Ku Klux Klan will gather at or near Export for 'mandatory' meeting

| Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

Export officials are dismayed to learn that a meeting of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is planned for Saturday.

According to its website, the KKK will host a meet-and-greet that includes a cross lighting and speakers at an undisclosed location with an Export address.

The website says the rally is a mandatory meeting for all Pennsylvania and Maryland members of the group.

Mayor Michael Calder said he had not heard about the rally and does not like the idea of the racist group being associated with his hometown.

"It's just ridiculous and an insult to common sense," Calder said this week.

Councilwoman Melanie Litz doubts the Klan meeting will be held in the borough, pointing out that the Export ZIP code is shared by other municipalities, such as Murrysville, Delmont and Penn and Salem townships.

"I would like to know who the property owner is who is allowing their land to be used," Litz said. "Certainly, as council, we don't condone or support this."

An Export phone number listed on the Klan's website was answered by a woman who refused to give her name.

"There will be no rally. This is a private meeting, a private event," she said.

Trooper Steve Limani, spokesman for the Greensburg barracks, said the state police are not planning any special action because of the Klan meeting. Limani said he does not know the location of the meeting, but believes it will be held on private property.

"We'll be ready to respond if we need to," he said.

This is not the first time the KKK has been linked to Export. In November, several homemade KKK recruiting placards were posted on telephone poles and on the exteriors of business windows.

The KKK has been meeting privately in Export for several years, said Chris Barker, imperial wizard for the Loyal White Knights of the KKK. He called Saturday's meeting a "white unity gathering" that will include members from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.

"(We're not) going out into the street to cause trouble," Barker said. "There's a lot of black-on-white crime in Pennsylvania. A lot of people are calling us left and right, very concerned with what's going on there in Pennsylvania."

KKK membership in the state has spiked in recent years, Barker said, and the Klan is becoming more active across Pennsylvania.

"We're trying to change how Northerners look at us," said Barker, who is from North Carolina. "We're not afraid for people to know who we are. We are the Ku Klux Klan, and (we're not going anywhere)."

On the website, the group claims it is not a hate group.

"We do not hate any group of people," it states. "However, we do hate some things that certain groups are doing to our race and nation."

It is uncommon for a group like the KKK to hold a rally so close to an urban area such as Pittsburgh, said Nina Sundell, regional director for Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia of the Anti-Defamation League. Sundell said the KKK holds rallies for various reasons, and the location depends on its motive.

"One is they want attention. They want people to know they are there," Sundell said. "(Second,) they can be trying to intimidate communities. Third, it's a recruitment strategy, especially in larger areas."

The Constitution protects the right to assemble and freedom of speech. State police, which provide police protection in Export, have to find a balance between protecting those constitutional rights and protecting the people the KKK is assembling against, Limani said.

Litz understands the difficulty for police with such meetings.

"They have the right to assemble," she said. "But that doesn't mean we have to support it."

Sundell suggested that community members come together to show that their beliefs differ from the Klan's.

"(Borough residents) want to show that they are an inclusive and safe environment for all of their residents," Sundell said. "By remaining silent, you're acting as a bystander. It's really important that the minorities and those that are being targeted in Export know that people want them in the community."

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