The Greenville Sun, Feb. 1, 2003
By BILL JONES, Staff Writer
An Erwin-based group that calls itself “America’s Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” has asked Greeneville officials for permission to hold a “membership rally” here in March.
Greeneville Police Chief Lewis Shipley said during a Friday interview that in mid-January representatives of the group had asked to hold a two-hour rally here on Saturday, March 29, outside the Greene County Courthouse.
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As of Friday, the America’s Invisible Empire Worldwide Web site indicated in its “rallies” section that a “Greeneville, Tennessee, Rally and Cross Lighting” would be held from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. on March 29.
But Chief Shipley said during a Friday interview that the Web site notice is incorrect because neither the date, the time, nor the location of the proposed rally had yet been agreed to by Greeneville officials.
Both Chief Shipley and Mayor Darrell Bryan said on Friday that local officials are obligated under the U.S. Constitution to allow a peaceful rally to be held.
As is well known, the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
But, Chief Shipley and Mayor Bryan said, local officials are allowed to set stringent conditions under which a rally such as the one planned must be conducted.
One condition that Greeneville officials will require is limiting the rally to no more than an hour and a half, according to Chief Shipley.
He and Mayor Bryan also said that the group’s request to hold the rally outside the Greene County Courthouse had been rejected because of safety and space concerns.
As of Friday, both officials said, a search was still in progress to determine a suitable site.
THP, TBI Participating
Assisting in the site search, Chief Shipley said, are the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
He explained that the THP, especially, has extensive experience in dealing with Ku Klux Klan rallies, such as the one held last year in Newport.
That rally was organized by a different Klan organization, which calls itself the Church of the Knights of Yahweh Ku Klux Klan.
Shipley said he had called on the THP shortly after he was first contacted by representatives of the America’s Invisible Empire group in mid-January.
Shipley said he contacted the Tennessee Highway Patrol because he knew of the agency’s expertise in handling similar rallies in other localities around the state.
In Newport last year, the THP sent more than 125 state troopers to provide security during a Ku Klux Klan rally there. Approximately 80 Cocke County and Newport officers also were involved in providing security.
No serious incidents took place during the Newport Klan rally, which took place under a steady, cold rain, although it was attended by several hundred very vocal opponents of the Klan, and about 50 Klan supporters.
The chief said he expects a similar security-related response from the Tennessee Highway Patrol in Greeneville should the America’s Invisible Empire rally take place here in March.
“The THP had a team here today to evaluate the possible use of the EastView Recreation Center parking lot as a possible site,” the chief said on Friday.
He added that the preeminent consideration in selecting a site for the proposed rally is “public safety.”
Shipley said that, if the Recreation Center Parking lot meets with the THP’s approval after an analysis is completed, that site and a set of conditions for conducting the rally will be proposed to the America’s Invisible Empire group.
“They may, or may not, want to proceed with holding the rally after that,” the chief said.
Chief May Issue Statement
But should the rally actually be scheduled, the police chief said, he probably will issue a statement calling on the citizens of Greeneville and Greene County to refrain from attending it.
“We don’t need this here,” the chief said. “Our community is a peaceful one, and we want to keep it that way.”
He noted that Greeneville officials also may hold an alternative public event at another location at the same time as the America’s Invisible Empire event if that group proceeds with plans to rally here.
Clues to what America’s Invisible Empire stands for can be found on its World Wide Web site.
“We are a (an) organization of racial purity, non-violence and of Christian ways. . . .,” the AIE Web site states.
An unsigned statement on the organization’s home page goes on to indicate that the group opposes homosexuality and defends gun rights.
“We believe the white race is an endangered species on this planet,” the Web site indicates the AIE believes.
The statement also indicates that: “We want to end ‘white discrimination,’” something which the Web site defines as “official government policy through ‘affirmative action’ schemes such as minority scholarships, minority business grants, contract ‘set-asides,’ and the hiring and force-fed promotion of less qualified employees.”
Another section of the AIE Web site proclaims, “Be a man. Join the Klan” above an illustration of a robed and hooded figure positioned in front of a Tennessee state flag.
In an address displayed beneath the illustration, the word “Invisible” is misspelled.
Also on the group’s home page is a photo of two robed and hooded figures posing beneath a roadside sign that welcomes visitors to Tennessee. The location where the photo was taken is not identified.
Called A ‘Hate Group’
The World Wide Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists an organization called America’s Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as one of 17 “hate groups” that were active in Tennessee during 2001.
But the SPLC’s Web site indicates that the America’s Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan then was based in Pulaski, Tenn.
As a result, it is unclear if the Erwin-based group of the same name is the group that was based in Pulaski in 2001.
The Web site of the Erwin-based America’s Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Realm of Tennessee group does not mention any connection to Pulaski, but does mention a “national office” in Hartsell, Ala.
Inquires about the group are directed to a post office box in Erwin.
Contact phone numbers in Erwin and Limestone also are mentioned.
What Is ‘Hate Group’?
To be classified as what the SPLC terms a “hate group,” according to the Center’s Web site, a group must “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics (such as skin color).”
According to the SPLC Web site, the 2001 list of “hate groups” was compiled using organizational publications and Web sites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.
“The center lists only organizations and their chapters known to be active during 2001,” the Web site states.
“Activities may include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.
“Websites that appear to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included on the list.
“Listing here does not imply that a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”
Background Of SPLC
The Southern Poverty Law Center began as a small civil rights law firm in 1971.
Now, according to its World Wide Web site, it is internationally known for its legal victories against white supremacist groups, its tracking of “hate groups” through its “Klanwatch” division, its tolerance education programs, and its sponsorship of the Civil Rights Memorial.
Located in Montgomery, Ala. — described as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement — the Center was founded by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, two Montgomery lawyers who, the Web site states, shared a commitment to racial equality.
The Center’s first president was widely known civil rights activist Julian Bond, who continues to serve as president emeritus.