Audience members listen to Richard Preston, imperial wizard of the Confederate White Knights, speak at a meeting Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 at the Cecil County Administration Building near Elkton, Md.(Photo: William Bretzger, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)
CECIL COUNTY, Md. -- Members of the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly told people in attendance at a meeting in Cecil County on Friday night that they don't have a problem with people of other colors.
They're just part of an organization that wants to take back their country, which they feel is going down the wrong path.
"If we don't stop Barack Obama, if we don't stop this government all together that is running us into the ground, working us like dogs, so that they can keep taking it and giving it to somebody else, we're not going to have a country," said Richard Preston, imperial wizard of the 2-year-old Confederate White Knights of Rosedale, Md., said.
Preston spoke to about 50 people in attendance at the Cecil County Administration Building near Elkton. Friday's meeting was part of an ongoing attempt by this group and other Klan chapters to gain support for their organization and to start shedding their hate-group image.
But not all in the assembly are buying the Klan's new image.
Kalil Zaky, an African American, asked Preston how the Klan was not considered a hate group based on its history.
Preston said the Klan was not a hate group, adding others have labeled it as such. Preston did say there were things done during the Civil Rights era that were wrong, but they are no longer this group.
"We can only ask you to trust us," Preston told him. Zaky, who left before the nearly two-hour meeting ended, was not convinced.
"It doesn't make sense," Zaky said. "I don't understand how you can have that kind of reputation and how you can do all those awful things. ... If that's what they want to do and if they're not a hate group any more they should just take a whole different approach."
The group and other Klan chapters are planning to have more public meetings across the country.
"We're going to do this all over America nonstop," Preston said. "We're not going to stop. We need to save America."
On the agenda of the Confederate White Knights was the toughening of immigration laws to get rid of undocumented immigrants and impeaching President Obama - not because of his skin color, Preston insisted, but because he said he is not a U.S. citizen.
Some in the crowd said they came out to listen to what the group had to say. One man, who would not give his name, said he agreed with Preston and believed the group was not a hate group.
A strong police presence, including Cecil County sheriffs, Elkton and state police were inside the county building, as well as its parking lot.
Tom Larson, imperial wizard of the East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire, showed up for support and said they plan to have more meetings in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. A meeting next year is planned to have a cross-lighting.
When asked if, including their robes and hoods, those actions would scare people, he agreed. But if they look at their current record, they will see there has been not hangings, no bombings and no crimes committed by the Klan.
"We're telling them we're not a gang," he said. "We're not a bad group. We're a Christian organization."
Preston said they chose to hold the meeting in Cecil County because of its conservative mind-set..
Cecil officials interviewed earlier this week were not as welcoming, including Cecil County President Robert Hodge who encouraged people to stay away in order not to give the group publicity.
"It's their strategy on how they do business and I just don't want to play their game," Hodge said.
Elyse L. Murray, president of the Cecil County NAACP chapter, said she didn't attend because she wouldn't have felt welcomed.
"I do not support their beliefs and what they are trying to achieve so it would not be beneficial for me to attend," Murray said.
The group held a rally in September at Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, according to a Baltimore Sun report. Only eight Klansmen attended.
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