Did you know that the Ku Klux Klan operated in Alberta— with thousands of members, a newspaper published out of downtown Edmonton, and regular picnics, parades and marches? Anti-racist activist Jason Devine joins Team Advantage to explore the strange history of the KKK in Alberta, and discuss how these historical forms of white supremacy have contributed to implicit and explicit forms of white supremacy today.
The Ku Klux Klan in Canada A Century of Promoting Racism and Hate in the Peaceable Kingdom – Allan Bartley
Perry, Barbara, and Ryan Scrivens. “Uneasy alliances: A look at the right-wing extremist movement in Canada.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 39.9 (2016): 819-841.
Anti-Racist Canada blog.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I am your host, Kate Jacobson, and joining Team Advantage today we have Roberta —
Kate: Joel —
Joel: Hello, hello.
Kate: And are joined by special guest Jason Devine. Jason, thank you for joining us here on The Alberta Advantage.
Jason: Thank you. Thank you for having me on.
Kate: We’ve assembled today to talk about what, for many people, will be a shocking part of Alberta’s history: the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan burned crosses in a number of towns and cities in Alberta, helped elect the mayor of Edmonton, had picnics in public parks, intimidated journalists, kidnapped people, and broke up a major strike. Now, we’ve talked a bit about this history before on the podcast —specifically, we had Bashir Mohamed on the podcast in February of 2019 to go through some of these details — but we wanted to take a more thorough look at the Klan’s activities in Alberta for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Klan, and organized white supremacy in general, often gets depicted as belonging to the southern United States and being an American concern that occasionally gets imported across the border into Canada, but that’s not really the case, nor is it really a particularly useful analytic framework, as we’re going to explore this episode. The Klan lived here, organized here, they had thousands of members, and they printed a newspaper, so it’s not just a few white-hood enthusiasts that we’re talking about. The second big thing here is that white supremacy has been a part of Canada’s history since the initial project of colonization began. There’s this tendency in liberal or mainstream discourse to talk about Canada as this big multicultural mosiaic-esque project where everyone is welcome and equal, but that’s just not reality; Canada has always wanted a very certain kind of person to live here, and even those people they wanted to behave in very particular ways, and it established a kind of racial hierarchy of who — and from where — is going to fit in best and who wouldn’t. And, based on those assumptions, Canada actually becomes a very easy place for white supremacists to organize, because they just take these same assumptions that are the backdrop and the building blocks of this country forward and add a few extra steps. The last thing that I’m going to bring up before we dive into the episode is that white supremacist organizing is not consigned to the dustbin of history. This isn’t something that happened in the past but not anymore and things are cool now — white supremacists are still around, and they are still organizing. In the run-up to the 2019 provincial election, UCP candidates for Edmonton West Henday posed in photos with Soldiers of Odin members. In March of 2019, VICE reported that the Three-Percenters, which are a nationwide, anti-Islam, far-right militia that conducts paramilitary-style training — all a very worrying string of words — has its largest chapter in Alberta. And, in July of this year, a Calgary sailor with neo-Nazi ties was readmitted to the Canadian Navy. So, it’s not just a historical phenomenon, it’s also a contemporary phenomenon with a long historical lineage.
Roberta: Alberta is particularly susceptible to the formation and success of white supremacist organizations, and there’s some really good academic work on right-wing extremism in Canada from the academics Perry and Scrivens if you’re looking for more information on this. They talk about “…three core structural patterns that seem to enable the growth and sustainability of [right-wing extremist] groups” in Canada. Looking into these, Alberta has all of them in spades. The first of these structural patterns that Perry and Scrivens talk about is historical normativity of racism — so, the idea that Canada was formed initially around an anti-Indigenous racism and settler-colonialism, the expulsion of Indigenous peoples from the land, and the discrimination against peoples who had already lived here. During this time of Canada’s development, and Alberta’s development in particular, we see the importation of a racial hierarchy of settlement that really plays out in immigration codes and other sorts of legal and extra-parliamentary ways of dealing with these waves of immigrants coming in to displace Indigenous peoples. So, at the top of this hierarchy are the white/Protestant/British, primarily, people — sometimes, western Europeans might be included in this — but, really, the idea of Canada at the beginning is that it’s going to be this white, Protestant, and British nation. In Alberta, second to that would probably be American immigrants, who were seen as close enough to British and, in this area, had good experience with farming and ranching in particular and so were seen as good settlers for this territory. After that, we see this hierarchy, privilege, and economic model where people who can handle farming in cold climates are allowed to settle in Canada and encouraged to settle, and so you see big populations of Ukrainians, the Finnish, Mennonites in various waves; you see some Icelandic settlement as well. Then after that, we probably could slot in white Catholics. This one’s hard to slot into this racial hierarchy because they’re white, so, clearly, above many other groups, but Catholic — so, not as appealing to a Protestant nation as it’s developing. This would include groups like the Irish, French, and we see groups like the Orange Order emerge — in Ontario especially, but also out west here. They really were anti-Catholic and anti-Irish in particular. And I want to mention two other exclusionary pieces in this hierarchy of settlement because, once we get past white Protestant British Americans and farmers — and then white Catholics are kind of okay — then we hit the southern European like Italians and Greeks who, at the time, were not considered white. And I think this is an important thing to talk about, that the idea and the definition of “white” changes quite dramatically and that many people who came to Canada were not considered white and now would consider themselves part of that category. It’s an interesting dynamic. And then, finally, a real exclusion category — I talk about this when I talk about immigration into Canada, and I ask people why they think they might justify excluding people from Africa or freed slaves or other from around the world? And the justification was that black people can’t handle living in cold climates, they just couldn’t do it, and that Chinese and Indian and other Asian immigrants would never be assimilated, they were criminals and opiate dealers, and that they were untrustworthy in society. So, right from the beginning of Canada, the point here is, in the settlement of Alberta and the west, there was this built-in assumption about racial hierarchy and who fits and who doesn’t.
