I was seven when I joined The Avengers. The secret club convened in near total darkness on a hot summer evening inside my dad's tool shed. After much secretive planning we formalized our eternal bond by reading a verse from the Bible while drinking blood (okay, so it was cherry Kool Aid). We vowed to tell no one of our covert activities. Then we all went home. It's hard to sustain lifelong loyalty on a Dixie Cup of Kool Aid, especially when you have an 8:30 curfew.
Joining a secret club is a childhood ritual almost all of us have experienced. But for some people, the lure of membership in a covert organization continues into adulthood where it often takes on a sinister purpose. For example, members of the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, one of America's first organized hate groups, solemnly vowed to reply “I know nothing” to any questions about their clandestine activities and also to despise newly arrived Catholic immigrants. Likewise, members of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the Knights of the White Camellia originally wore elaborate robes and hoods not only to shroud the identity of members but also to look like terrifying ghosts as they rode through African American neighborhoods in the dead of night.