Revolutionary chants of "power to the workers . . . death to the fascists" echoed through the streets of this normally sleepy village today as some 800 Maoist demonstrators rallied in commemoration of abolitionist John Brown's raid on the U.S. arsenal here 120 years ago.
The demonstrators -- almost twice Harpers Ferry's population of 429 -- marched down High Street to the arsenal site under the watchful eyes of more than 100 assorted police officers, mounted horsemen and armed park rangers.
It was Harpers Ferry's first political demonstration in recent memory, and with the Maoists' militant rhetoric, their tendency to pick fights with right wing groups and their repeated vows to overthrow American capitalism, authorities in the town and the surrounding national park had clearly decided the overthrow would not start here.
As it turned out, all went smoothly. The demonstrators -- members and supporters of the Progressive Labor Party and its affiliated International Committee Against Racism -- marched in disciplined order through the village, their red and yellow revolutionary banners billowing in the light autumn breeze.
U.S. Park Police Maj. D. R. Sorah estimated the crowd at about 800.
Townspeople and tourists visiting the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park here 60 miles northwest of Washington stared indifferently at the marchers.
"Thirty hours work for 40 hours pay . . . Smash the Nazis and the KKK!" chanted the crowd led by a sound truck down the steep streets of the village.
Scores of helmeted park police officers, rangers and the entire six-man Harpers Ferry police department lined High Street as the marchers went by. Squads of mounted park policemen and motorcycle officers were held in staging areas nearby. West Virginia state troopers closed off access to the town during much of the demonstration.
"This has really cut into my hotel trade," said Dixie Kilham as he watched the crowd stream by his nearby Hilltop House Hotel.
Many bystanders did not know what the demonstration was about.
"I think it's some kind of racist group," said an elderly tourist.
If some bystanders were confused, the demonstrators were not.
"We have come to raise the spirit of revolution," said Finley Campbell, chairman of the Committee Against Racism, as he stood at the John Brown Fort, last remaining building of the arsenal seized by Brown and 21 of his abolitionist followers in a futile attempt to get the 90,000 government rifles stores here. Brown was captured and later hanged for his acts.
Today's demonstrators, who came here by bus from New York, Washington and other cities, were a mixture of old and young, black and white.
At the rally site, Campbell pointed at a squad of helmeted police horsemen nearby and said, "They are the new SS . . . they are Cossacks . . . well, (if) they keep their distance, we'll keep ours -- for now."