Two dozen Ku Klux Klan members held a downtown rally Saturday in this usually quiet dairy community to show support for college students who threw a party that was criticized for being racist.
Three people were arrested after a scuffle broke out with counter-protesters near the end of the 90-minute rally, but no other violence was reported. The event drew about 500 bystanders who booed and held anti-hate signs.
The group chose the small town for the rally in response to a controversy two months ago at a local college. Tarleton State students held an off-campus party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and ate fried chicken, drank malt liquor from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags and dressed as Aunt Jemima and other black stereotypes.
The school later chastised them and held a student forum to discuss race relations and a unity rally. At least one student shown in party photos posted on the Internet later apologized.
Last month, the San Angelo area-based Klan members distributed literature around town. During the rally, one Klan member said Tarleton State was a good school but had a "spineless administration" for how it handled that situation.
"We felt like those kids were railroaded ... and we felt like that was handled totally wrong by the college and by the people of Stephenville also," Roger Davidson, the Klan's grand dragon of Texas, said after the rally. "We stand behind anybody's freedom of speech."
The Traditional Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who wore black T-shirts or suits and not the white robes and hoods traditionally associated with the group, were separated from onlookers by two fences and dozens of law enforcement officers. Klan members also voiced opposition to illegal immigration during the rally.
Faye Landham of Arlington said she was appalled when she heard the Klan still existed, much less was holding a rally. She said she went to downtown Stephenville, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas, to counter some of the Klan's messages.
"I think they're evil people," said Landham. "They go around saying they're Christians and flying the Christian flag. I certainly don't think Jesus would approve."
After about two dozen people attended a peace rally at a city park Saturday, many of them went downtown to counter the Klan's rally.
"When I found out about the Klan event, I thought, `Are we in the right century?' Everyone has freedom of speech, but Stephenville has been portrayed in a pretty negative light, and I wanted to take a stand to say that's not who we are," said peace rally co-organizer Jennifer Gelski.
It was third such rally in the state by a Klan group in less than a year.
In June, about 25 members of the Empire Knights of Texas rallied in Midland to protest illegal immigration, drawing a crowd of onlookers and counter-protesters of about 500. In August, about 20 Empire Knights members marched in Amarillo, also protesting illegal immigration, while some 600 to 800 bystanders and counter-protesters gathered nearby.
Source: AP News