Kate: The other two core structural patterns that Perry and Scrivens note is a political climate of intolerance. I really understand this as the larger context of white supremacy as it exists in Canada, and I’ve always been very much taken by the idea of Canada as the liberal, imperial project, and if you understand Canada to be, basically, a project of liberal imperialism, you also understand it to be a project of white supremacy. So this leads to a political climate that gives people permission to do these things — things like the way our immigration is structured, the way our legal systems and the prison system is structured, the Indian Act, all those types of things. These are part of a political climate of intolerance that gives people the ability, and the social and political license, to behave in these ways. Because the thing with the KKK is — absolutely, they are a type of white supremacy that is, for most people, beyond what is normal, accepted, tolerated, white supremacy, but they are reliant on a foundation and a structure of the type of white supremacy that is tolerated. And then the last thing that Perry and Scrivens bring up is weak law enforcement frameworks. Basically, organizations that are white supremacist in outlook and origin find it very easy to organize in Alberta with little interference from law enforcement, and Alberta is seen as a very hospitable place to white supremacist organizing. So, you basically get this over- and under-policing of racialized people that happens where you get an under-policing, in a very drastic way, of hate crimes against racialized people, but you also get an over-policing of visible minorities and of communities that are primarily comprised of visible minorities. All of those things, taken together, are basically these key structural patterns that enable these groups to exist and to sustain themselves and to grow and get bigger.
Roberta: I think it’s worth noting here, too, that these are issues that are relative to every province in Canada — there are white supremacist organizations and various groups all across the country, but Alberta in particular follows these three structural realities to a tee. The historical normativity of racism is the core of the entire settlement of the west. There’s been strong, strong political climates of intolerance for decades — and we’ll talk about some of those as we get into the details here — and this idea that many white supremacists find Ontario, quote, “too hot.” The law enforcement actually cracks down there, but they can manage to function in Alberta. So I think it’s important to note that these issues are relevant or important to the whole entire country, but Alberta also has a very particular and very strong connection to these core systemic issues that lead to white supremacy.
Joel: So, the first major formation of the KKK in Alberta arrives to us from the United States in 1921, and overwhelmingly their goal is to keep Canada British. It’s got this thoroughly working class/Protestant vibe to it. They began selling memberships in Calgary, Edmonton, and several other cities and towns in southern Alberta, and by 1927 they claimed a membership of 1,000. There was Klan vigilante activity in Calgary — there was a particular incident where a Greek restaurant owner made unwanted advances on one of his female employees and then ended up kidnapped and threatened with deportation by members of the Klan. I also read about a near-riot that happened — at a Chinese restaurant, I believe. Membership and organizing took a bit of a pause in 1927 because the organizers disappeared with all of the membership funds, and so you see an example of that classic thing you love to see: right-wing grift where [laughs] organizers of right-wing movement run away with all of the money that they collected from all the suckers that donated to them.
Kate: I was going to say — this is the first indication of what is really a theme as soon as you start any close examination of any right-wing, and especially far right, project, is: so many of them are so evil, but they’re also such a grift at their core. They’re absolutely about grifting money out of people, and I find it very interesting that this is not only a contemporary phenomenon, but that this also true historically of white supremacists and far-right organizers.
Roberta: What it makes me wonder about them is: how much of this is intended as a financial grift, and the white supremacy ideological part is just seen as a sort of convenient backdrop for them to convince people to give them money or if they legitimately believe in these issues? Reading through some of the research, it almost does seem like the whole intention was really the financial grift part and they just knew that they could suck people in based on the “Canada Proud” — or “British proud,” I guess it would have been [laughs] considered at that point — concept, and you really do start to wonder how much of this is about capitalism and the grift versus actual hatred and discrimination. It’s a very strange connection between the two.
Jason: I’d say that we have to consider the fact that we should not not un-assume that many of these persons are true believers, that they really believe their ideology, they really believe what they’re saying. And I think it’s significant that what we might term the second core (or the leadership circles) themselves are generally made up of people who tend to be well-off, they have the money, they have the time to commit to this. But, undoubtedly, a lot of this grifting is being carried out by speakers, the ideological heads, and I think it is undoubtedly a good question — if they did ever believe it, at what point for them has the grift itself overcome that ideological hold on it? Because, at a certain point, they undoubtedly see their followers as suckers.
Kate: You also — and this is something that I am aware of in a more contemporary sense, and I’m unsure if it happened historically — often have far-right and white supremacist thinkers, when they get too outside the mainstream to be financially viable, try to rebrand and do some type of, “Actually, I believe in X, Y, and Z,” or, “This particular element went too far.” So there’s clearly a way in which they are conscious of the way they are using their followers and using their ideology as a way in order to make money, but I also agree with Jason that it’s very clear to me that the vast, vast, vast, overwhelming majority of these people are true believers who then have the ability to turn this hatred and white supremacy into a money-making tool for them rather than the other way around.
Roberta: Absolutely, and I think my bigger question is more about what that says the wider society and the ideas that are always brewing under the surface, that these people who, I agree, probably, at their core, really do believe that they are better and that they are supreme and should control society and the world, but the fact that they understand that racism and discrimination is a useful tool to make money says something bigger about our society and their particular focus. Because I think they could’ve made money in a variety of different ways, but they, I think I agree, believe in these values and ideas but also understand that there’s an appeal for the general Canadian population. And that, to me, is the scary part, is that they’re identifying that appeal very early on and understanding that they can make a shit ton of money from this.
