THEY are now a by-word for racism and synonymous with violence, but 100 years ago the Ku Klux Klan were media innovators who used movies to “normalise” their prejudice, a new book claims.

Dr Tom Rice of St Andrews University says the KKK grew to become a national political and social force by using the media to create a “buzz”.

But the family-friendly Christian reputation it tried to create became increasingly extreme as its popularity dwindled.

Rice, whose book White Robes, Silver Screens: Movies and the Making of the Ku Klux Klan is published this week, says parallels can be seen with the use of social media by far-right and terrorist groups today.

He said the group’s popularity increased after it hired publicists in the 1920s, growing to five million members. He added: “Here was a reactionary, conservative organisation, publishing newspapers and producing films and radio shows, that owned theatres and staged plays. It had its own bands and baseball teams, a university, a successful women’s group and a strong presence in local Protestant churches.

“The Klan used film to recruit members, shape public behaviour and define its role within society.

“They were at the cutting-edge of what we understand today as PR. Had social media existed at the time, they would certainly have utilised it to its full effect.”

Rice said comparisons could be drawn between the KKK’s use of film and the media output of groups including Daesh, who have produced videos of beheadings, and of Britain First, whose images celebrating St Andrews Day have been widely shared on Facebook.

He told The National: “The Klan were certainly very conscious of the audience their films were intended for. They were not massively different from the kinds of films of the time in the cinema. They were trying to reach the general public.

“They weren’t saying they were anti anything, they were saying they were 100 per cent American, as well as things like ‘we want to protect women and children’ – things that it is hard to argue against.

“They tapped into all the anxieties of America at the time.

“It is only when it becomes a much smaller, marginalised group it becomes more extreme in the language used. There is a shift in the 1930s.

“In 1933 the Klan paper ran a story which ended ‘Holyrood certainly needs a Hitler’.”

“They are marginalised now. The response to that is they have become more extreme again.

“What is striking is we can see how right-wing groups use the media to make their values seem relatively normal and make them become relatively acceptable. We can see that in 21st-century America.

“In the ways in which extremist groups and even terrorist groups use film, we can see the importance of film in projecting a message around the world. The power of film is incredible, and it was 100 years ago as well.”