IT is tempting to think of the Ku Klux Klan as a faded remnant of America's bitter past, a southern redneck anachronism that has died a long-overdue death. Wrong. The Klan is alive and well, boasting tens of thousands of members across the country, burning crosses and still sporting those white hooded cloaks that make its 'knights' look like satanic cross-dressers. The Klan is even driving its pick-up truck down the information superhighway, offering an array of web sites (including www.kkk.com , of course) and attempting to recruit a new generation of inbred white men to what it calls the 'fifth era' of its history. The web sites make for some fascinating reading whenever The New York Times crossword gets too tricky. One offers some enlightening articles, including 'Does the Klan hate Negroes?', 'Abolish the Martin Luther King Holiday', and, of course, 'Homosexuals at your door'. If lay-persons ever wondered why Klannies, who call themselves Christians, have a particular penchant for burning crosses, you can find the answer here. 'The Klan Crosslighting represents the Light of Jesus Christ, who died for the White Aryan Race,' it says. Interesting, even if the news that the Son of God was not a Jew after all comes as something of a surprise. There is a reason that an organisation which made its name lynching innocent blacks from trees and fighting violently against civil rights reforms of the 1960s is permitted to spread its gospel to the public: it is called the First Amendment. In America, not only the good guys have complete freedom of speech. Thirty years ago, the First Amendment was not the only factor protecting the Klan as it went about its business. Ingrained racial prejudices meant that in the deep South at least, the justice system was ill-equipped to tackle the crimes perpetrated by Klan members. Take Samuel Bowers, who went on trial four times in Mississippi for the fire-bombing murder of a black man, Vernon Dahmer, in 1966. In each of those trials, the juries failing to reach a verdict were all-white. Bowers understood this; as the 'Imperial Wizard' of the state's KKK at the time, he had ordered his underlings to kill Dahmer because he was using his small store to encourage local blacks to sign up to vote. When his men expressed fear of being caught, Bowers told them not to worry because no white man would convict a fellow white of killing a black. Bowers is, however, finally going to have to trade in his fancy hood for the regulation uniform of the Mississippi State Correctional department. A jury of six blacks, five whites and one Asian convicted him on Friday of murdering Dahmer, and he will go to jail for life. Some fear the trial has reopened all the old wounds of the racial hatred that plagued the South. But the verdict may at least suggest that Mississippi - the poorest and still one of the most racially-divided states - is coming into line with the rest of America. It also serves as a wake-up call that the Klan is still capable of much more than brandishing its shotgun in cyberspace. Across the border in Louisiana last week, the FBI was investigating a death threat against a white lawyer, Bill Quigley, by an anonymous Klan member. Mr Quigley's crime? Being a white civil rights activist and having the temerity to stand for a slot on the state's Supreme Court. Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first cable channel to cater to African-Americans wanting black-oriented programmes, wins nearly as many viewers as MTV. Why then do commercial slots on the music channel cost as much as six times as on BET? In a similar vein, there are several black magazines that enjoy a circulation as healthy as many general interest publications, but receive far less advertising. Could it be that the nation's producers of cars, headache pills and soap powder do not care whether black people buy their products? Whatever the reason for the racial discrepancies in advertisement-buying, Washington has opened a probe to look into it. The investigation, by the Federal Communication Commissions (FCC) - which is now for the first time in history headed by a black man - wants to find out whether companies and their advertising representatives avoid minority-owned broadcasters and print outlets in favour of the white audience. Robert Johnson, who has made millions from founding BET despite the apparent bias, is angry about the situation. 'Advertisers simply don't place the same value on black consumers as on white consumers,' he told the Washington Post. Black and Hispanic media folk recently formed a coalition to challenge advertisers and their agencies, and have held meetings with corporate giants such as PepsiCo and several New York ad agencies. The agencies have always claimed that what drives their placement of ads are not race or income factors, but ratings, ratings, ratings. But the industry was embarrassed by the recent revelation of an internal memo from a media company which encouraged advertising agents not to place ads with radio stations playing 'urban music' - translation: rap. This is all rather ironic, since if it were not for the phenomenal success of rap music over the past decade, the white cigar-chompers who run the nation's white-owned record companies would all be out of a job. The FCC has no power to do anything, even if its probe finds evidence of bias. But at the very least its findings might induce a touch of white guilt on Madison Avenue.