GETTYSBURG, Pa. – When visitors to the Gettysburg Battlefield happened upon a Ku Klux Klan rally in progress, several of the tourists approached park rangers to ask if what they were witnessing was a reenactment.
Only 10 members of the Maryland-based Traditional Rebel Knights klavern participated in the Saturday afternoon rally, in a fenced-off area near Union General George Gordon Meade's Headquarters, off the Taneytown Road, across from the Soldiers National Cemetery. While the rally was to begin at noon, the KKK members did not arrive until about 30 minutes later.
Dressed in Klan regalia, the group proceeded to condemn President Barack Obama, Democrats, Republicans, minorities, gays Jews, the media and just about everybody who was different than themselves. Albert Fike, the group's vice president, offered his gratitude to members of military; and then, various members took turns speaking through a megaphone.
During tirades by various Klan members, a number of the about 50 spectators heckled the speakers, telling them “to leave the country if they don't like it here.” Other spectators yelled, saying they were “disgraceful” and “an embarrassment to humans.”
Near the end of the rally, one robed klan member told the crowd that after they left Gettysburg, the group was on its way to Frederick, Md., to protest “gay day.” What he was referring to was the 3rd Annual Frederick Pride day, which was held from noon to 6 p.m., Saturday, in the downtown area.
Tammy Pedon and Marguerethe Jaede, both of Columbus, Ohio, who described themselves as lacrosse moms, yelled at Klan members and openly and loudly ridiculed statements made by Klan members. Pedon and Jaede were attending a lacrosse sports camp with their sons, which was being held at nearby Gettysburg College.
“I had been walking the battlefield today, when I noticed the flags and asked a park ranger what was happening,” Pedon said. “He told me and I was in absolute disbelief this could happen. I can't believe the ignorance. It's ignorance with a ginormous capital 'I.' It was worse than I could have ever imagined.”
When Pedon learned of the rally, she texted Jaede to alert her what was occurring at the park. At first Jaede thought Pedon was joking, but quickly realized it was no joke.
“If people are going to say this stuff, then somebody needs to be there to respond,” Jaede said. “You can't let people spew their ignorance without a response. You don't want to be a silent partner in such ignorance.”
Among the spectators were about five members of a different Maryland klavern. John Kries, the Pennsylvania Grand Dragon of the Confederate White Knights of the KKK, also based in Maryland, said he, attended to lend his support and to hear what they had to say.
State and local police assisted Gettysburg National Military Park rangers with crowd control. Pennsylvania State Police also supplied a mounted unit.
In a media statement, Katie Lawhon, spokesperson for the Gettysburg National Military Park, explained that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permits free speech and the right to peaceful assembly. The group, earlier, had applied for and had been granted a special use permit to hold the rally.
"The National Park Service Mission in preserving and protecting the historic resources at Gettysburg includes making them available to all Americans, even those whose views are contrary to the majority of the American public," the release states. "National parks host hundreds of first amendment activities each year, the majority of which take place in our nation's capital. Some, like Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech at the Lincoln Memorial, reflect the prevailing mood of the American people, while others deliver a more controversial message whose validity is ultimately judged by the American people."
The rally ended at 1 p.m., as KKK members were whisked away in a park service van before media could approach to ask questions. In all, the rally was peaceful.