Both sides air their message

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 25, 2002
By Chris Moon and J.R. Mendoza

Wearing swastikas and carrying pro-white signs, the 21 white supremacists who staged a “White Unity” rally on the south steps of the Kansas Statehouse on Saturday afternoon met bitter resistance by about 500 counterprotesters.

Strapped across the pillars of the Statehouse above the string of neo-Nazi speakers was a banner stating, “Kansas values ethnic diversity,” and was attributed to Gov. Bill Graves.

Local and state law enforcement officers, numbering 300, patrolled the crowd for the duration of the two-hour demonstration. Aside from a verbal altercation across the street from the rally after it was over, the event was without incident.

More than half of the counterprotesters stood on the lawn of the Statehouse, where chants of “Go home!” repeatedly rang out as speakers for the Minnesota-based National Socialist Movement shouted pro-white, anti-gay and anti-Jewish speeches. About 150 feet away were 50 members or sympathizers of the National Socialist Movement.

Each group was enclosed by orange fencing that kept them about 150 feet from the base of the Statehouse steps. Anyone entering either area had to pass through metal detectors and was subjected to a search.

Meanwhile, about 200 counterprotesters attended a separate demonstration sponsored by the Kansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the Charles Curtis State Office Building. The tone there was more subdued than at the Statehouse, where speaker after speaker for the National Socialist Movement railed against blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays and other groups opposed by the neo-Nazi movement.

Shortly after the 1 p.m. rally began, National Socialist Movement commander Jeff Schoep stirred jeers from the majority of spectators when he thrust a noose into the air.

“I’ve got some justice for the Carr brothers!” he screamed into the microphone.

Schoep, along with other National Socialist Movement members, condemned Reginald and Jonathan Carr, two blacks who are charged with killing four white Wichita residents. National Socialist Movement speakers also blasted Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who recently took a trip to Israel, and spoke out against slave reparations.

“I come to Kansas to speak the truth for my race, my people, my nation,” Schoep yelled.

On the Statehouse lawn, local civil rights activist Sonny Scroggins led chants for about 50 members of his anti-hate group Bias Busters, most of whom blended into the crowd.

“This is real ugly,” said Scroggins, who was wearing a replica of a Union Army uniform used during the Civil War. “These people are no more than terrorists.”

In the NSM supporter section were several uniformed National Socialist Movement members and some who simply described themselves as sympathizers. Many said they didn’t feel their views were treated fairly in today’s social dialogue.

“Anytime you say something to defend the white race, you’re labeled a racist,” said Dane Hautman, of Lawrence, who said he agreed with much of what NSM represented.

Betty Dobratz, a sociology professor at Iowa State University who is known nationally for her study of white supremacist groups, said the rally was a typical one. Dobratz came to Topeka to conduct more research on the National Socialist Movement.

“They’re trying to gain attention for their cause, and they would describe it as trying to save the white race,” she said. “I think they’d define the rally as successful. They’ve managed to get some attention. They’ve managed to say what they believe in. It gives them a sense of accomplishment by standing up for the white race.”

Dobratz said National Socialist groups are growing somewhat in the United States while groups such as the Ku Klux Klan are decreasing in size. She said she was surprised by the number of National Socialist Movement supporters in the crowd.

Love and freedom were the predominant themes across the street at the NAACP rally at the Curtis building. About a dozen people, mostly presidents of NAACP branches in Kansas, spoke.

The speakers got the crowd shouting and clapping several times during the rally. Many who attended brought signs in support of groups they represented or carried signs denouncing racism and hate or urging tolerance.

Rally participants also were led in the singing of the national anthem, “America the Beautiful” and “We Shall Overcome.”

A proclamation signed by Graves naming Saturday “Kansas Values Ethnic Diversity Day” also was read, as was a resolution by the Jewish Community Relations Bureau, “decrying the vicious rhetoric and intolerance” of the National Socialist Movement.

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing local anti-hate group Concerned Citizens of Topeka, said many men and women had given up their lives so “we could be free.” Irigonegaray read a letter from CCT chairman Roy Menninger, who couldn’t attend the rally because he was out of the country.

“Passivity in the face of hate is deadly,” Menninger wrote. “Evil does not go away by itself. It is time to act now. “

Nearby, members of the Westboro Baptist Church gathered at S.W. 10th and Harrison, brandishing anti-homosexual signs.

“We’re here disagreeing with all these groups. They’re all wrong,” said Margie Phelps, daughter of church founder the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. “The white supremacist group is wrong because they’re an organization that discriminates against people on the basis of their race. The NAACP is wrong because, in this instance, they have publicly aligned themselves with the homosexual movement. CCT is wrong because they are introducing confusion by pretending those two issues go together.”

The Rev. Matt Hale, leader of the Illinois-based World Church of the Creator and one of the lead speakers at Saturday’s rally, condemned a banner hung on the Statehouse pillars that quoted Gov. Bill Graves saying “Kansas values ethnic diversity.”

Hale said his pro-white church agrees with the message of the National Socialist Movement. Pointing toward the banner above him, Hale shouted that Graves was conspiring against white people and would suffer because of it.

The Kansas Highway Patrol put together more than 100 media badges before Saturday’s rally and had equipment on site to make more if necessary.

“We weren’t expecting this many people from the media,” said KHP Lt. John Eichkorn. “We thought there would be about 50 to 60 people.”

Eichkorn said some of the people covering the protest were with the highway patrol. He said they were recording video to document the event for historical purposes and to use as a possible guide in the future.

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the anti-homosexual minister of the Westboro Baptist Church, called the National Socialist Movement rally “a boring, uninteresting non-event.”

He spoke out against the group’s pro-white message, which he said isn’t Biblical and was something he had been preaching against for the past 55 years. He said the National Socialist Movement’s anti-gay stance doesn’t stand on scriptural grounds as his does.

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