The Hlinka Guard was preceded by the Rodobrana (Home Defense/Nation's Defense) organization, which existed from 1923 to 1927, when the Czechoslovak authorities ordered its dissolution. During the crisis caused by Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland (in the summer of 1938), the Hlinka Guard emerged spontaneously, and on October 8 of that year, a week after Hitler's demand had been accepted at the Munich conference, the guard was officially set up, with Karol Sidor (1901–1953) as its first commander.
The guard was the Hlinka party's military arm for internal security, and it continued in that role under the autonomous government of Slovakia in federated Czecho-Slovakia. The Hlinka Guard were Slovakia's state police and most willingly helped Hitler with his plans. It operated against Jews, Czechs, Hungarians, the Left, and the opposition. By a decree issued on October 29, 1938, the Hlinka guard was designated as the only body authorized to give its members paramilitary training, and it was this decree that established its formal status in the country. Hlinka guardsmen wore black uniforms and a cap shaped like a boat, with a woolen pompom on top, and they used the raised-arm salute. The official salute was "Na stráž!" ("On guard!").
Until March 14, 1939, when Slovakia declared its independence, the Hlinka Guard attracted recruits from all walks of life. On the following day, March 15, Alexander Mach became its commander, retaining the post up to the collapse of the pro-Nazi regime in Slovakia in 1945. Its functions were laid down in a series of government decrees: it was to be a paramilitary organization attached to the party, fostering love of country, providing paramilitary training, and safeguarding internal security. By assuming these tasks, the guard was meant to counterbalance the army and the police. In 1941 Hlinka Guard shock troops were trained in SS camps in Germany, and the SS attached an adviser to the guard. At this point many of the guardsmen who were of middle-class origin quit, and thenceforth the organization consisted of peasants and unskilled laborers, together with various doubtful elements. A social message was an integral part of the radical nationalism that it sought to impart.
In 1942, the Hlinka Guard headed deportations of Slovak Jews to Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. The Guard would regularly make round ups for Jews in the spring and summer months. Deportation of the Jews by Hlinka Guards lead to confiscation of Jewish property (Arizácia majetku) while distributing that property to individual members of the Hlinka Guards. Over the course of time, the guardsmen prospered financially but their zeal for stolen wealth never abated.
A small group called Náš Boj (Our Struggle), which operated under SS auspices, was the most radical element in the guard. Throughout its years of existence, the Hlinka Guard competed with the Hlinka party for primacy in ruling the country. After the anti-Nazi Slovak National Uprising in August 1944, the SS took over and shaped the Hlinka Guard to suit its own purposes. Special units of the guard (Pohotovostné oddiely Hlinkovej gardy - POHG) were employed against partisans and Jews.
The Hlinka Guards are a pivotal antagonist group in the 2006 novel by Colum McCann, Zoli.