“A Clarion Call To Real Patriots The World Over”: The Curious Case of the Ku Klux Klan of Kanada in New Brunswick during the 1920s and 1930s

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) movement in New Brunswick during the 1920s and 1930s reflected a broader trend of anti-Catholic sentiment in the Northeast. Local Protestant groups, such as the Orange Order and Conservative politicians, were linked with the Klan, which aimed to preserve a Protestant British identity in Canada. The Klan promoted nativist ideals, rejecting bilingualism and Catholic participation in politics while emphasizing traditional Anglo-Saxon values and Protestant morality.

Operating under the banner of “Patriotic-Protestantism,” the Klan presented itself as a moral force for societal betterment, advocating for the protection of traditional values and the sanctity of the home. It also expressed a militaristic approach, conducting studies to impose its will over Canada in case of conflict. The Klan’s tactics included extralegal activities, such as violence and intimidation, to enforce its worldview. Its emergence coincided with the rise of other right-wing movements during the Great Depression, which blamed ethnic and racial minorities for societal woes. This ideological basis for paramilitarism parallels the operational tactics observed in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), suggesting a potential link between the two in the pursuit of a unified national identity.

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“The Ku Klux Klan movement in New Brunswick in the 1920s and 1930s was part of a wave of anti-Catholicism in the Northeast. The supposedly American organization’s connections with local Protestants, such as the Orange Order and Conservative politicians, coupled with New Brunswick’s long history of anti-Catholicism, indicate that the Klan’s nativism was not foreign to the province. Instead, it was part of a region-wide response to a thriving Catholic population that challenged the Protestant, anglophone milieu. The Klan’s transnational “Patriotic-Protestantism” rejected bilingualism and Catholic participation in the political sphere while promoting traditional Anglo-Saxon values and Protestant morality.”

“As an organization dedicated to the preservation of a Protestant British identity in Canada, the Klan in New Brunswick placed a great deal of interest in the display of the flag and the maintenance of a traditional, Protestant identity. The 1920s and 1930s were transitional decades for the shaping of Canadian identity, as Canada’s evolution towards independence continued and ideas of continentalism, which saw Canada’s future as deeply intertwined with the United States and the western hemisphere as opposed to with its imperial brethren, became even more prominent. The declining fortunes of the British Empire after the First World War, its military disengagement from North America, and growing Canadian autonomy on the international stage all led Canadians to reconsider the utility of their ancestral devotion to the British and motivated “Canadians to develop a strong, shared sense of national identity – one new and distinctive, not simply a local version of British identity.” The Klan and the Orange Order participated in the debates over Canadian identity, coming down hard on the side of renewed Britishness and the promotion of traditional Anglo-Canadian values. The Klan sought to preserve the traditional nationalistic imagery of British North America.”

“The Ku Klux Klan of Kanada, the New Brunswick Klan’s parent organization, explicitly described itself as a chivalric force for the moral betterment of Canadian society. The Provisional Constitution and Laws declared “this Order is an institution of Chivalry, Humanity, Justice, and Patriotism embodying in its genius and principles all that is chivalric in conduct, noble in sentiment, generous in manhood and patriotic in purpose.” To this end, the Klan’s “peculiar objects are: first to protect the weak, the innocent and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs and outrages of the lawless, the violent and the brutal” – a bold claim coming from an organization most known in both the United States and Canada for pursuing terror campaigns against the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless. Nevertheless, this ideal colored their worldview. The Klan also declared that one of its primary objects was “to shield the sanctity of the home and the chastity of womanhood,” another attempt to revert society to a simpler, more traditional time before the rise of the liberated flapper in a jazz club. To this end, the Klan made “disrespect to virtuous womanhood” yet another major offense that could carry the punishment of banishment from the order.”

“In perhaps the most disturbing section about military matters, the Klan constitution describes the organization’s belief in the need for rationalistic, scientific studies of the Canadian population to facilitate its agenda to impose its will over the country in case of open military conflict, calling it “the duty of the military organization to make surveys of a social, educational, economic, religious and other conditions in the entire nation, to locate and determine the name, address, nationality, business relationships, political affiliations and activities, religious affiliations and activities and other general characteristics of each and every person in the entire nation.” The extreme readiness the Klan hoped to demonstrate in defense of “White, Gentile, Protestant civilization” portrays the movement less as a fraternal organization or nativist movement and more as a fascistic organization that deeply threatened both the rule of law and the monopoly of force held by the Canadian state. The Ku Klux Klan’s emergence in the 1920s and 1930s parallels the rise of fascism in Europe. Both the Klan and the European fascist parties saw themselves as forces meant to reshape the societies they saw around them. In his study on the rise of fascism as an ideological force across Europe, sociologist Michael Mann describes fascism as “the pursuit of a transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism.””

“In 1925 the Telegraph-Journal of Saint John reported that “the K.K.K. had a busy ‘week-end’ in Woodstock,” attacking more “houses, suspected of being disorderly, card rooms and illicit liquor joints.” This interest in the rougher side of society reflected the Klan’s self-image as a moral force and its willingness to engage in extralegal activities to demonstrate its worldview. The Klan made its presence known in New Brunswick during the conflict over Prohibition, and the police found that “in their fight against booze use and abuse, the forces of law and order had a powerful ally” that was willing to threaten, cajole, and make use of violence in its crusade against immorality and Catholicism. Violence and intimidation were means of cowing enemies and exciting allies, but more than that the Ku Klux Klan had tied these extralegal means of coercion, not so different than the random outbursts of hatred and violence endemic to human history, to a socio-political organization with an explicit vision for society. For the Klan as well as for fascists, “paramilitarism was violence, but it was always a great deal more than violence.””

““Patriotic-Protestantism” and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in New Brunswick and the rest of Canada also coincided with the rise of other right-wing movements across the country. During the calamitous Great Depression, many who were dispossessed by the collapsing economy were “drawn to the Fascist cause, an attraction reinforced by a willingness to blame certain ethnic or racial minorities for the people’s woes.” Jews were a major target of fascist attacks, as was the case in Europe, due in part to “the heightened social tensions wrought by economic crisis, and the widely broadcast histrionics of Adolf Hitler, which reinforced the image of Jews as permissible targets, [that] provided an opportunity, in the early depression years, for provocation and street action.” French-speaking Canada also faced the emergence of right-wing hate movements, as Quebec saw the rise of explicitly styled fascism led by Adrien Arcand. His fascist and nationalist parties and press organizations promoted the fear that “the twin processes of industrialization and urbanization had created large and telling strains on the province’s social and economic structures.” Arcand and others saw the need for “a national savior, a great leader at the helm of the right sort of party” – one who saw “the Jews, and the ‘Jewish problem,’ as the key to the mystery of the enslavement of not only his own noble and suffering people, but the world.””

Cline, T. “‘A Clarion Call To Real Patriots The World Over’: The Curious Case of the Ku Klux Klan of Kanada in New Brunswick During the 1920s and 1930s”. Acadiensis, vol. 48, no. 1, Mar. 2019, https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/Acadiensis/article/view/28985.