Insults, fists greet KKK members at New York rally

CNN/October 23, 1999

New York -- More than a thousand anti-Ku Klux Klan protesters gathered in New York on Saturday afternoon, hurling insults and in at least one case swift punches at Klan members, dressed in white gowns and hoods and flanked by heavily equipped police officers.

But the small group of Klan members were not wearing their traditional masks, having been ordered by a federal appeals court not to wear them at the event.

Members of the Partisan Defense Committee -- which had plastered the city with 80,000 leaflets advertising its demonstration -- and other activists carried placards reading "Stop the KKK" and spoke into bullhorns at makeshift podiums before the KKK rally began.

ACLU makes pro-Klan appeal to Supreme Court

A Friday decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Klan members had to remove their masks reversed a ruling issued Thursday by a pair of federal judges.

Attorneys representing the Klan said they have filed an emergency appeal of the Friday ruling to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who handles such appeals for New York.

There was no immediate action by Ginsburg, who can either grant the request to lift the appeals court order, deny it or refer it to the full court. The city went to court to block the Klan event by invoking an 1845 state law that bars groups from congregating in public places in masks or disguises, except for authorized parties or entertainment.

In Friday's ruling, the appeals panel noted that the case was different from other cases across the country in part because the city was not trying to bar the rally because of the Klan's anti-Semitic, anti-minority rhetoric -- just enforce an existing state law.

In Thursday's ruling, two federal judges dismissed the city's effort to make the Klan abide by the law, saying the First Amendment guaranteed the KKK the right to rally with masks.

Al Sharpton supports Klan's right to rally

The New York Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the KKK after the city refused to grant the Klan a permit unless participants agreed not to leave off their masks.

Among those supporting the KKK's right to march were activist Al Sharpton's National Action Network and the Amsterdam News, a newspaper that calls itself a "significant voice of Black America."

Daniel Connolly, a city lawyer, had argued that the antimasking requirement is an important tool aimed at avoiding violence. He said when people are allowed to gather wearing disguises there is a "removal of accountability." Organizer lost prison job because of Klan ties

The Rev. James Sheeley, a Klan leader who applied for the permit, said his group chose New York to try to overturn the mask law. The Klan has won similar court orders in Indiana and Pennsylvania.

The state confirmed that Sheeley, the grand dragon of new York and New Jersey, was forced to resign in 1997 from an 18- year career with the state Department of Correction -- a job that included counseling inmates. He resigned in 1997 after an investigation by the department's inspector general discovered he had white supremacy literature, including KKK magazines and related periodicals and documents, a corrections department spokesman said.

Sheeley worked as a counselor at the Wallkill Correctional Facility. There was no indication the white supremacist material had been disseminated in the upstate prisons. He could not be reached for comment.

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