The demonstrations slated for this past weekend in Washington put me in mind of a Ku Klux Klan rally I covered several years ago in Jasper, Texas. The Klan was there to disavow and distance themselves from the dragging murder of James Byrd — no reason not to believe every word they would say. The guys who murdered Byrd were strictly their own actors with their own murderous impulses and motives. I’d never done a Klan rally before. A couple of riots here and there, but no Klan rallies. I got to Jasper well before rally time that day. I had a couple of things in mind. One was a getaway plan. My riot experiences had taught me that it was a lot easier to get into the middle of a riot than it is to get yourself back out of one. Got that necessity worked out pretty quickly. Next was an intelligence operation I dreamed up, which I thought would work in almost any small American town: I went to the local Walmart, pushed a cart up and down the aisles and eavesdropped on everybody in sight for two hours. The highly successful intelligence effort confirmed that no one was more outraged by what had happened to Byrd or more embarrassed by all the negative attention it had brought Jasper than the people of Jasper themselves. It was a nice looking town, Jasper. In some ways, it is similar to our own town of Paris — a downtown kempt, active and surrounded by the beginnings of neighborhoods of some very nice houses and people. The courthouse square was just as nice. Green and rambling with arrays of elegant landscaping, perfectly trimmed and kept. I meandered the Jasper square, just as I do Paris’ square every time I can get near it. On this day, the square, in spite of what was in the offing, was quiet, and slow. And it was June and it was pretty darned hot. The most curious thing going on was that hardly anything at all was going on. The place brimmed with law enforcement efforts in preparation for the rally — they were at once as subtle as they were massive. The square was surrounded by graduating perimeters of every kind of police you could imagine: local police, local deputies, borrowed police from other localities; Borrowed deputies from other counties and quite a gathering of state police, carefully moved back from the center of things in every direction. The only thing that out-measured the police presence was the media presence. Everything you could imagine from everywhere blended in on the edges of the police presence. The place was up to its ears in media trucks, media vans and communications sites and arrangements and throngs upon throngs of media people — most of them looking pretty unaccustomed to the Texas heat that day. And while all of this conglomeration pretty much surrounded the square, the square itself was hardly populated at all. The hour of the rally approached, but still the crowd was small and there was no sign of the Klan or much of anything else. No sign, that is, until the appointed hour, when open swung the courthouse doors and out came the Klan members (and dozens of other folks of assorted descriptions) who had apparently been the guests that morning of the locals for coffee and refreshments inside the courthouse and in air-conditioned comfort. In what was immediately obvious, the Klan folk took up positions in what had to be a planned and designated space on the lengthy front walk of the courthouse. What I could only guess were ranks of officialdom took similar positions on the courthouse steps and on the lawn. There were lots and lots of them, too. Even more law enforcers exited the courthouse and took positions on the outer edges of all that was now rapidly gathering on the lawn. Then, and only then, did we “rally tourists” start gravitating to the center of things. The Klan members stood still, placid and stoic — robed but not hooded, and sans torches, burning crosses or any implements menace. Some fellow, whom I assumed was some sort of local official, came forward to introduce the Texas Klan leader, who was a short, slight fellow with red hair and in a business suit. The Klan leader got directly to the point. On behalf of his Klan folk, the leader deplored and condemned what had happened to Byrd and the kind of folk who would do such a thing. (All I can tell you is what he said.) And he went on to share with those gathered what drove him to be a Klansman and, by his testimony, it wasn’t hate or a lust for doing anyone or anything harm. He then closed by sharing, should anyone care to visit with him further, his home address, his home phone number and invited anyone in the crowd who ever wanted to drop by his house. He’d make them some iced tea and they could sit on his front porch and talk over anything they wanted to for as long as they wanted. Well, sir, I beg to tell you that if anybody on or near that square that day wanted to make trouble about anything, the opportunity had eluded them. And shortly, everything and everybody on the square had dispersed and were gone. Of course, that was a lot of years ago. But it now comes to mind now because of whatever it is that was set happen with whatever “Justice J-6” is this past weekend in Washington. I don’t really know what a J-6-er is and couldn’t guess how any of the J-6 thing might have turned out, but a handy point of reference when measuring the J-6-ers and their rally might be if they demonstrate the dignity, class and restraint of, say, a Klan rally in Jasper, Texas.
CLYDE PETERSON of Houston is a Henry County native who retired after 41 years as the editorial cartoonist of the Houston Chronicle. He submitted this column last week. His email address is email@example.com.