KKK Rallies Amid Protesters

A handful of Ku Klux Klan members, sporting white hats and robes but with their faces exposed, survived a brief scuffle Saturday before gathering peacefully outside a Manhattan courthouse flanked by hundreds of anti-Klan protesters.

A single person was arrested, though not a Klan member.

Denied a city permit to use a sound system, the Klan stood silently inside a pen fashioned from metal police barricades, surrounded by police officers in riot helmets. The 16 Klan members were joined by two skinheads, one sporting a "White Power" patch.

"We can't get our message out," complained Jeffrey Berry, the national Imperial Wizard of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. "We are silenced."

In a victory for the city, an appeals panel ruled Friday that New York does not have to allow KKK members to wear their masks.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared the decision a "victory for decency."

"This is an organization that at its core is violent and appeals to violence," he said.

On Saturday morning, the Klan filed an emergency appeal with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who later denied the request.

An unidentified anti-Ku Klux Klan protester is taken into police custody after he attempted to assault a Klan participant.

The Klan contingent, with their traditional pointed hats minus the usual face cover, arrived shortly before 2 p.m., accompanied by a phalanx of police. There was a brief conflict as the Klan entered the police pen set up for their safety outside the courthouse at 60 Center St.

James Sheeley, of the New York and New Jersey KKK, suffered a scrape on his cheek in a tussle with three men who had posed as Klansmen, then jumped the KKK members as they walked into the pen.

"Death to the Klan!" shouted one of the men. All three were taken away by police.

"We are here to defend our First Amendment rights," Berry said later. "We'll be back."

Asked what would constitute a successful rally, Berry replied, "It's a success if nobody gets hurt."

The rally ended after 75 minutes, with the Klan members flashing a Nazi salute to the crowd and shouting "White pride!" Police escorted the Klan inside the courthouse as the demonstrators dispersed.

The crowd of anti-Klan protesters, estimated at about 800 people, jeered and shouted angrily at the Klan as they walked out. The Klan turnout was only a fraction of the 50 to 80 of its members the groups had predicted would turn out.

Berry said it was the ban on hooded masks, not the protesters, that kept attendance down.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani initally tried to deny the group a rally permit, but two federal judges ruled Thursday that the Klan had a First Amendment right to wear masks. While acknowledging the "tortured history" of masks in America, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled the disguises also protect those who espouse controversial viewpoints from their detractors.
But on Friday, the appeals panel said this case was different from others across the country, in part because the city was not trying to bar the rally because of the Klan's anti-Semitic, anti-minority rhetoric, just enforce an existing state law.

The rarely used state law prevents groups from congregating in public wearing masks or with disguises, except for authorized masquerade parties or other entertainment.

KKK officials said the group chose New York for the rally to try to overturn the mask law. The group has won legal victories over mask statutes in towns in Indiana and Pennsylvania.