City officials and local advocates for racial and religious tolerance have expressed diverging opinions on how to respond to a neo-Nazi group's plans to march in downtown Washington on Saturday afternoon.
The American Nationalist Party, a South Carolina-based group that is "dedicated to the establishment of an Aryan homeland," plans to march from James Monroe Park, at 20th and I streets NW, down Pennsylvania Avenue to Lafayette Square, capping the three-hour event with a 6 p.m. rally outside the White House.
Three other organizations also have received National Park Service permits for counter-demonstrations to protest the neo-Nazi group, which also calls itself the Knights of Freedom.
In a statement Monday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) announced plans to address a counter-rally at 2 p.m. Saturday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Local community and civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the American Jewish Committee and the Latino Civil Rights Center, are sponsoring the peaceful "Respect Rally," said Cheryl Kravitz, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of the national capital area, one of the sponsors.
An ad-hoc coalition called D.C. United to Stop the Nazis is planning to meet the neo-Nazi group at Monroe Park at the beginning of the march. Shalom International, a Jewish activist group based in Miami Beach, will face the neo-Nazi demonstrators at the end of their march.
The march also coincides with the daylong Unity in Diversity Day on the Mall. The African American Holiday Association applied in May 1998 for a special-event permit for the Aug. 7 event that celebrates pluralism, said Ayo Handy-Clary, an organizer. The neo-Nazi march, just seven blocks away, may "upstage what was designed to be a day of healing and reconciliation," Handy-Clary said.
Some officials are urging citizens to pay no heed to the latest white supremacist group.
"If you would just ignore them, they would just go away," said Cmdr. Michael Radzilowski of the D.C. police special operations division, which is charged with keeping order at rallies and marches. "If you want to increase their cause, then you show up and counter-demonstrate and give them the publicity they're looking for." Radzilowski declined to discuss how many officers would be deployed on Saturday, but said none would be working overtime.
Law enforcement officials expressed concern there may be a recurrence of violence that erupted at a similar rally in October 1990. Fourteen people were injured and 40 were arrested in scuffles with police when 27 members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan marched down Constitution Avenue.
Officials from the D.C. police and the Park Service have met with officials of the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Capitol Police, the Secret Service and the D.C. fire department to coordinate plans for Saturday, Radzilowski said.
Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, which in 1990 defended the Klan's right to march in the District, said the media, including The Washington Post, have inflamed public tensions by reporting on the planned march.
Members of the neo-Nazi group "would like nothing better than to have a loud crowd of protesters at their march," Spitzer said.
At the center of the controversy is a two-year-old group that has never held a planned march before. The American Nationalist Party has fewer than 150 members, many of them recruited over the Internet, said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks extremist right-wing groups in this country.
In an interview, Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a senior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., who founded the group in 1996, said the march is to "stand up for white rights." He said that laws punish hate crimes committed by white people while ignoring violent acts by black Americans, and that the U.S. government is controlled by Jews. "America should be run by white people, not by Jews, not by blacks, not by Asians," he said.
Among the counter-demonstration efforts, the Anti-Defamation League's Washington office is sponsoring a "Project Lemonade" in which citizens can pledge donations based on the duration of the march. The money will be given to the families of a black basketball coach and a Korean American doctoral student fatally shot last month by a white supremacist Indiana University student, said David C. Friedman, the Washington office director.