25 turn out in Welcome to protest Klan’s message

Mel Hartsell shows her sign to traffic as she and others stage an anti hatred/KKK protest rally at 6455 Old Highway 52 in Welcome, N.C., Saturday Aug. 9, 2014. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

Mel Hartsell shows her sign to traffic as she and others stage an anti hatred/KKK protest rally at 6455 Old Highway 52 in Welcome, N.C., Saturday Aug. 9, 2014. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

WELCOME — A dreary and damp Saturday did not deter two advocacy groups from speaking out against an illegal immigration message being promoted by a N.C. Klu Klux Klan chapter, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

GetEqual N.C. and El Cambio NC conducted a “Hate not welcome in Welcome” anti-Klan rally in front of a shopping center off Old U.S. 52.

The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Klan a hate group, which is defined as “any organization that considers an entire group as somehow less than the members of their organization.”

There have been rumors for weeks that the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in the town of Pelham in Caswell County, would hold one or more rallies in the Triad this weekend. One of the options was a private event in Welcome with a cross burning.

The Klan chapter chose to hold a rally at 4 p.m. Saturday at the courthouse in Troy,which is in Montgomery County, about 70 miles southeast of Winston-Salem.

Even though Klan supporters did not make a public appearance at the Welcome event, about 25 people – mostly young and white – said making their opposition known is one way of squelching the Klan’s appeal. Many planned to appear at the Troy counter protest as well.

“If we stand back and ignore their appearance and their attempts to recruit new members, we’re just given them credence,” said Kim Porter, one of the counter-protest’s main organizers.

“By using our presences and our voices, we show them we are more powerful and more plentiful than they are.”

Robert Jones, N.C. grand dragon, said Friday that Klan members asked for the chapter to conduct a rally in Troy. Jones said a private rally was planned for Saturday night in Reidsville if weather permits. Neither Reidsville police nor the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office said they were aware of any Klan event in their community.

The Troy event was more of an hour-long shouting match between the Klan and the counter-protesters across the street than a Klan demonstration against illegal immigration. The parties were separated by Troy police, Montgomery sheriff’s deputies and state Highway Patrol officers.

Scout Rosen drove from Charlotte to protest against the Klan rally. “This is my home state, and I think a lot of us are pretty disturbed with the idea of them thinking that this is the kind of place they can have those kinds of rallies,” Rosen said.

Despite threats from both sides of the street, there was no violence.

Jones told the Greensboro News & Record that the Klan is focusing on illegal immigration because of “how we’re being replaced in our own communities. This is only happening in white countries.”

According to an article posted Friday on the Christian Science Monitor’s website, the number of Klan groups has declined since 2010, from 221 to about 150, with a total of perhaps 6,000 members nationwide.

The Monitor article said Klan chapters “are likely trying to piggy-back on widespread anger over a flood of illegal migrant children.”

Klan officials have focused on concerns of the impact of illegal immigration on the economy and job market as wedge issues to drum up support.

Porter said she has attended several anti-Klan rallies in North Carolina, some held in conjunction with a Klan event.

“They may be thinking they can gain inroads with some people by altering their message to a hot-button issue like illegal immigration,” Porter said. “No matter how they spread their message, they are still scapegoating people.

“Except for native Americans, we’re all descendants of immigrants. There is nothing illegal about being a human being.”

Tony Ndege, who participated in the Welcome event, said he has attended at least 10 anti-Klan rallies in North Carolina and Tennessee.

“I guess expounding an anti-illegal immigrant message may get them some attention at a time when there is so much focus on the Central American children who are in our country as refugees,” Ndege said.

“There’s times when I feel for my safety, but there’s also safety in numbers and there have been so many cultural changes in the past 30-40 years that has helped to minimize the Klan’s influence.”

Nevertheless, Ndege said he will not underestimate the influence of the Klan or any hate group, no matter how small they may be in number.

“I’m just afraid that some cell of some of these extremist groups may be fueled enough by the flame of the anti-illegal immigration talk that they feel legitimized to take action against anyone supporting people who are undocumented in this country,” Ndege said.

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