Kate: Yeah. I guess the real thing that’s going on here, that is of interest, is that white supremacy is such a normalized part of Canadian society that there is a market for it, that it is a money-making opportunity. Of course, I think we can all agree that, even in the imagined liberal ideal of a good society, white supremacy should be so outside the pale — especially the outright type of white supremacy that these groups traffic in — that it should be impossible to make money off of it, yet we see that it clearly has such a purchase and a hold in society that there is literally a market for it.
Joel: Unfortunately. After this brief interruption in 1927, by 1929, a character by the name of J. J. Maloney comes to Alberta. His background was: originally, he was Catholic, but then he had a falling out with the Catholic church due to a number of incidents, and then he became rabidly anti-Catholic. He visits Alberta in July of 1929. He accepted an invitation from the local Orange Lodge in Vermilion; it was their July Twelfth picnic, which is a day of some significance for people who are really into the Orange Order. Roberta, could you tell me a bit about the Orange Order? What is it, and why was it what the Klan piggybacked off of?
Roberta: Sure. The Orange Order has a long history of, basically, anti-Irish, anti-Catholic sentiment in both the UK and its colonies, and it became a very important organizing tool for British imperialists and British white supremacists in Canada in particular when they could frame the whole concept of “the nation” as a British Protestant country. The Orange Order policed anybody who didn’t fit with that — so, they would do these big parades around and be proud of the British Protestant heritage, and any Catholics who were involved, they would try to get them blacklisted or pushed out of the economic sector and other sorts of things. And there was some violence that happens in Canada — most happens elsewhere — but the Orange Order is, really, this initial concept of British patriotism that, I think, really connects in through to this anti-Indigenous settler colonialism in the west where there’s this idea of trying to establish a particular type of nation that is very much connected to the motherland and particular ideological perspectives comic out of that territory.
Joel: So, July 1929. J. J. Maloney shows up in Vermilion, piggybacking off of this Orange Order event that’s happening. There’s a crowd of 4000 people that showed up to hear him, and visitors across Alberta come to the event. He gave what was, for him, a standard anti-Catholic speech. And it’s worth saying what the content of the Klan’s explicit ideology way — their official charter limited membership to “white Protestants” and was devoted to the principles of “Protestantism, pure patriotism, restrictive and selective immigration, one national public school, one flag and one language — English.” The Klan also sought to blame the immigrant population for every imaginable problem. The Klan opposed the “promiscuous use of French on the radio,”which I found to be very, very funny [laughs], and organized boycotts of Catholic businesses.
Kate: So, Klan membership in Alberta surged during 1932 as Maloney’s influence grew, and membership likely peaked around 8000, with the population of Alberta at the time being around 700,000. So, it is a not-insignificant portion of the population, certainly a militant minority. And there was also growing political unrest more generally, as the Depression deepened, in Alberta. J. J. Maloney, at this time, mostly focused his attacks on the Catholic church and French-speaking minorities across the Prairies. By spring 1932, Maloney was publishing a newspaper of his own in Edmonton; he called it the Liberator. And this is really important to underscore — the KKK was publishing a newspaper out of Edmonton in the 1930s. This is something that I feel like, when I say that string of words together, is going to come across as very surprising to a lot of people in Alberta; it’s not something that we learn about in schools. I think this is part of a deliberate project of white supremacy in the Prairies more specifically, this sort of learned naivete or learned innocence to the way in which racism, and the way in which white supremacy, has manifested across the Prairies.
Jason: On the question of numbers with regards to the Ku Klux Klan — I’ve seen numbers ranging from 4000, 5000, 6000, and so on. A thing to always remember with regards to white supremacist organizations — again, regardless of decade — they always have a propensity to exaggerate their numbers, to exaggerate their reach. I’ve seen a number thrown out there with regards to Maloney’s newspaper, the Liberator, that it had a press run of 250,000. That, undoubtedly, is also exaggerated, but when you consider the fact that Maloney was giving speeches, he was having meetings where numbers would range between a couple hundred to a few thousand, the fact that they undoubtedly had thousands of members, this was a group that punched above its weight, that had that influence. And this isn’t necessarily because they happen to be good organizers — it’s precisely because of that environment, it’s because those connections between racism, capitalism, discourses that are flying around in the province at the time. It’s this environment that allows them to grow and punch above their weight.
Kate: The Klan also inserted itself into a bitter miners’ strike in the Crowsnest Pass in the spring of 1932. The Mine Workers’ Union of Canada, with support from the Communist party, had shut down production in Blairmore and Coleman — these are places about 250 km southwest of Calgary — in early May. With about 1300 miners on strike, the local RCMP was very focused on, quote, “foreign agitators” and Communist organizers. So, Klan organizers, sworn enemies of communism and socialism and friends to capitalism and the status quo, were there agitating against the union and against the strike. A cross was actually burned on the mountain overlooking Blairmore on the night of May 17th. The letters “KKK” and “Reds Beware” were painted in red on the sides of buildings, including the union hall, and unsigned threatening letters were sent to strike leaders informing them that they were “marked men” and to “watch their step.” You’ve got shots are fired at a car carrying one of the strike leaders, John Stokaluk. The KKK’s divide-and-rule ploy, it’s important to note here, did actually work somewhat in Coleman. Anglo-Saxon miners who supported the strike actually ended up being shouted down; at another meeting, the KKK helped to provoke a riot, and the scab contract actually ends up being signed and 100 workers are blacklisted from the mine. In Blairmore, however, the Communist Party — which had its own paper calledthe Worker — had much better success — I believe because they were better organized — at counteracting the racist ideas being spread by the Klan. A woman named Mrs. Lucas, who was one of the five women arrested during a violent confrontation on the picket lines, wrote a letter to the Worker which stated, “In spite of the KKK, police terror and boss agents, we are standing as solid as before… On with the struggle!” In September, the company actually signed a contract recognizing the Mine Workers as the miners’ bargaining agent and, in the municipal election that followed, a slate of miners’ candidates defeated a group that was identified with the mine owners. This incident is really interesting to me for two reasons. One is the way in which you see white supremacy get married — very intrinsically, in the framework of the people who perpetuate it, with anti-communism — and I think that’s very important to understand the way that white supremacy has operated in Canada, in Alberta, and on the Prairies, has always been a co-creation of capitalism; white supremacy and capitalism are co-creating one another on the Prairies and reinforcing one another as systems, and I think it’s really important to understand that and see it here. I also think it’s really important to understand the story — the way that the KKK, without any kind of organized opposition to its ideas, those absolutely took root among working people and actually worked to divide what, up until that point, by all accounts, was solidarity between workers of different ethnicities and different backgrounds.
