A Ku Klux Klan group planning a rally on Courthouse Square later this month said it will not agree to all the terms the city proposes to resolve a lawsuit Dayton brought against the Honorable Sacred Knights of Indiana.
If the Klan group doesn’t comply with all provisions of the agreement “the City of Dayton shall be entitled to immediately shut down the rally, and the HSK and its members agree to immediately leave the Dayton area,” according to a copy of a proposed consent decree obtained by this newspaper.
The group vowed that it still would be in Dayton on May 25, the planned rally date, and would sue the city, if it is blocked from conducting its event.
The city filed the lawsuit on March 13, citing a danger to the community if Klan members and their supporters were allowed to act in a paramilitary manner.
The city presented the Klan group with at least 14 specific stipulations for the rally, but the Honorable Sacred Knights said it will not agree to waive its members’ rights under Ohio law to wear sidearms, nor will the group agree to keep their faces uncovered.
“Most will have their faces covered by facemask/bandana,” Robert Morgan with the Honorable Sacred Knights wrote to city attorneys.
Dayton hasn’t decided whether to agree to the terms, Martin Gehres, an assistant city attorney, said Tuesday.
“The action we took was declaring them a paramilitary organization and that they would need to respond to the governor,” Gehres said. “It would not stop the rally, in my opinion, but it would put a hamper on it, and we would be able to control certain aspects of it, if Judge (Barbara) Gorman rules in our favor.”
The group told the city it’s willing to comply with a majority of the provisions, including not dressing in paramilitary or tactical gear and not carrying long guns or assault rifles to the 1-3 p.m. rally.
“We have agreed to not perform the rally in a military fashion. We’re not military, so that wasn’t too hard to agree to,” the Honorable Sacred Knights responded in an email. “If anyone is armed, it will be because they are legally allowed to be and practicing their Second Amendment rights.”
If agreed to, the consent decree would limit the Klan group’s activities to Courthouse Square and dictate that members enter and exit the venue at locations approved by the Dayton Police Department and “immediately leave the Dayton down town (sic) area after the rally is concluded.”
The decree would also prevent the Klan group from soliciting other groups to enter Dayton armed, or issuing commands to other armed groups.
Montgomery County, which owns Courthouse Square, approved the permit in February for the Madison, Ind.-based group to rally with an estimated 10 to 20-plus individuals, according to the group’s application signed by Morgan.
“We are legally obligated to provide access to public spaces where individuals can exercise their freedom of speech and right to assemble,” Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said after the county approved the permit.
The Honorable Sacred Knights has not responded in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to the complaint filed in March. On April 25, Gorman notified the Honorable Sacred Knights and Morgan that a default judgment could be made in favor of Dayton and gave the group 14 days to respond to the notice.
The Honorable Sacred Knights said it has been working with Dayton’s attorneys to reach accord on the consent decree.
It’s unclear how a judgment from Gorman in the Dayton suit might alter the Klan group’s planned activities May 25 but the city is preparing for the event to go on as planned, Gehres said.
“Regardless, public safety is our prime concern and we are preparing for that through our police department, our fire department and a number of different departments within the city of Dayton,” he said.
The Honorable Sacred Knights said the city told them it would respond by Friday to the proposed changes to the decree, according to an email received Monday from the Klan group.
“If they won’t agree to our terms, then we will not be filing back at them. We will still be in Dayton on Third and Main on May 25th, passing out fliers,” the group wrote. “This would not require a permit, so the city can’t stop us. And after that we will file a suit against the city of Dayton for refusing to allow us to practice our First Amendment rights.”
Other communities have had some success legally challenging groups that act like militias.
Multiple groups that participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 were sued and entered consent degrees agreeing not to return to the city and to “engage in coordinated armed activity” during rallies and protests, according to Georgetown Law.
The consent decrees settled the claims against them made by the city of Charlottesville, local businesses and neighborhood groups following violence that erupted between alt-right protesters and counter protesters. White nationalist groups came in helmets, matching uniforms and used shields, batons, clubs. An Ohio man used his car as a weapon, ramming a crowd and killing 32-year-old anti-racist protester Heather Heyer. More than 70 people were injured.
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