The white supremacists will gather on Sept. 25. Park officials say the site is open to anyone who pays the fee.
A radical white supremacist group that believes George Washington held separatist and anti-Semitic views similar to its own has received a permit to hold a two-hour rally next month in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement said yesterday he expected that 200 to 300 people representing various organizations, including the Ku Klux Klan, would attend the event on Sept. 25. He said that all “white patriots” had been invited, regardless of ideological differences.
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“Valley Forge is important to us because this is where George Washington camped out,” he said. “We are patriots, and we are honoring our founding fathers.”
Washington fought against the corrupt regime of King George III, said Schoep, 30, of Litchfield, Minn. The National Socialists are protesting the “corrupt dictatorship” of President Bush, he said.
Herman Benninghoff, who with his wife, Joan, has been studying the history of Valley Forge and the encampment for more than 50 years, said that Schoep’s statements about Washington as a separatist and anti-Semite were “outrageous.”
Washington was a slaveholder, Benninghoff said, but most of the leaders of the colonies had slaves and all the slaves who fought in the Continental Army were granted their freedom.
“Valley Forge was very integrated racially and ethnically,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any doubt about that.”
Deputy park superintendent Barbara Pollarine said the group had applied by mail and included the $50 processing fee the park charges for all groups using park facilities.
“This is the Constitution and democracy in action,” she said. “Anybody who wants to peaceably assemble and express themselves has a right to do that. Whether it’s for wedding photographs, a church picnic, a walk-a-thon or a rally, they all go through the same system.”
Pollarine said that the permit allows the rally to be held in the amphitheater below the Muhlenberg Brigade. Arrangements are still being made for parking and security, she said.
“Obviously, we are concerned about everybody’s safety – theirs, any protesters, and visitors,” she said. Pollarine said that the last time an event like this occurred in the park was in the 1980s when the Ku Klux Klan held a rally.
During the last year, the National Socialist Movement, which is based in Minnesota, has held rallies in Lincoln, Neb.; Raleigh, N.C.; Milwaukee, and Indianapolis.
According to various accounts, protesters usually outnumber rally participants.
Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Report for the Southern Poverty Law Center, disputed the National Socialists’ claim that, with 45 chapters, they are the largest Nazi group in America.
“They will not say how large they are, but we think the chapters are tiny – maybe one or two members,” he said.
The group dresses in brown shirts and displays swastikas, which leads some to refer to the group as the “Hollywood Nazis,” according to Potok.
The intelligence project monitors the activities of so-called hate groups around the nation. It estimates that there are 29 such groups in Pennsylvania and 30 in New Jersey. Georgia leads the nation with 54 groups, followed by Texas with 53, he said.
“What’s interesting about the NSM is that they have put a great deal of effort in recruiting young kids,” said Potok. “They have created a special corps of 14- to 17-year-olds called the ‘Viking Youth Movement.’ “
He said it appeared that the organization was stepping in to fill a vacuum created by deaths and arrests of other white-power leaders.
“They are becoming more important,” he said. “There is something going on.”
Schoep said he expected the Valley Forge rally to be more effective than protesting or demonstrating at next week’s national Republican Party convention.
“The white race needs to come together,” he said. “We are the unifying force attempting to do that.”