Roberta: And we really see that when Edmonton has a city election in 1932, and Maloney and the Klan really pushed hard to replace the incumbent mayor, James Douglas, because he had close links to the Liberal Party. We’re seeing these white supremacist organizations, the Klan in particular, really interfering in the political system to try to create a better system for themselves, but also to continue this grift and the other pieces that they’re involved in. All-candidate meetings, in particular, featured women asking Douglas planted questions about the nature of the support he received from Catholic institutions and organizations. Douglas was ill-equipped to respond, and he really looked inept and uninformed; he was not expecting those questions. At the end of the day, he was defeated by Daniel Knott, who, as mayor, he became notorious for sanctioning Klan gatherings and cross burnings in city parks and the city’s Exhibition Grounds on the north end. So, they work very hard to get a political leader elected that creates a much more comfortable environment for them to work in, and suddenly we have legal cross burnings in parks and on the Exhibition Grounds.
Joel: By June of 1933, Edmonton Fire Chief A. Dutton was tired of burning crosses around his city, which is — what a fun dilemma to have as a fire chief. He actually wrote to city council when the Klan applied to have a picnic at the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds (which is currently the Edmonton Northlands, the site of the Edmonton Expo Centre), and he pointed out that the last time the Klan had a picnic there fiery crosses were burned. He said, quote, “I think it right to call attention to the danger of any fire being lit on the Exhibition grounds.” City bylaws at the time forbade open fires, but Dutton was the only city official to point out that the Klan was breaking the law. The police chief ended up promising to cooperate with the fire chief to make sure no crosses were burned. So, the Ku Klux Klan did have their picnic, they just did not burn any crosses at it, at least as far as we know.
Kate: This anecdote, to me, really illustrates the way in which the activities of the KKK were clearly totally permissible in Alberta at the time. They basically tried to get the KKK on a technicality because the activities — belonging to the white supremacist organization the Ku Klux Klan — was an accepted enough part of Albertan society that that, in and of itself, was not disqualifying. And we keep going back to the environmental factor, and the reason we keep doing this is because there’s such a tendency, in the way we talk about hate groups and organized hate groups like the KKK, to act like they are an exception to the world around them — like they spring up from holes in the ground, no one knows where they come from, and they could be defeated, but they’ll just spring up again — and I think it is so, so crucial and so, so important to understand them as the logical conclusion of ideas and beliefs and attitudes that already existed in society, and anecdotes like the KKK having a picnic in Edmonton with the police and the fire chief cooperating to make sure there was no cross burnings at it is a really illustrative example of that idea.
Joel: And it’s not like this went completely uncontested. I mean, labour did oppose a lot of what the Klan did — there was opposition, it’s just that there was also this tacit approval from political authority at the time, as well. Alberta also had its own tarring and feathering incident that happened. A man by the name of Fred Doberstein in Lacombe was a blacksmith; a few weeks after Maloney’s speech there, he got a late-night phone call asking for an emergency weld. He figured a vehicle had busted down, needed a weld very quickly or something, so he goes over to his shop — he gets tricked into looking in a car, and then he gets pushed into the car, bound by rope head to foot, and is then driven to nearby Blackfalds. He ended up getting beaten, his clothes were stripped off, hot tar poured over his legs and abdomen, and feathers thrown onto the tar. The men told him they were the Ku Klux Klan and to leave town and never show his face in Lacombe again or else he would be killed. He ended up getting back to town and eventually getting help. The car was later identified as belonging to Ole Boode — which is a real name of a real person — who was a prosperous businessman [laughs] with a car dealership in Red Deer. The Alberta Provincial Police filed kidnapping charges against Boode and three other men. What ends up coming out is that what may have been sparked is Doberstein’s social life. He had separated from his wife, and he had proposed to multiple girls in town, which may have sparked the ire of others. Charges against two of the men were dropped; the two ended up convicted not of kidnapping but of causing grievous bodily harm, and then they were fined the minimal fine. Police said there were no clear links to “Klan” organizing, but the men involved were known Klansmen. This, to me, is classic cop shit, where [laughs] someone with a reputation and who was involved with, let’s say, the Ku Klux Klan goes and does something terrible, and then there’s, like, “Oh, well, they didn’t carry a membership to the Ku Klux Klan when they did the crime, so who knows if it was Klan organizing.”
Kate: It’s very, “How could they possibly be a Neo-Nazi? You’re only a Nazi if you were a member of the Nazi Party from the years 1933 to 1945” energy.
Roberta: And, seriously, this story’s so insane! This guy apparently separated from his wife and proposed to multiple people in town, so he’s now deserving of being tarred and feathered? What a really odd [laughs] punishment in the ‘30s for — it’s not even adultery. I mean, what is this? So, obviously, Doberstein is the important part of this conversation, I think, in that this isn’t just some dude who’s separated from his wife and is getting about town, it’s clearly somebody who does not belong to the society that Albertans and people in Lacombe were hoping to have, and so they tar and feather him? This is something I think about from the Civil War in the United States. It’s so intense.
