NEW YORK, Oct. 26 (JTA) — Last weekend’s Ku Klux Klan demonstration in New York was a public relations coup for a small and fractured segment of the hatemongering community, experts say.
The leader of the Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, John Berry, was able to catapult his group into national headlines amid a week of legal wrangling. At the Oct. 23 rally, seven counterdemonstrators were arrested, including one Brooklyn Jew who assaulted a Klansman.
While experts differ in how a Klan rally should be combated, with some in favor of a peaceful counter-rally, and others calling for an alternative celebration of multiculturalism and tolerance, they all say that violence plays into Berry’s hands.
The violence “is what Berry hopes for. The Klan needs that type of vitriol from the crowd,” said David Goldman, the director of hatewatch.org, which monitors hate on the Internet. “What Berry needs is having people yell invectives at him, to give him the middle finger. It gives him a way to make it a real news story.”
Only about 15 Klansmen marched — silently, because they were denied a sound permit — after a New York judge ruled that they could not wear their traditional masks, while there were an estimated 6,000 counterdemonstrators.
In recent years, the Klan has lost popularity among young, alienated white males. Instead, these men, the largest audience for hate groups, have been attracted to other white supremacist groups that are cobbling together an ideology that combines an anti-government message to go with their racism and anti-Semitism. These groups, such as the World Church of the Creator, have also been more adept at using the Internet to get their message out, although their actual membership is also small.
“The Klan is a Johnny-come-lately to the anti-government message,” said Gail Gans, the director of the Civil Rights Information Center at the Anti- Defamation League.
The Klan, which is actually an umbrella term for a number of groups that have an estimated 2,500-3,000 members nationwide, has also become fractured and splintered between those who “want to dress in shirts and ties and talk about white rights, and the old-fashioned Klansmen who want to say, ‘We hate everybody who isn’t white,’ ” said Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a nonprofit group in Somerville, Mass.
David Duke, a former Klansman and a putative candidate for political office in Louisiana, represents the “shirt-and-tie” approach, while Berry is a symbol of those who want to hew to the Klan’s hard line, as evidenced by the Nazi salute the marchers flashed at the end of the rally.
“Berry has staked out an area for himself as the most outspoken, the most bigoted, the most outrageous of the Klan wizards, and that has a certain attraction for people looking for a hate organization,” Goldman said.
Berry, who formed the American Knights in 1995, has become a publicity hound to attract attention for his group, which has fewer than 300 members.
Berry has gone on Jerry Springer’s television talk show and has staged rallies in Cleveland and Orlando, Fla.
In the past few years, Berry’s group has stuffed KKK fliers inside free newspapers in several states.
While his rallies draw few supporters, he has made good use of the publicity. The city of Cleveland spent $500,000 in police protection during his rally, which Berry craftily staged in August during the same weekend as an expo of black professionals and the first game in the Cleveland Browns’ new football stadium.
Despite the small number of supporters he attracts, the desire to stage a counter-rally is both understandable and commendable, Berlet said.
“When you’re demonstrating against hate groups, you’re not demonstrating against the small number of individuals at the rally, you’re demonstrating because you have an obligation to history,” Berlet said.