NEWPORT, Tenn. – Rain and drums drowned out the words of two dozen Ku Klux Klansmen Saturday at a rally held days after a wooden cross was burned on the lawn of the town’s first black mayor.
The rally, the first public Klan event in the region in decades, fell on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday and two days before the observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Klan organizers said the town of 7,100 was selected because it was a convenient location, not because it has a black mayor. They denied involvement in the cross burning early Wednesday.
About 800 people attended a diversity festival Saturday held to counter the Klan event. Mayor Roland Dykes received a standing ovation.
“Now is the time for Americans to renounce the protests of a vocal minority, which opposes our fight to preserve and promote freedom,” Dykes said.
At the Klan rally, about 400 people watched from behind yellow police tape, chanting and playing drums to drown out the Klan’s remarks.
More than 125 state troopers stood shoulder to shoulder in riot gear between the audience and the Klan. There were four arrests for public drunkenness, but no fights.
The leader of the Church of the Knights of Yahweh, the Morristown-based KKK branch behind the rally, said afterward that he realized it was hard to hear what was said at the rally. But he said the news media wasn’t paying attention to what the Klan had to say on issues anyway.
“Really, I am here to protest you all,” grand dragon Scott Fultz said. “Because you people have neglected to hear the sovereign people, the people in the counties. You are not hearing east Tennessee.”
There were some Klan supporters in the crowd. Rick Spring said he drove all the way from Arkansas “to support my white brothers.”
Two ministers from New York, the Rev. Willie Wade and the Rev. Ron Weinbaum, happened to be studying in the area and came out of curiosity.
“Evil has to always be checked,” said Wade, who is black. “It has to know that it will be fought, it will be shamed and it will be embarrassed, and that love will win out.”
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