Kate: Fascists will come to picket lines in Alberta and they will hit people with their cars, and you can go to the police and say, “Look, I have a video of someone that I know is a fascist and can prove to you is the member of a right-wing organization coming to a picket line and committing vehicular assault, which is illegal,” and the police will be like, “Well, what can we do about it? But it does look like your picket line is really dangerous, so you shouldn’t be allowed to have it anymore.” This is just the approach of policing towards the far right and, particularly, white supremacist organizations. This is a bit beyond what we’re currently talking about, but I think it’s really important to note that the way to address these issues and to deal with the far right and white supremacy is not to expand the powers of policing or the way we use terms like “terrorist,” because those are only ever going to expand the environment and the framework in which these white supremacist groups originate.
Jason: As somebody who has been a victim of hate crimes many times, who’s known people who have also been victims of hate crimes, many times, police officers will say, “Well, if the individual who did this act didn’t say anything explicitly racist, if they didn’t explicitly identify themselves as a member of an organization, then we cannot consider it racist.” So it’s not surprising. This is a long part of the history of policing in Alberta; it’s part of that racist history, and it really speaks to the fact that, when we’re analyzing white supremacy and we’re analyzing white supremacist organizations, we can’t take a narrow, legalistic approach — we have to look at things from a broader lens.
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Joel: Luckily, the press at the time had a brain, so Charles Haplin — a cool guy I mentioned earlier, editor of Lacombe Western Globe — was certain that it was a Klan job. He wrote very critically about the incident and said that “such an organization as the KKK should be stamped out of existence in this country.” The Klan responded with an anonymous letter saying that his words were “exceedingly displeasing to members of the KKK” and that, if he continued to defame the Klan, his home and business would be burned to the ground. He didn’t really give a shit. Previously, he had written in the same paper that J. J. Maloney’s writings were the, quote, “…ravings of an apparently deranged brain … He is a demagogue of the first water, whose only object in life is to separate the gullible from their coin, and he is growing rich at their expense.” So, cheers to small-town paper editors, because that’s good stuff. Another incident that occurred was, actually, another editor of a paper — Archie Key of the Drumheller Mail really didn’t like Ray Snelgrove, who was J. J. Maloney’s local organizer and would do the work in advance of J. J. Maloney visiting. Archie Key called him the “Kluck of the Klucks,” which I guess was an insult, peddling a “hymn of hate.” Archie Key was also a self-declared socialist, so he was cool. He reported that the Klan had burned a cross on his front lawn to try and intimidate him. Here’s a quote from him directly: “What is more humorous than hearing of a group of full-grown, serious-minded men climbing to the highest spot in town and deliberately setting fire to a miniature telephone pole — or solemnly conclaving in inverted sugar bags and nineteenth century nightgowns — but the most humorous aspect of the Klan to our mind is the fact that they believe they have a God-given right to regulate public morals, influence local politics, and attack any organized faith with which they disagree. It is so funny that the whole world laughs at their antics.” So, again — plucky small-town paper editors are a good bunch.
Kate: So, the KKK in Alberta was legally constituted under a provincial charter in the fall of 1932, giving it the same status as any other club or fraternal organization. The beginning of the end of the end of J. J. Maloney’s organizing really began on New Year’s Eve — December 31st, 1932. Maloney’s car goes into a snowbank by the Mayfair Golf Club on the south bluffs of the North Saskatchewan River near the University of Alberta. He couldn’t get the car out of the ditch, so he broke into a tool shed at the golf club, then set a fire using papers and blueprints. He submits an insurance claim alleging that thieves had stolen his car and damaged it, and the insurance company responds saying “This is a false claim.” Maloney pleads guilty. At the sentencing hearing, he literally weeps, his hands are trembling, he’s begging for another chance. He says his parents are sick, he has Bright’s disease — maybe it’s real, I don’t know, I won’t make fun of it just in case. The judge paused the proceedings to investigate the claims, and they had no substance. So, Maloney ends up being sentenced to two months of jail time, a $100 fine, and $15 in damages. A large contingent of Klansmen visit Maloney in police cells before he is moved to the Fort Saskatchewan Penitentiary. Around the same time, Edmonton lawyer Henry Mackie sues Maloney for $26,000 — in the 1930s, this is a substantial amount of money — for allegedly slandering him during a lecture at Memorial Hall in downtown Edmonton the evening of January 1st, 1933 (the day after the car-snowbank incident). Two weeks later, Maloney and two associates are on trial on charges of conspiracy to, and actual theft of, documents from an Edmonton lawyer’s office, and Maloney is found guilty. So, around this time, his Klan associates start to ask about who controls the bank accounts of the Klan, right? There starts to be these conspiracies among senior leadership of the KKK that see Maloney targeting this ever-widening circle of enemies that starts the provincial attorney general’s office, moves on to include lawyers, merchants, Catholics in general, Protestants who Maloney insisted were catering to Catholics, and Maloney, after getting out of jail, actually sues the Klan for money he claimed was owed to him for salary, rent, and expenses. The Klan countered with theft charges. By about 1933, the KKK in Alberta largely collapses due to the scandals and difficulties organizing. And I’m just going to say — this whole thing has “grift” written all over it.
Joel: Insofar as there are funny parts about the KKK, this is a very funny part. [laughs]
Roberta: I also have to say that a story that involves a snowbank and an accident is just so particular —
Joel: [laughs] Pure Edmonton!
