MILWAUKEE – White supremacist groups held a march and rally Nov. 23 terminating on the steps of the Federal Courthouse here, drawing 50 to 60 participants and more than a thousand counterdemonstrators. This corresponded with predictions based on previous racist rallies, which took place in Madison in 1999 and in the Janesville-Beloit area in 1997.

While opponents spoke of the event as a rally of the Ku Klux Klan, no white sheets could be seen and only one white hood. Most of the assembled racists displayed the insignia of other sponsoring hate groups, such as the National Socialist Movement and the racist former Worldwide Church of the Creator, which used that name in spite of losing it to a new age religion in a trademark infringement suit. The racists were nearly all white men in their twenties and thirties, though at least one woman was with them.

Despite their attempted use of a megaphone, nothing they said could be heard over the noise of the counterdemonstration, so their message was carried entirely by flags, shields, a few signs, and an occasional Nazi salute. Signs read, ‘Rockwell was right,’ referring to the founder of the American Nazi Party, and ‘six million was not enough’ and denounced anti-racist groups, singling out the Communist Party and anarchistic youth group Anti-Racist Action (ARA). Both of these groups were represented within the counterdemonstration by dozens of mostly young people.

Nearly a thousand people came out in a rally against racism and hate, convening at the lakefront a few blocks east of the white supremacists’ demonstration site. Among the speakers was James Cameron, founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, located here, who told the story of how he survived a lynching at the hands of the Klan, while his brothers did not. Other speakers related family memories of resistance at the Warsaw Ghetto and in mundane but important ways locally, and drew pledges of love and resistance from the multiracial audience.

Iris Acevedo of the Rainbow Coalition told the crowd, ‘Those racist outsiders can’t come in our community and try to divide us – we’re united! Peace, Unity and Justice will be our revenge.’

After the speeches concluded, those assembled marched to meet the racists, and engaged in a noisy standoff for nearly two hours, with Native American drums, shofar horn blasts, and songs, chants and shouts drowning out the racists the whole time.

Milwaukee Police and county sheriff’s deputies controlled the street with about fifty officers in riot gear. Five officers were mounted on horseback, and a helicopter hovered overhead. Police Chief Arthur Jones, who is African American, made a brief public appearance to inspect the scene. Observers noted several police vans parked nearby in case of mass arrests.

Staff members of the state ACLU were present, though they had declined an approach from the Klan to represent them because there seemed little immediate threat to the Klan’s rights. ‘There’s certainly no lack of police protection,’ said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

Some eggs were thrown at the racists, and one young demonstrator was detained after displaying a jar of rocks labeled, ‘this machine annoys facists,’ but overall the demonstration maintained high energy without losing control or becoming violent.

‘I’m just so impressed by these young people,’ said Judge Louis Butler, who came close to being elected Wisconsin’s first African American Supreme Court Justice.

The finale of the confrontation came when Michael Grass and his new bride Shannon came to the rally straight from their wedding a few blocks away, in full wedding regalia, accompanied by the entire mixed-race wedding party. Holding signs that said ‘No Hate’ and ‘KKK = terrorism,’ the group stopped to receive applause and answer questions before proceeding through the throng up to the temporary fencing set up by police. ‘We both just really wanted to do this,’ said Michael, ‘we just thought, what a statement that would make.’ As they kissed under their signs to chants of ‘love, not hate,’ the press took photos and the racists chose that moment to leave quietly in the other direction.

Led by the newlyweds, the anti-Klan coalition marched away triumphantly.

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries