City, county and state law enforcement agencies are coordinating efforts to ensure public safety on Saturday, Sept. 24, when the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan plan to hold a rally from noon to 2 p.m. at Madison’s Fireman’s Park on Vaughn Drive — during the Chautauqua Festival of Art and Old Court Days celebrations.

In a document submitted several weeks ago to Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace, representatives from the Klan – Imperial Officers Larry Philmore of Fort Wayne and Robert Preston of Baltimore, MD. – requested to hold the rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

However, since the Courthouse will be surrounded by Old Court Days vendors and patrons, city and county attorneys sought advice from an Indianapolis attorney who specializes in 1st Amendment issues to see if it was legal to ask the Klan to hold the rally at another location, Mayor Damon Welch said.

The attorney advised that, because of the previously planned event, local officials had the right to offer the Klan another location for the rally, Welch said, adding that Klan officials ”verbally agreed” to move the rally to Fireman’s Park, which is outside of the footprint of both Old Court Days and the Chautauqua.

In a telephone interview Friday, Philmore confirmed that his organization did agree to hold the rally at the park.

“We did not know the festival was going on,” he said, adding it wasn’t the Klan’s intention for the rally to coincide with Chautauqua weekend, which draws thousands of visitors to Madison each year. “That’s not how we do things,” he said.

One reason Madison was chosen for the rally is because the KKK “has had a chapter there for years. It’s been passed down from generation to generation,” Philmore said.

Though known for its promotion of white supremacy, Philmore said the Klan’s goal that weekend will be to emphasize the growing problem of drug trafficking and drug abuse that’s affecting so many people in Jefferson, Clark and other counties throughout southern Indiana.

“It’s getting out of hand with heroin. Black, white or brown, it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows the issues and talks about it,” but, in the end, nothing is done to stop it, he said. “Now that we’re coming, the churches and everybody is talking about it. It’s a crazy way to do it, but people listen. Everyone thinks the Klan is a black-and-white issue. It’s a red, white and blue issue,” he said.

Regardless of the Klan’s goals, “we recognize their 1st Amendment right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech, even though we may not always agree with the message,” Wallace said.

In the meantime, Wallace, Welch, Madison Police Chief Dan Thurston and Capt. Anthony Scott of the Indiana State Police have met several times planning measures “to keep everyone safe and keep it peaceful,” the sheriff said.

That will apply, also, to any individual, group or organization that might be planning to protest the Klan’s presence, he said.

ISP will be assisting the city and county departments on the day of the rally. Wallace said ISP was brought in especially because the agency has experience with these events. “We rely on their expertise.”

Welch said that, while he would prefer the rally didn’t happen, “when you live in the society we do, a free society ... they have the right to (be here), as long as they are within the law. … We want all of this to be peaceful, and we expect it to be.”

Scott agreed. “I would encourage the people to come enjoy the Chautauqua and the events that are going on throughout the city” on Sept. 23, 24 and 25. “Don’t let this deter you from coming down. It’s a long-standing event you guys have had here, and we want you to continue to enjoy it.”
Klan Spokesman: Rally to focus on area drug problem

The subject of race will not be not the focus of the Sept. 24 rally in Madison planned by the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a Klan spokesman told a Madison Courier reporter on Friday.

“Our main (issue) is drug trafficking and the drug problem” that is plaguing Jefferson County and other counties throughout southern Indiana, said Larry Philmore of Fort Wayne.

The rally, which will be from noon to 2 p.m. at Fireman’s Park on Vaughn Drive, is intended to encourage people to “start standing up to drug dealers. It’s time to make a stand,” Philmore said. “If people have a problem with that, it’s on them.”

Philmore said the rally will begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, followed by a series of speakers. The event will be followed with a member “meet and greet,” he said, which will include “a cross lighting, not a cross burning,” held at an undisclosed location in the county.

“Cross-burning is what idiots do,” Philmore said. “It’s against our rules. It’s done by backyard rednecks that make the Klan look bad.”

Cross lighting, he explained, is simply a fraternal ritual of illuminating the cross with “the light of Jesus Christ. Out of the darkness comes the light,” he said, acknowledging that to be a member of the Klan, one must be a Christian.

“Do we allow any other races in? No. But, we’ve been here 151 years,” he said. “We’re the oldest civil rights organization in the country.”