Roberta: — to the Prairies. It’s kind of perfect. The guy gets screwed over because his car slides into a snowbank. So, part of the reason that the KKK disappears is this financial grift and all these scandals, but, also, we have to remember that many of the ideas being proposed by the KKK and other organizations at the time were simply absorbed into the Social Credit Party when it was formed. The Social Credit Party had some of these concepts — in particular, antisemitism — built very much into the foundations of the party. Really, the core economic theory — which makes literally no sense, but whatever, that’s a whole other podcast that we’ve done — the Social Credit, really, is based on this entire concept of a conspiracy theory that the, quote, “…international Jewish financiers” were to blame for the economic and political ills of the province (and this is during the Depression, when the economy is really collapsing). So, the whole political and economic philosophy of the Social Credit Party is really grounded in this antisemitism and this conspiracy theory and then disseminated widely across the province as a result. And I think it’s important to talk for a second here about the fact that antisemitism is a core component of much of this white supremacy, but it’s also really important, especially as a Jewish person who looks like I do and can pass quite easily [laughs] in society, that it is a different level, and that many Jews hold a place of privilege in our white supremacist society. And so it’s a difficult piece of this to wrap our heads around, but I think it’s really important to acknowledge that, based on this concept of racial supremacy and this racial hierarchy, that there’s also this economic, antisemitic conspiracy theory built into the actual political parties in our society; it becomes this core value of Alberta politics. By 1947, Ernst Manning purges the antisemites from the Social Credit Party, but most people agree that this is really about political machinations, not really an ethical or moral position. For that reason, Manning and others start to purge antisemites, but also, more importantly, the whole economic policy at the base of Social Credit kind of falls apart in the post-war period with economic prosperity, and the theory is debunked quite quickly. Once you get rid of this theory, how do you keep the antisemitism that’s part of that? I just want to say, as somebody who grew up Jewish and has lived with many of these conspiracy theories my whole life, I would really like to know where this world domination order is happening and why they lost my phone number. If I have to be tarred with this idea, I’d like to at least benefit from it occasionally. What the hell? Thanks, Social Credit, for that one.
Kate: There’s two things I wanted to bring up here. The first is that I think it’s really important, when you look at this incident, to understand that the reason the KKK ceases to exist in Alberta is because it is absorbed into a mainstream political party. The ideas do not go away, the people who were involved in white supremacist organizing do not go away — they simply get absorbed into a more palatable framework. And this is actually what happens with a lot of white supremacist extraparliamentary groups in Alberta, and on the Prairies more generally, is they exist on the fringes and eventually get absorbed into more mainstream political projects. I think the People’s Party of Canada under Maxine Bernier is a really good example of a very, very similar phenomenon to what happened with Social Credit. The other point that I want to make that this brings up — one of the main roots of white supremacy on the Prairies is settler colonialism, and this, to a certain extent, makes sense from a historical materialist perspective because it is based on the real encounters of Europeans with Indigenous people and their territory on the Prairies and the struggle over the land that is now the Prairies and that is now Alberta. So, this is a real material phenomenon and struggle between two different groups of people that produces a settler colonialism, that produces an anti-Indigenous racism. The other types of racism that are really influential intellectually in white supremacy in Alberta are both antisemitism, as seen in Social Credit, and anti-blackness. While, certainly, there are Jewish people in Alberta, there are Black people in Alberta, the way in which these ideas are reified by white supremacist groups is not so much actually based off of real interactions with these populations in Alberta or on the Prairies but, rather, the way in which the production of these ideologies, of antisemitism and of anti-Blackness, is part of a larger European colonial race-making project, and that these ideas are fundamental to the way in which white supremacists understand the world and are fundamental to the way in which capitalists understand the world, so they get promulgated by these Albertan groups despite the fact that white supremacists in Alberta — while, certainly, they are engaging in antisemitism, while they are engaging in anti-Blackness and these things are often targeted at very real Jewish or Black people — most of the way in which this ideology gets perpetuated by the KKK is a purely intellectual exercise because these ideologies are the building block of the way in which they understand and see the world.
Jason: The point about absorption is absolutely crucial because it highlights the significance of the continuity. As has been mentioned previously, many people see as white supremacist organizations as anomalous, and they’re not. As the late Howard Palmer had pointed out, the KKK in Alberta essentially grew out of the Orange Order here, and a significant portion of its membership wasn’t just made of expatriated Americans, but of Conservative Party members. As we will see later on, in the late ‘80s, it’s far-right Neo-Nazis, straight-out fascists, who start squabbling over the remains of Social Credit as it dies its last dying days.
Roberta: This idea of white supremacist organizations being absorbed into the Social Credit — also, then, we see the change that happens when Social Credit falls apart and many of these white supremacists disperse into other areas, into other organizations. It’s not that the antisemitic positions or the white supremacist positions of the Social Credit disappear, but they sort of disperse into other areas of society. As I mentioned earlier, the 1940s through to the 1960s is referred to as the sanitary decades — this is that time when Nazis and the Holocaust had made racism a little bit unpopular (not totally unpopular, but unpopular nonetheless), and so these parties were kind of struggling with — especially the Social Credit — how to deal with some of these core values. These ideas don’t really disappear, but they kind of move out into society. So, we have a really good example of James Keegstra who ends up getting charged with, and getting deported from Canada for, teaching anti-Holocaust positions, basically arguing that the Holocaust is a myth — and he was a Social Creditor, but once the Social Credit party disintegrates, he moves off into these other anomalous organizations. It’s only really by the 1980s that we start to see the KKK and other similar organizations reform together into a real solid group of organizations — no longer necessarily the KKK, but they splinter off into these Neo-Nazi and skinhead organizations. So we see, for instance, the rise of the Aryan Nations, in particular (run by Terry Long). I have a really horrifying story of growing up around the Aryan Nations — I went to a Jewish camp at Pine Lake, Alberta, just outside Red Deer, and there was an Aryan Nations just outside, just on the other side of the lake. Quite frequently, we would get locked in the community centre because the Aryan Nation members had come over to, quote, “Check to make sure we were behaving,” and they would just bring their boat over to our side of the lake and check in on us Jews and make sure we were, I don’t know, behaving — not organizing our financial institutions into a large world conspiracy or something, I don’t know what they were doing. These kind of organizations grow up on the plains of Alberta during this period, and we see the Final Solution Skinheads also become a really big organization. And then, this is really influenced by the rise of David Duke in the United States; that really gave a lot of mainstream coverage to the KKK and created a context in which it was acceptable for a new generation of people, post-Holocaust; there’s a new way of defining this white supremacy. And then we also start to see, at the end of the 1990s, the birth of the Internet, which really does influence white supremacist organizations, without a doubt. I mean, we see this constantly in the ways that these groups are acting; it increases their visibility, it allows for connections and communities to be formed across geographical territories, and — possibly most problematically, in some ways — it leads to the recruitment and creation of lone-wolf activities. Many of the activities we’ve been talking about are, really, these organized groups that have a particular purpose and are often organized around grift, as we’ve talked about, but with the Internet, we start to really see this recruitment of lone-wolf actors and this empowerment of these individuals. So, it’s a complex development of the 1980s and ‘90s, where the KKK continues on but in these different kind of organizations and into this Internet organizations.
