Sharpsburg -- Calling themselves the "ghosts of the Confederacy," white supremacists from several groups held a rally at Antietam National Battlefield yesterday, the first time any group has been permitted to demonstrate at the site of the bloodiest day of the Civil War.
About 30 men, women and children gathered at what was a family farm at the time of the battle to commemorate their "forefathers" who "fought for our liberty as white men," said Gordon Young, imperial wizard of the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
A few donned the white robes characteristic of the Klan, while others identifying with the National Socialist Movement wore swastika arm bands and other mock-military uniforms.
Young, of Hagerstown, who was dressed in a brown business suit, said he had applied for a First Amendment permit so he and others could talk about "black-on-white crime," and his group's fight for "equal treatment as whites."
As he and others spoke, an assembly of local residents, bikers and activists shouted them down with a bullhorn and chants.
An equal number of supremacists and counterprotesters came to the event, which was closely watched by about 200 officers from the Maryland State Police, the U.S. Park Police, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the National Park Service. The two groups were separated by several hundred feet, and about a dozen police in riot gear stood between them as they shouted back and forth at each other.
No incidents of violence were reported.
Both groups invoked the sanctity of Antietam, where about 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in one day in 1862.
Lori Bartles of Sharpsburg was among the loudest of the counterprotesters.
"They come here because this is a very peaceful town, and they know they won't meet with violent protesters," she said. "They would never come to Baltimore."
Helaina Hinson, dressed in what she said was a historically accurate Confederate uniform from the Virginia Infantry, came from her home in Benson, N.C., to turn her back on the Klansmen. "They're not worth listening to," she said.
She extolled the multiculturalism of the Confederate force, saying that women, black men and American Indians were known to have fought on the Southern side.
A Baltimore-based biker group - Semites on Bikes -shouted at the supremacists, asking them to take off their masks and yelling: "The problem is you."
A few people from the Frederick Progressive Action Committee came wearing Mohawk haircuts, pirate hats and bandannas and began to sing and beat on a water jug. Together with the bikers, they sang renditions of "America the Beautiful" and "Hava Nagila," a Hebrew folk song whose title means "Let us rejoice."
Asked why he came to the event, Chris Stevenson of the Frederick group said, "Because we don't like racists."