Red Knights (organization)

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The Red Knights were a militant organization founded in 1923 to fight the anti-catholic Ku Klux Klan. They were also called the "Knights of the Flaming Circle". [1] They were part of an opposition that included politicians, labor leaders and immigrant groups.[2] Membership was open to anyone who opposed the KKK and was "not a Protestant".[3] They had significant support amongst various ethnic groups in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.[1] Bryce Bauer has written that, "Instead of only admitting white, native-born Protestants as the Klan did, the organization vowed to accept anyone who was anything other than that."[4]

The initial Red Knights was a group founded in New Haven, Connecticut in 1874 as one of many ethnic mutual benefit societies in the city. Its members were young upwardly mobile Irish who saw the group as a vehicle for social advancement. The group failed for lack of a viable insurance plan, and many of the members went on to join the Knights of Columbus.[5]

During the early to mid 1920s the Klan primarily targeted Catholics and immigrants instead of blacks. They supported the Volstead Act during the era of Prohibition, and were willing to enforce the liquor laws through vigilantism. They blamed Catholics for bootlegging, and informed on moonshiners to local law enforcement. They blamed the lack of enforcement of the Volstead Act on corrupt law enforcement. One Klan member wrote the following, referring to Catholics as fish (a derogatory reference to the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays): "We have a Klan Sheriff but our prosecuting attorney is a fish eater and will do anything he can to fish the Klan".[4]

At times, the Klan burned crosses in front of Catholic homes. The name "Knights of the Flaming Circle" refers to the Klan's burning cross.[4] In 1923, the same year that the organization was founded, the editors of Catholic World wrote that Catholic citizens would act against the Klan in "self-defense, even to the extent of bloodshed."[1] In some parts of the country, Catholic members of the Red Knights responded with "mass, armed counterattacks" significant enough for the National Guard to be called during at least one of these actions.[6]


  1. ^ a b c MacLean 1995, p. 13.
  2. ^ Bauer 2014, p. 97.
  3. ^ Davin 2012, p. 104.
  4. ^ a b c Bauer 2014, p. 96.
  5. ^ Hackett, David G., "That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture", Univ of California Press, 2014, ISBN 9780520281677, p. 212
  6. ^ MacLean 1995, p. 14.


  • Bauer, Bryce (2014-07-01). Gentlemen Bootleggers: The True Story of Templeton Rye, Prohibition, and a Small Town in Cahoots. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-61374-848-0.
  • Davin, Eric Leif (2012). Crucible of Freedom: Workers' Democracy in the Industrial Heartland, 1914–1960. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-4572-2.
  • MacLean, Nancy (1995). Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509836-5.

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