Joel: There’s also an interesting Klan reformation that happens, kind of taking up the mantle of J. J. Maloney — an individual by the name of Ivan Ross Macpherson, who also went by the name of Barry Dunsford, and then he renamed himself with a Gaelic form of his name which went by Tearlach Mac a’ Phearsoin. In any case — in 1974, he was convicted of criminal negligence in the shooting death of a Mexican national, a 21-year-old boarder who lived in the basement of his parents’ downtown home. By 1980, he was flourishing as the self-styled head of his own Alberta Ku Klux Klan, complete with a genuine legal provincial charter and the claim of nearly 300 members. To add to his credibility, he had struck up a relationship with Robert Scoggin, a grand dragon of a South Carolina Klan group with an eye to future shared initiatives. He burned some crosses on some lawns of Japanese and Pakistani families in Red Deer, and then he initiated a bunch of people into his local group. He tried to have a larger public cross-burning in Red Deer, but the city of Red Deer said no. Probably the most fascinating incident that happened with Macpherson is this attempted bombing of the Calgary Jewish Centre. In June 1988, two of the Klan members of the group he had formed were arrested and convicted of conspiracy to blow up the Calgary Jewish Centre and kill local real estate businessman Harold Milavsky. At trial, it turned out that Macpherson had dreamed up the whole plot himself to generate publicity and sell Klan memberships — he basically got his two followers to go and do this, and then he actually ratted on them to the police as a way to gain favour with the Jewish community, was his whole plan. It’s quite wild and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Jason: The thing that’s significant about him is, because he’s one colourful character that doesn’t really grow into a mass organization. They don’t really have that much of an impact; they’re not the ones that are grabbing the media attention. They’re almost a footnote, if you think about it. These other organizations have actually left remnants, in a sense. It’s one of those branches on the racist family tree that kind of withered and died, fortunately. If we look at the late 1980s, this is when Keegstra tries to get ahold of the Social Credit Party. He has the help of Ernst Zündel (who, of course, gets deported); he also has the help of Don Andrews, who is one of the founders, I believe, of the Nationalist Party of Canada. The Nationalist Party of Canada — it’s main importance is that it essentially gives birth to the Heritage Front. One of their main members was Wolfgang Droege, who had also been in the KKK. There’s this great term that Scrivens and Perry use when they refer to the Ku Klux Klan as the “grandfather” of these white nationalist and white supremacist organizations, and that’s actually quite true in terms of organizational model and perspectives. In the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s, you mostly have the main groups are the Heritage Front and the Aryan Nations, with Terry Long out here in Alberta. I remember going to the Calgary Public Library, the old public library, just going to sign out books and stuff, and you’d see Heritage Front cards. Heritage Front members used to go to the Calgary Public Library, and they’d sneak their business cards into books so that people could find. Their biggest activity, if you look at the history of these organizations, were mostly in Toronto; they didn’t last that long out here, thankfully. By the time we get into the early 2000s, late ‘90s, it’s gone into a decline, but then it starts to grow again. I know in my own organizing, we went off against the Western Canada for Us and Glenn Bahr and Bill Noble. Bill Noble himself later helped start the Aryan Guard; Aryan Guard splits into Blood & Honour, the West Town Boys (also known as West European Bloodlines), and it continues. The main significant part to take away from all of this is that there’s a constant continuity. This type of violence grows, it shrinks, it’s in waves, but it’s ever-present — it doesn’t actually leave. I always tell people — I’ve been organizing for over 20 years now — 21? 22? I’ve been organizing for quite some time in this city — we’ve had periods where it’s a lull, thankfully, but it comes and it goes in waves. This last most recent period, we had the rise of the anti-Islam movement, the Islamophobic movement, so-called patriot movement. If you look at the discourse that they employ, it isn’t any different from what the Ku Klux Klan used in the late ‘20s and ‘30s: claims that they’re defending Canadian institutions (what they said in the ‘20s was, “Well, we’re defending British institutions”); claims of attacks on moral purity, on the fabric of society; claims for democracy. The discourse doesn’t really radically change because, at root, it’s the same basic defence of white supremacy.
Roberta: And I think just as you say, Jason, that the discourse doesn’t change — also, the context and the environment is still just as accommodating to these organizations as it was in the 1930s. Many people might be a little concerned to hear such a thing, but the reality is that Alberta still has those three main structural patterns that we talked about at the beginning, here. This historical normativity of racism, it hasn’t declined in any way; it’s still a real core component of the province These political climates of intolerance, we see it — we talked about Social Credit, but we see it very much in our current political conversations and discourse, as well, that we’ve created a permission for people to hate in our society, that this language and this way of talking about different groups is acceptable within our society. And then we see, and we talked about, a number of times on the podcast, this weak law enforcement framework. We talked about the under-policing of hate crimes, for instance, that you need to all of this evidence to “prove” that something was a hate crime, but at the same we’re over-policing visible minorities. So, just as Jason makes the really important point that these organizations still exist and are stll using this same discourse and same argument, the context is still just as much relevant to these organizations and, until we change that, these organizations are going to find a foothold in this province over and over and over again.
