across a field carrying flaming torches, white hoods covering their heads. After forming a circle, in broken English they swear allegiance to "white power" – to the white race and the nation. Then they light a cross as high as a man. This is a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the secret racist American organization known for lynching blacks.

But this gathering didn’t take place somewhere in the American South. It took place in Germany, probably some time around February 2011, and the German branch of the KKK posted a video of it on the Internet.

The club of hooded racists was founded some 150 years ago, after the American Civil War ended, by officers of the defeated Confederate army. They refused to accept the North’s victory, and even less the abolition of slavery and newfound rights for black.

Led by their Grand Wizard, clansmen wearing long white robes and hoods chased down blacks and either tarred and feathered them or hung them from the nearest tree. The Klan's trademark is a burning cross. Its message is racial hatred. The cross stands for the light of Jesus: the secret organization sees itself as Christian.

Its racist missionaries have been successful in Germany where there are reports of several KKK branches or "realms" as they’re known in Klan jargon. And one of those branches caught the attention of investigators on the recent right-wing terror case of the Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) because two members of the police – colleagues of Michèle Kiesewetter, the policewoman shot in 2007 in Heilbronn allegedly by NSU killers – belonged to it.

The Ku Klux Klan had been trying to get solid foothold in Germany for years. The first meeting of masked men is said to have taken place in the early 20th century in Berlin. After World War II ended, crosses were found burning in some locations where the American army had bases – certain American GIs brought their southern racial hatred with them to Germany.

In the 1960s, there was press speculation putting the number of active KKK members in Germany at around 2,000. One alleged member told the Munich newspaper Abendzeitung that the southern German city was "the bastion of the Ku Klux Klan in Europe, it’s the foreign headquarters of our secret organization."

White hoods and Nazi salutes

German Neo-Nazis soon after took up KKK ideology and symbolism. After an attack on a home for asylum seekers in Neuenrade (North Rhine-Westphalia) in 1991, "KKK Herford" stickers were found in the possession of the accused. They depicted a hooded man with an ax, and next to the image was the address of a German branch of the KKK: POB 1747, Bielefeld.

The same stickers later appeared in pubs and affixed to street lamp posts in the Ruhr region. In the fall of 1991, then KKK leader Dennis Mahon travelled to Germany to take part in a nighttime meeting held in a forested are near Königs-Wusterhausen (Brandenburg).

Some 50 hooded men turned up, burned a cross -- and Mahon spoke rapturously of his clan and its collaboration with German Neo-Nazis. Together, he said, they were building a "terror front."

Currently, the Internet yields traces of at least four alleged KKK groups in Germany. One, in Berlin, is led by a person who has dubbed himself “Archbishop” and is called “Reverend Imperial Wizard” by his followers. On the web, he claims to have received the Klan's highest distinction. He also claims he’s not a racist. Authorities say his handful of followers are under surveillance by the police and the secret service.

But where does the surveillance end? And where does a certain complicity between Klan and state begin? Two higher-ups in the organization are said to have worked as informants for the secret service. One of them, who went under the name of "Piato," was involved in the Königs-Wusterhausen cross burning. He was also one of the Neo-Nazis who, a few months later, beat an asylum seeker to near death. While in custody pending trial, Piato is said to have begun cooperating with authorities.

Another informant – called "Corelli" in secret service documents – was also active in Klan circles. His real name was on an address list hidden by NSU terrorist Uwe Mundlos in 1998 in a garage. And now, in Baden-Württemberg, there is speculation as to whether a long-standing German KKK leader was also a secret informant. All this has awakened the interest of the NSU inquiry committee in Berlin, and they want to know more about the German KKK. Committee member Hartfrid Wolff even goes so far as to ask: "Were there any members who weren’t informant for the police or secret service?"

There were also points of contact between the KKK and the NSU. In the mid-1990s, some 20 Neo-Nazis met near Jena and burned crosses. Included in their number were NSU terrorist Uwe Böhnhardt, his girlfriend Beate Zschäpe, and alleged NSU supporter Ralf Wohlleben. The state prosecutor’s office in Gera filed a suit after they found photographs in Zschäpe’s possession showing a burning cross and people giving the Nazi salute.