Philmore said the event will be led by a “rally crew, 25 people, most not from Madison, because some (local Klan members) are police officers and blue-collar workers,” he said, adding that the Klan membership is made up of “all walks of every kind. It’s great. That’s the beauty of it.”

Sheriff John Wallace responded: “I have no knowledge of any local law enforcement officers with association to the Klan, whatsoever. If that was the case, we certainly would be aware.”

Though people often associate the Klan with the Nazis, Philmore said that’s an inaccurate description, even though the organization believes in white supremacy.

“We’re not Nazis, we’re Americans – red, white and blue, stars and bars.”

And the group hasn’t faded away, as some might think, Philmore said, adding that the group had an estimated 4 million members in the 1920s. He said he has seen estimates of 3,000 or 4,000 members.

“We never know how many people are members” are in the Invisible Empire, he said, adding that the more invisible the membership is, the better for the group as a whole.

Philmore said, too, that he doesn’t believe it’s an accident that the population of Indiana is still mostly white and that the races are, for the most part, segregated.

“Indiana has always been a big supporter of the Klan,” he said.
Jefferson County United: Madison is an open, welcoming community

A collection of concerned citizens calling themselves Jefferson County United hopes to discourage a late-September visit to Madison by the Ku Klux Klan.

Klan spokesman Larry Philmore of Fort Wayne said the event will not be focused on race issues, but is intended to bring awareness to the growing problem of drug trafficking plaguing Madison and the county, and other counties in southern Indiana.

In an open letter to Philmore and Richard Preston of Baltimore, Md., whose names and contact information appear on a document sent to Sheriff John Wallace announcing the Klan’s intent to rally, the group states:

“We pride ourselves on being an open, welcoming community. Maybe our reputation for hospitality was a factor in your decision to visit us. But if so, you take us too much for granted.

“We have been working hard for many years to create a strong, supportive community that welcomes people of all faiths, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and people from all parts of the world. Not everyone in the community shares our ideals, but many of us in Jefferson County strive nonetheless to embrace all people. ... We must speak out, therefore, against detestable messages of division, resentment, hatred and white supremacy. ... We are keenly aware of the disgraceful history of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana ... but this is not the Indiana of the 1920s. ... We decry your idealogy.”

So far, discussion of how to address the rally has occurred mostly in a Facebook group that has chosen to stay “secret” to exclude Internet trolls, said the Rev. Laura Arico. So far, there are 108 members of the group.

On Tuesday, the group held an informal meeting, inviting members of the Human Relations Commission, as well as law enforcement and representatives of Hanover College, said fellow member James Buckwalter. He said at least 50 people attended, all representing various segments of Jefferson County’s population.

“We are in the process now of trying to think what an appropriate, peaceful, nonconfrontational response would look like,” Buckwalter said. Coming to a consensus is difficult, particularly because of the group’s diversity.

Emphasizing that he was not speaking for the group, Buckwalter said he doesn’t believe anyone wants to confront the Klan. “If there’s a consensus about anything, it’s that (the KKK) is not a good group. We’re concerned about their presence here and we are discussing a possible constructive, peaceful response.”

“I think if you could boil it down to anything, that would be it,” Arico agreed.

Whatever approach is chosen, it will not be a show of opposition to the Klan, “although that’s what brought us together,” Arico said. “It’s meant to be a show of support for people of color in our community, the LGBT members in our community, for people of non-Christian faith in our community. It’s meant to be a visible show of support for them, whether the KKK comes or not.”

The movement, she said, is also more than being a response to the KKK’s presence.

“I see their visit as an opportunity to open up a conversation that maybe we have been avoiding as a community, about how we welcome people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, people of all faiths,” said Arico.

“To me, this is an opening of a conversation that should not have begun with this visit, and should definitely not end end there.”

Arico said, too, that the group is committed to being peaceful and nonviolent and members will, actually, receive training on how to do that.

“Part of the reason we’re committed to doing that is, to me, this is about learning to be better neighbors and growing as a community.”

“Many people told us the best thing to do is ignore (the Klan) and they’ll go away and everything will return to normal,” Buckwalter said, building on Arico’s comments. “But we don’t want to go back to normal. (Hopefully) their decision to come here will have the opposite effect of what they intended.”