Jason: Absolutely, and I think it should be a point of deep significance. We talked about the KKK — J. J. Maloney came from Ontario. He was not from Alberta; he came out here because he saw this as a field that was ripe of the taking, that was ripe for his activity. And a similar situation in our times — Kyle McKee founded the Aryan Guard, later Blood & Honour. He also was from Ontario; he wasn’t from here either. There is a constant, constant refrain in the biographies, in the actions, in the language of these members of white supremacist organization — they see Alberta as a white heartland or as a place where they could have the best chances to attempt to build one. This is not accidental.
Kate: This is an obvious part of Alberta’s history — when you start looking at it, you see that white supremacy has a long reach here, both in terms of implicit white supremacy, in the way our society is organized and the way our society is structured, but also in the terms of explicit white supremacy; so, in groups that are outward about their hate for people who are non-white and promote the so-called “superiority” of the white race. And the fact that most people do not know about those things, or think them somehow an exception to Alberta and the way Albertan society is organized, is a type of learned white innocence that is part of reproducing what it means to be white, is a learned naivete of the history of whiteness and how it has operated in this particular place.
Roberta: And I think the other thing that this history really shows us is the danger of the connections between the extraparliamentary and the parliamentary side of these organizations. We talked about this connection between the KKK and Social Credit, but this has by no means disappeared — Kate mentioned the People’s Party, but we also see it actively occurring in many other political parties (in particular, the United Conservative Party), and so I think there’s a really important lesson to be learned here about the ways that these organizations move back and forth between the extraparliamentary and the parliamentary sides, but also the ways that their ideas become normalized and become centralized within our political discourse in real, sometimes innocuous and sometimes really subconscious, sorts of ways that we, as a society, need to be very, very careful about this. And, as we go through another crisis — many crises, all overlapping — I think many people’s instinct will be to blame immigrants or blame people of colour or blame Indigenous people or blame whoever it is to be blamed for the horrible lives we all have in our society, but we have to remember that there’s a reason these discourses occur and that they are intended to protect and promote a particular group within our society, and we have to be careful how that plays out in our formal political sphere, as well.
Kate: And the last thing I’ll say about this, too, is that I think we often have a tendency to think about the KKK as the only form of white supremacy — so, the idea that white supremacy is a light switch and when you flip it on it’s the KKK, it’s the Three Percenters, it’s the Soldiers of Odin, and then you flip it off — and what I hope this episode has suggested is that white supremacy basically exists on a continuum from implicit white supremacy to organized white supremacy, and that the organized white supremacy relies on the implicit white supremacy. It is not another category — it is a logical continuation of the same thing — and that is why, when we’re talking about defeating white supremacy within our society and in this particular place, we’re not just talking about counteracting the most explicit forms of white supremacy — although, of course, that work is vital and very important — but also about getting rid of the building blocks of white supremacy: the way our society is organized, the types of work people do, the types of neighbourhoods people live in. All of these types of things are the building blocks that allow a group like the KKK to flourish in Alberta. Jason — thank you so much for joining us on this episode of The Alberta Advantage and bringing your expertise and your lived experience with these types of groups and people to our podcast. If people want to learn more about your work or some of the ways you’re theorizing and thinking about this, where should they go to do so?
Jason: You’re very welcome, and thank you asking that. Honestly, the quickest way would be to check out the website ARC Canada [https://anti-racistcanada.blogspot.com]. They’ve been one of the greatest resources; they’ve been allies in our fight against white supremacy for, frankly, decades. They’re great. Also, the book that we’ve discussed repeatedly — Right-Wing Extremism in Canada by Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens. I’ll be honest — it’s one thing to live through decades of organizing against white supremacy, it’s another thing to actually read it out of a history book. It’s a bit of a trip. I guess one thing that I take away from this is an old phrase from C. L. R. James who once said that historical controversy is always contemporary. The importance of this is that, just because the KKK used to be alive, the fact that it’s in the past, doesn’t mean that history’s dead. You’re in the struggle for so long, you can easily get demoralized. I’ll be honest — the shelf life of white supremacist organization generally isn’t that long — the shelf life of a member isn’t that long — but that’s also partially true for organizers. I’ve known many, many people who’ve come and gone in the struggle. It’s easy to get demoralized — it’s easy to get burnt out — but the fact we have seen so many different protests just in this year alone, in the middle of a pandemic — I mean, I’ve helped organize some of the biggest anti-racist rallies in Calgary City with so many wonderful people, and to see that happening now — it’s heartwarming, and I think it should be a reminder to us that the struggle continues. Yeah — if people check out ARC Canada, check out the book. They can always [laughs] talk to me if they want me to answer questions — I’m totally down for stuff, whatever, because the struggle continues.
Kate: Thank you so much, Jason. On behalf of everyone here at The Alberta Advantage, we hope this was an educational and illuminating episode. Take care out there, and have a good one. Bye, folks!
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Kate: If you liked today’s episode, you should check out the Harbinger Media Network, featuring shows like the popular, bi-weekly Toronto Ecosocialist podcast Oats for Breakfast, which approaches questions related to socialist strategy from an open, non-dogmatic perspective with hosts Umair, Sadia, and a rotating panel of guests. Find out more about the Harbinger Media Network and the entire cross-country line of podcasts at harbingermedianetwork.com.
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