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KKK rally attracts few allies

June 11, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Protection of First Amendment rights came in the form of more than 200 law enforcement officers who patrolled Antietam National Battlefield Saturday for a World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rally, which drew about 60 supporters and counterdemonstrators.

The rally Saturday afternoon at Mumma Farmstead was the first time a permit was granted on the grounds of the First Amendment at the battlefield.

The site represents the single bloodiest day of the Civil War, said John Howard, park superintendent.

"We didn't make this decision. The people who wrote the Constitution made this decision for us," Howard said of the granted permit, requested by Gordon Young, Imperial Wizard of the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Howard said he believed it was the first time the Klan rallied at the site of the Sept. 17, 1862, battle, which preceded President Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, ordering the end of slavery.

The cost to pay the more than 200 U.S. Park Police, National Park Service, Maryland State Police and Washington County Sheriff's Department officers who patrolled the park grounds on horseback, motorcycles and by police vehicles will be determined later this week, Howard said.

U.S. Park Police officers wearing riot gear stood in a dividing line between the group of about 30 Klan members and supporters and their opposing group, made up of about 30 Confederate reenactors, Sharpsburg residents and anti-Klan demonstrators, some armed with bullhorns, homemade signs and makeshift drums.

"You are spitting on the graves of the men who fought and died for your freedom!" Lori Bartles, a Sharpsburg resident, boomed through a bullhorn. "Your hatred is not welcome here anymore!"

At the conclusion of each speaker's address from the Klan podium, the group raised their arms and yelled, "White power."

Members of the National Socialist Movement of America wore military-style clothing. On their arms, they wore red armbands with black swastikas. Only a couple of Klan members wore white robes. One young man's light blue eyes stared through circles cut in his hood. He stood beside Young as he addressed the press. At the end of the rally, which lasted about two hours, the young man took off his hood, revealing a head of long blond hair.

The opposing groups, separated by about 200 feet, each were contained by yellow police tape and monitored with metal detectors. A separate press area was set up between them, where journalists hailing from as far as Germany, Switzerland and South Africa scribbled notes and watched as the groups cursed and lobbed insults at each other.

Young told reporters he wanted to hold rallies in response to "black-on-white crime" and immigration.

Wearing a brown suit and sunglasses, Young lifted his shades once to reveal his wide-set blue eyes in response to a photographer's question about his family's immigration from Germany.

"We are the ghosts of our Confederate brothers who died here and shed their blood," he said.

Young called Confederate reenactors who turned their backs against him "not true brothers."

Helania Hinson, dressed in a wool Confederate uniform, was one of two reenactors who turned their backs to the Klan. She said she represented Confederate soldiers who were descendants of "nonwhite soldiers."

"They're trying to divide us. This country has already been divided once," said Hinson, 42, of Benson, N.C.

Benson was affiliated with the 37th Texas Calvary reenactors out of Virginia Beach, Va., who requested the permit for the counterdemonstration. The NAACP also filed for a permit, but withdrew it shortly afterward, Howard said.

The rally Saturday came on one of the battlefield's busier weekends. Cannon blasts boomed intermittently over the crackling loudspeaker wired from the Klan's podium. The battlefield's weekend artillery demonstration was expected to draw between 5,000 and 6,000 people alone, Howard said.

"We want to show both can exist," he said.

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