KKK to hold rally in Jasper, Texas

Friday, June 19, 1998

Ku Klux Klansmen are expected to hold a rally on June 27 in Jasper, an east Texas town that made national headlines last week after the torture-slaying of a black man.

James Byrd Jr., 49, was brutally beaten and then dragged to death behind a pickup truck June 7. The two-and-a-half mile ordeal decapitated and mangled the victim's body.

Three white men with suspected ties to white supremacist groups–Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, Shawn Allen Berry and John William King, both 23–are jailed without bail. The trio may face the death penalty if convicted of the killing, which was allegedly racially motivated.

Gary Gatlin, attorney for the town of 8,000, said that members of the Klan's Texas chapter have called the rally to announce that the trio is not connected to its white supremacist group.

The town requires groups to secure permits for marches, but not rallies.

Gatlin said: “The First Amendment says a person has the right to get up there, give opinions and say what they want to say.”

“From that standpoint,” Gatlin said, “What the Klan has to say is certainly controversial in itself, but that doesn't mean they can't get up there and say it.”

So far, no counter demonstrations are planned, Gatlin said. “What takes place in the next 10 days, I don't know.”

Some say the Klan's visit is only adding insult to injury. The Clinton administration considers it an unnecessary, divisive distraction.

“What would you feel like if the Klan came to your town?” asked a terse 60-year-old Jasper resident. “Why don't they leave us alone?”

Julie Cannon, who lives in nearby Kirbyville and works in Jasper, is afraid the Klan's presence will “start something.” She said: “I wish they wouldn't come here.”

Joseph L. Jacobsen, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, did not return phone calls.

Rally organizer Michael Lowe, the head of the Texas chapter of the KKK, also could not be reached.

District Attorney James Gray is scheduled to present evidence in the slaying case to a grand jury on July 6.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.