On a Civil War battlefield where tens of thousands of men clashed fifteen decades ago, eight Ku Klux Klan members unfurled their group's banner Saturday afternoon and called for a new uprising to oust President Barack Obama.
The Klansmen — who jostled for numerical superiority with a herd of cows grazing nearby — were watched by officers from the United States Park Police and about 15 spectators, as one of them explained how he believes Obama's foreign, economic and immigration policies are threatening America.
"Barack Hussein Obama has been out to destroy American from the beginning," said the hooded speaker over a microphone. "Our forefathers would have already started something."
The speaker explained that he did not believe the president is a United States citizen and described the Affordable Care Act health care law as "communism at its finest." The group, known as the Confederate White Knights, has a petition calling for Obama's impeachment on its website.
The group obtained a permit to demonstrate at the battlefield, which is operated as a national park, the second time a KKK group had done so. A now-defunct outfit known as the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was the first in 2006.
Sgt. Paul Brooks, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said any group regardless of their views is welcome to hold a demonstration as long as they apply for a permit and follow the rules.
"That's the First Amendment, and that's the beauty of living in America," he said.
The police carefully marked out areas with orange fences for the KKK group, sympathizers, media and counter-demonstrators. Spectators were asked to watch from the back, about 125 yards from the hooded Klansmen.
The Klan members were driven into the park in a U.S. Department of the Interior minibus flanked by four motorcycle outriders. Mounted police officers stood nearby during the rally.
Brooks said the police were not expecting any problems but that they wanted to be prepared.
But the hooded speaker questioned the need for all the security and said the KKK's reputation for violence was ill-deserved.
Richard Preston, the leader of the Baltimore area group who uses the title Imperial Wizard, explained in an interview Friday that the organization was not racist at its origins, saying that it lost its way during the civil rights era of the 1960s.
"There was a lot of conflict ... it gave the Klan a very bad name," he said.
But David Harty, 61, the lone person occupying the designated area for counter-demonstrators, said he found that hard to swallow.
"The KKK is not racist? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he said. Harty, who held a sign reading "KKK go away," said he used to come to the battlefield with a Scout troop to light candles to remember the soldiers who fell there on Sept. 17, 1862.
He described the Klan's use of the place for its rally as a "desecration."
The Battle of Antietam, fought near Sharpsburg in Washington County, was the bloodiest single-day engagement of the Civil War, with 23,000 casualties. The battle was not a clear win for either side, but ended the first Confederate invasion of the Union and led President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the rebel states.
The KKK was founded after the Civil War to oppose Reconstruction, a set of policies designed to cement the rights of freed slaves.
While Preston said that "slavery should have never happened" he added that "things for the United States started to go wrong with Lincoln. … He was the first liberal president."
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