ANNAPOLIS – Organizers of Saturday’s Ku Klux Klan rally in Annapolis have a permit for 60 people, but groups that monitor the KKK said there probably aren’t that many Klansmen in the state.
“If they have 30 members, I think most people would be surprised,” said David Friedman, director of the Washington, D.C., Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League.
Friedman said Maryland is no different than the rest of the nation, where Klan membership has dwindled and the white- supremacist group has had difficulty recruiting.
He estimated that there are probably no more than 3,000 Klansmen nationwide, as the group has lost members to more volatile neo-Nazi and militia groups.
Capt. Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said there are fewer than 75 active Klansmen in the state, but he could not predict how many might show up Saturday.
Klansmen did not respond to attempts to contact them Friday and Annapolis Police refused to release the name of the rally permit-holder, or any other details about the event.
But The (Annapolis) Capital reported this week that the American Knights branch of the KKK plans to protest Black History Month at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on Lawyers Mall by the State House.
The rally will take place in the shadow of a statue honoring Thurgood Marshall, a Maryland native and the first black justice on the Supreme Court.
Local groups have been placing flowers by Marshall’s statue this month in honor of Black History Month and in anticipation of the KKK rally.
Tawanda Shaw, a researcher for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said East Coast KKK rallies usually attract only 20 or 30 members.
“They’re usually uneventful,” Shaw said.
Both she and Friedman urged counterdemonstrators to stay away from the KKK in order to keep the rally uneventful. Friedman said counterprotests can lead to problems and violence.
“It’s not something we recommend unless it’s peaceful and far away from these folks,” he said.
At least two counterdemonstrations are planned.
One group plans to march from Calvert and Bladen streets at 12:30 p.m. to Church Circle and into St. Anne’s Church for a peaceful protest. Church bells around Annapolis will toll at 1:30 p.m., when counterdemonstrators will observe a moment of reflection.
“We are responding to the Klan, but our message is one of unity,” said Paul Callens, who is working with the coalition sponsoring the event.
Police have also granted a permit for a second demonstration on Bladen Street, within sight of the KKK rally. Callens said he fears the Bladen Street demonstration will give the Klan a platform, which “feeds right into their objective.”
Shipley said state and local police are coordinating their efforts and will be ready if problems arise at any of the functions.
“We will be taking every precaution to protect the safety of everyone involved tomorrow,” he said.