KKK relives the Civil War

    Civil War battlefields, magnets for tourists and the media, are a new target
    of the Ku Klux Klan.

    The white supremacist organization will demonstrate Sept. 2 at Gettysburg
    National Military Park in Pennsylvania, site of the Civil War’s bloodiest
    battle.

    It will be the second event of its type in three months. About 30 Klansmen
    and members of like-minded groups rallied June 10 at Antietam National
    Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Md.

    Gordon Young, a Sharpsburg resident and imperial wizard of the World Knights
    of the KKK, obtained the permits for both demonstrations.

    “The Klan is the ghost of the Confederacy,” Young said yesterday in
    explaining his interest in battlefields where Southern soldiers fought and died.

    He has another reason for staging rallies at Civil War sites.

    “The battle-fields protect my constitutional rights a lot better than the
    cities do,” said Young, 40, a Klan member for 16 years.

    Gettysburg, in south central Pennsylvania, is the nation’s most-visited Civil
    War site, drawing 1.7 million people a year.

    John A. Latschar, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, said
    he is obligated to accommodate the Klan. He called the organization’s claim of
    racial superiority “inflammatory,” but said it nonetheless is protected by the
    First Amendment.

    “The United States Constitution guarantees everyone the right to speak freely
    and to assemble peaceably, regardless of the content of their message,” Latschar
    said.

    The staff at Antietam took an identical position. “The Supreme Court has
    ruled consistently that national parks in particular are places of freedom of
    expression,” said Antietam Superintendent John Howard.

    Some 30 people went to Antietam to counter the Klan. Both groups were dwarfed
    by police, who numbered about 200.

    Ben Wagner, human resources manager of Antietam, said the Klan received more
    publicity for its appearance at the battlefield than it did when it rallied a
    few miles away in the town of Sharpsburg.

    Antietam and Gettysburg remain in the public eye because of their wartime
    significance. The battle at Antietam Creek on Sept. 17, 1862, left 23,000 Union
    and Confederate soldiers dead, wounded or missing. That was the single most
    destructive day of the Civil War. One soldier who died was only 12 years old.

    Fighting at Gettysburg lasted July 1-3, 1863. It left 51,000 soldiers dead,
    injured or missing.

    (E-mail Milan Simonich at msimonich(at)post-gazette.com.)