A KKK rally scheduled to be held on May 25 in Dayton, Ohio, “is a dangerous situation,” according to Rabbi Ari Ballaban, local head of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).
On Saturday, an Indiana-based affiliate of the KKK, the Honorable Sacred Knights, will hold a rally from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton. The group, which should number only about 20 people, will mask their faces and carry certain firearms, according to its agreement with the city.
“Most will have their faces covered by face-mask/bandanna,” Robert Morgan of the Knights said in a statement. He said that the group would be legally carrying sidearms.
At the same time, upwards of 1,000 counter-protesters are expected to turn up at the square, including the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense – a US-based black nationalist organization founded in Dallas that has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – and members of the Antifa movement, a conglomeration of left-wing autonomous, militant anti-fascist groups in the United States.
Antifa has a record of scuffling with white supremacists, and was the group that fought against them in Charlottesville in 2017. Then, white nationalist groups came in helmets and matching uniforms, and used shields, batons and clubs – until an Ohio man used his car as a weapon, ramming into a crowd and killing a 32-year-old anti-racist protester. More than 70 people were injured.
“The atmosphere at the rally will be contentious,” Cathy Gardner, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, said in a statement about the May 25 Dayton event. “The threat for potential danger will be high… We know the best option is to stay as far away as possible from Courthouse Square.”
The Dayton City government website devoted a page to the rally, explaining that while city officials and other local leaders are urging the community to avoid the downtown area on May 25, the city has implemented numerous training and operational initiatives as preparation for possible emergencies and large demonstrations.
“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,” Martin Gehres, an assistant city attorney told The Dayton Daily News
The government site says the city has convened a committee on safety and emergency preparedness, and launched a series of training sessions for municipal employees to become familiar with the National Incident Management and Incident Command systems. Senior city employees are receiving more advanced NIMS/ICS training.
On the day of the event, Dayton police are asking for community support.
“If you witness someone in need of medical attention, serious injury, or a life-threatening emergency, please call 911,” the government website reads. “If you see something that looks suspicious, contact 333-COPS or 225-HELP.” Both are non-emergency numbers to Regional Dispatch.
Marshall Weiss, editor and publisher of the Dayton Jewish Observer
, told The Jerusalem Post
that the police have not shared specifics about their plans “because they are trying to protect their security tactics.”
He noted that these rallies are uncommon in Ohio. The last time such an event took place in Courthouse Square was in 1994. There was a similar rally in Cincinnati in the late 1990s.
Montgomery Country, which owns Courthouse Square, approved the permit for the Honorable Sacred Knights in February.
“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 told The Dayton Daily News
Ballaban told the Post
that there have been “a wide-range of emotional responses” to the upcoming rally by the Jewish community.
“I know people who are very nervous,” he said, “but the bulk of the community fits into the [category] of having an awareness of safety concerns, but not so afraid that they are going to go into hiding for the weekend.”
The Dayton Jewish community numbers around 5,000 people, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. It has several congregations.
Ballaban said that the JCRC has been in close contact with a variety of local security organizations since it became understood that the KKK would protest. Furthermore, he said that one of the lessons the Jewish community has learned from recent, tragic incidents – like the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh and the shooting attack at a Chabad synagogue in Poway – is that “The key to staying safe is being prepared.”
“We worked with the Anti-Defamation League, who helped to organize us with higher-level law enforcement organizations,” Ballaban explained. “But none of us are fortune tellers. Do we know what is going to happen? Certainly not. That is why we are urging people: There is no reason to put yourself in a dangerous position and show up to something that is a powder keg.”
Instead, the JCRC has partnered with the NAACP on a peaceful alternative rally that will be held at Dayton’s McIntosh Park, at the same time at the KKK rally. That event is being coined “Afternoon of Love, Unity, Peace and Inclusion,” and will include food trucks and live music. More than two dozen community organizations have signed on as partners.
Gardner in her statement called on the community to participate to “counter the hate that will no doubt be spewed during the [KKK] rally.”
In addition, the NAACP will host a “cleaning of Courthouse Square” on May 26 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to “wash away the hate from our city.”
Gardner said the KKK members want to evoke feelings of fear throughout the community; Ballaban agreed.
“The KKK’s intention is to provoke ire in the community,” he said. “The way to counteract that is to come together and show them that this community is more united than the KKK might want to imagine.” He said what will take place at Courthouse Square “does not represent the city.”
“God willing, everyone will be safe,” Ballaban continued, “but I wouldn’t tell my loved ones to be there.”
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