The Ku Klux Klan is planning a recruitment rally and cross burning Saturday night in West River in Anne Arundel County, prompting reactions from community leaders ranging from anxiety to disgust.
"I don't know why here, or what has caused this thing to occur," said Peg Burroughs, a West River community activist. "It's a mystery to me, because blacks and whites have lived together for years here, very close to each other."
In the last Anne Arundel County KKK appearance, three Klansmen marched outside the Annapolis City Hall in 1989, denouncing Alderman Carl O. Snowden's civil rights work. Mr. Snowden said Klan activity in the county has been sporadic.
"Apparently, they're trying to reassert themselves, trying to get a foothold in the county," Mr. Snowden said. "I would hope elected officials would condemn them and their activities."
Roger L. Kelly, grand dragon of the Maryland KKK, said the rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the 5200 block of Chalk Point Road because residents requested it.
"We had people write from the area and we tried to get rally grounds, and we got rally grounds there. So that's where it's going to be," Mr. Kelly said.
According to Klanwatch, an organization that monitors KKK activity nationally, the Klan has about 6,000 members in about 100 groups across the country.
"Overall, there is increased interest in the white supremacist movement in recent years," said researcher David Webb, citing a 27 percent increase in membership in such groups between 1991 and 1992.
In Maryland, most of the active Klan groups are in Cecil County, particularly in the town of Elkton. Klanwatch identifies one Anne Arundel County group, in Edgewater.
Mr. Kelly said the rally is being sponsored by the Klan chapters, called Klaverns, in St. Mary's and Charles counties. He said there is one Klavern in northern Anne Arundel County, adding that the Klan would like to expand in South County.
He refused to say how many members his group had in the state or the county.
Klan members have been handing out fliers door-to-door in South County, South Baltimore and St. Mary's and Charles counties for the last month publicizing the rally, Mr. Kelly said.
He expects between 20 and 70 Klan members to attend from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
Mr. Kelly described his group's members as white separatists. "We believe in separation of the races, not white supremacy," he said. "Some Klans let neo-Nazis or skinheads in. We don't have anything against them, but we don't let them in our organization."
County police plan to keep an eye on the rally but from a distance. Their only presence will be two or three officers, if needed, for traffic control.
"They have a right to say what they want to say, within certain restrictions, as long as they don't get physical or violent," said Officer Terry Crowe, a police spokesman.
"And that applies to any other group that shows up down there as well," he said.
Officer Crowe said county police had been working with the KKK to ensure that the rally is conducted peacefully. "So far, they've been very cooperative and we don't expect any trouble at all," he said.
But there may be a problem if the Klan goes ahead with the cross burning, which occurs at the end of a rally as new members are sworn in.
Officer Crowe said they would normally need an open burning permit, which could not be granted in this case because the fire would burn too close to a building.
Mr. Kelly said he believes he has clearance to burn the cross, and the ceremony will go forward.
Some residents believe the best response to the Klan rally is to ignore it.
"I don't know if there are going to be a lot of people, but my inclination is to stay away," Ms. Burroughs said.
"I don't want any more attention given to this thing. Too bad they don't stay down in St. Mary's and Charles [counties] and leave us alone."
Andy Thornton, who manages a United Methodist Church camp down the road from the rally site, also urged his neighbors to stay away.
"I don't want my kids to go by there and see that," he said. "I have to admit that I'm sure disappointed, but I don't think that kind of activity reflects the attitude of most people down here in South County."
Although the Klan rally was supposed to have been widely publicized, the immediate neighborhood didn't get the word. Most people questioned were unaware that anything had been planned for Saturday.
Some neighbors said motorcycle enthusiasts frequent the rally site during the summertime for outdoor parties that feature loud music.
Mr. Kelly said the Klan rented the property for the rally and he did not know whether the owner was a Klan member.