Sunday, October 10, 1999

Klan's free speech comes at a cost


Debate over protection money heated on all sides

BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — When the Ku Klux Klan came to the small northwest Ohio city of Defiance, the city prepared as for an invasion.

        More than 250 police officers from several area departments arrived to keep the peace between at least 300 protesters and 41 Klansmen. The hourlong rally March 20 by the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was uneventful, but came with a cost: $17,500 in overtime and other expenses, including equipment such as fences.

SECURITY COSTS
  Costs of security at some Klan rallies this year
  • Bellfontaine, March 3.
Group: Knights of the White Kamellia.
  Approximate cost: $21,000.
  • Defiance, March 20.
Group: American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
  Approximate cost: $17,500.
  • Kettering, March 21.
Group: Knights of the White Kamellia.
  Approximate cost: $20,000.
  • Zanesville, May 1.
Group: American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
  Approximate cost: $32,500.
  • Kenton, May 22.
Group: Knights of the White Kamellia.
  Approximate cost: $10,500.
  • Bowling Green, June 19.
Group: Knights of the White Kamellia.
  Approximate cost: $17,300.
  • Dayton, June 26.
Group: American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
  Approximate cost: $24,000.
  • Steubenville, July 10.
Group: American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
  Approximate cost: $14,000.
  • Urbana, July 24.
Group: Knights of the White Kamellia.
  Approximate cost: $3,400.
  • Cleveland, Aug. 21.
Group: American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
  Approximate cost: $537,000.
  • Columbus, Sept. 11.
Group: Knights of the White Kamellia.
  Approximate cost: $102,000.
  Sources: individual cities
        Defiance, a city of 16,000, is not alone in spending lots of money to ensure that a relatively small number of Klansmen can hold a rally.

        As Ohio approaches a record number of Ku Klux Klan rallies this year, the heavily guarded events have cost taxpayers about $800,000 in security and preparation expenses.

        It's money one police chief called a waste of taxpayer dollars and an anti-Klan protester called a subsidy for a terrorist organization.

        Legally, there's little precedent for recovering the costs from the Klan. And while some people argue that if anti-Klan protesters would just stay away the security would be unnecessary, officials say they have little choice but to be as prepared as possible.

        “If you don't have adequate protection, things get out of hand and you catch a lot of criticism for that. If you're adequately prepared, you catch a lot of criticism from people who say it's overkill,” said Defiance County Sheriff Dave Westrick.

        After years of refinement, the state now provides an “off the shelf” plan to communities for dealing with rallies. The plan includes advice on crowd control, security and how best to separate protesters, Klansmen and the media, said Ted Almay, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

        In 1994, the state received reports of 32 events involving the Klan and four involving other white supremacist groups. There have been at least 20 Klan events so far this year.

        Mr. Almay attributed the 1994 peak to the outspoken and high-profile activity of Vincent Pinette, a regional coordinator for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. After Mr. Pinette, of Cleveland, was convicted in 1995 of beating an ex-girlfriend and sent to prison, the rallies died down.

        Mr. Almay credits the resurgence this year in part to James Rousch, an outspoken 18-year-old who calls himself Imperial Wizard of the American Knights of the White Kamellia.

        As rallies increase and take their financial toll on communities, the state is poised to provide help. Attorney General Betty Montgomery said that for the first time, her office will make free metal detectors and fences available for use during rallies.

        Her office spent $8,000 on two walk-through detectors, six hand-held detectors and several miles of chain-link fencing.

        Mr. Almay said the goal is to “ease the burden of the small towns. A city like Columbus, we'll help with intelligence and we'll help that day get things together, but when you go to Urbana or places like that, this is devastating.”

        The biggest cost to date has been in Cleveland, which said its Aug. 21 rally cost more than $537,000, mainly in overtime for police officers, street and water department employees, and other workers.

        By contrast, the May 1 rally in Zanesville — population 28,000 — also by the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, cost the city $7,500 and the Muskingum County Sheriff's Department another $25,000.

        “It is an unfortunate waste of taxpayers' money to have to do that, but in order to keep the city safe and officers safe, it's something you have to do,” said Zanesville Police Chief Diane Quinn.

        Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said the number of Klansmen who show up rarely matters since they are always going to draw large protest crowds, whether or not communities ask people to stay away.

        “Typically half a dozen Klansmen will draw from a couple hundred to a thousand counter-demonstrators,” said Mr. Potok, who said Klansmen are experts at provoking their opponents. “In town after town after town there's been real violence from counterdemonstrators. Police have been by and large necessary.”

        Attempts to recover the cost of rallies from the Klan itself have met with limited success.

        In June 1992, in a case involving a white supremacist group in Forsyth County, Ga., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that communities that impose permit fees for parades and rallies cannot force controversial groups to pay more just because they might need more police protection.

        After a 1996 Klan rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., the city billed both the Klan and an anti-Klan organization $72,000 for the cost of security. Although the city never started collection action, it still hasn't ruled that possibility out, said city attorney Abigail Elias.

        Ms. Montgomery said there are real legal problems “in terms of billing a particular group which is exercising its First Amendment rights, and selecting out one group because we don't like it and saying, "We'll protect you, but we're going to charge you,' but other groups we don't charge.”

        This approach doesn't wash with Jerry Bellow, a volunteer with Anti-Racist Action, an anti-Klan group in Columbus that brings dozens of protesters to rallies in Indiana and Ohio.

        Public money spent on security represents “a several million-dollar-a-year subsidy by the state to the Klan. No other group gets that level of free protection,” Mr. Bellow said. “Why should citizens' tax dollars go to pay for the protection of a terrorist organization, which is what the Klan is?”

        Mr. Rousch said Klansmen don't ask for police protection, and that anti-Klan protesters are the ones trying to provoke fights and rioting.

        “All we ask is to give our speeches,” said Mr. Rousch, of Rushylvania. “There's many ways a city could save money. The way they spend money is ludicrous.”

       

       



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