The first Imperial Wizard, Emperor of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate general. Forrest, along with other Confederate Veterans, formed the Ku Klux Klan on December 15, 1865, at Pulaske, Tennessee, in order to prevent African-Americans from utilizing their rights as American citizens. In 1869, due to lack of control, Forrest disbanded the Klan but several other organizations continued on.
The release of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, ignited new interest in the organization. That same year, William J. Simmons and Samuel Green reformed the Ku Klux Klan in Stone Mountain, Georgia. By the beginning of the 1920s, Klan membership had grown to nearly 5 million members.
Interest soon spread to North Dakota, where Klan members staged rallies in Williston and Fargo. The largest Klan following in the state, however, was in the Grand Forks area. The Grand Forks Klan was known as the Ansax Club, whose members railed against Catholics, Jews, and immigrants, and strongly favored the public school system.
Unlike Klan membership in the south, the Ansax Club members consisted mainly of men from the business community. Officials within the organization included 7 store owners, 3 lawyers, 3 bank officials, 1 doctor, 1 architect, and 1 clergyman. At the peak of membership, the Ansax Club had over 500 members.
Concerned about the growth of the Klan in North Dakota, the state legislature passed a law on January 10, 1923, banning all citizens over the age of 15 from wearing a mask or any other head covering in front of a public building in order to conceal their identity. Thirteen days later, the Exalted Cyclops of the Ansax Club, Reverend Frederick Halsey Ambrose testified in front of state senators denouncing the new law.
Later that fall, Ambrose spoke in front of a large group of Klan members 21 miles east of Grand Forks. Ambrose spoke about his contempt for immigrants who he saw as pushing American citizens out of their homes. Ambrose also mentioned the need of its members to support the Klan and support the public school system, which he saw as the foundation for nurturing American citizenship. He also stressed that each member should reach their goals by peace and not through violence.
Around the same time as the meeting, the Grand Forks Klan applied to the North Dakota Secretary of State office for incorporation as a fraternal society. Along with the application was a charter granted by the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but due to insufficient funds the application did not go through and the Klan was never officially chartered.
In a 1924 school board election, two Klan-supported candidates, Leslie Stinson and E.A. Arhart, won election over two candidates Ambrose deemed to be "unamericanized." The Ansax club was at its most influential during this time but by the end of the 1920s membership began to decline. With the indictment of Indiana's governor and mayor, both Klan supporters, officials began cracking down on Klan organizations throughout the Midwest. By the end of 1928, Klan activity had essentially ceased in Grand Forks.
Source: "The Ku Klux in Grand Forks, North Dakota" by William L. Harwood, South Dakota History. Fall 1971.