With their bedsheet robes folded neatly under their arms, 176 chanting Ku Klux Klan members and followers were locked up here today as police broke off their planned "white power" march on the state capitol.
Klan marchers, split into two columns and strung out along U.S. 80, were stopped in their four-day reenactment of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march led by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
That march, a milestone in the movement for civil rights, ended in violence, with state and local police attacking the demonstrators with tear gas, dogs and clubs, leaving many injured.
The mass arrests today were the first since the height of civil rights activity in the 1960s, police said. They also marked the largest mass arrests in the klan's hisotry.
In contrast to the civil rights arrests, today's went peacefully, despite pledges by state klan officials that the marchers would be "armed to the teeth." But in a confrontation Saturday, police arrested 21 other klan supporters and confiscated 100 weapons.
Montgomery city officials here had refused last week to grant the klan a parade permit. When the group's 50-mile Selma-to-Montgomery procession approached the city line, massed state and local police herded the marchers into an industrial parking lot, made them take off their white robes and bused them to the city jail.
The klan members raised their right fists in imitation of the black power salute as they marched off the four-lane highway to the buses. They chanted, "What do we want? White power," and "When are we going to get it? Now!" as the buses moved past police and reporters.
All the marchers - with the exception of 10 children from the ages of 11 to 17, who were held over in juvenile detention facilities - were released on $500 bail. They were charged with violating a city ordinance that prohibits parading without a permit.
Klan Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson, a 36-year-old former electrical contractor from Denham, La., told reporters after the group was released on bond, "Up to this point it has been quite successful." Wilkinson said the group planned to appeal the arrests and to march again here in coming months.
Wilkinson's activist splinter segment of the klan, known as the "invisible empire" has been actively recruiting klan members this year across Alabama. In addition to the march here, klan members also paraded this weekend in Florence, in the northern part of the state.
But Wilkinson said the Selma-to-Montgomery walk was the "grandfather of them all."
Klan followers from Oklahoma, Ohio, Florida and other states were part of the group here that Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar called "a publicity stunt."
"If it is a publicity stunt," said Wilkinson with a laugh, "he sure helped us, didn't he?"
The confrontation today between the klan marchers and police was heavily covered by the news media. Wilkinson said, "Just our efforts here alone has picked us up a lot of new members."
Folmar, with a special gold police badge bearing his name pinned to his belt, watched the arrests today and denied there had been any violation of the marchers' civil rights.
"The city council is a stout advocate of the First Amendment," he said. "We have no difficulty with the klan. We just can't allow people to break the law."
During the roundup of the klan marchers, state troopers, some of them wearing shoulder holsters in addition to their regular side arms, held a half-dozen barking Doberman pinschers and German shepherds near the march line.
Klan leaders said they had taken some of their tactics from the 1965 marchers. "If they've been successful, I don't even mind using tactics [they] dreamed up," Wilkinson said.
The klan unsuccessfully attempted Saturday to have the Fifth District federal court in New Orleans overturn the city's decision on the parade permit. The court, however, ruled that the klan's request for an emergency injunction against the city was not valid.
"We plan to challenge the city's ordinance as unconstitutional," said klan attorney Doyle Fuller. "It's about time people around here realize that the Ku Klux Klan has rights too."
Adding to the already peculiar nature of the march is the fact that Fuller, who is white, was a participant in the black civil rights movement here during the 1960s. Fuller said he told Klan leaders about his civil rights activities when they were referred to him by another lawyer who refused to take their case.
"They asked if I would vigorously represent them and I said yes," Fuller said. "That seemed to be okay with them." CAPTION: Picture, Alabama trooper searches klansman after 160 were arrested, ending a four-day reenactment of a 1965 civil rights march. AP