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Virginia town girds for KKK march

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 17, 2015 shows Ku Klux Klan members staging a demonstration at the state house building in Columbia, South Carolina. Members of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan will march in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, July 8, 2017 to protest the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who oversaw Confederate forces in the US Civil War. The rally in this quiet university town has been authorized by officials in Virginia and stirred heated debate in America, where critics say the far right has been energized by Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. / AFP PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / JOHN MOORE

Supporters of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan will march in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday to protest the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who oversaw Confederate forces in the US Civil War.

The rally in this quiet university town has been authorized by officials in Virginia and stirred heated debate in America, where critics say the far right has been energized by Donald Trump’s election to the presidency.

Be it the Ku Klux Klan, Alt Right or generic white supremacists, these conservatives have found a new cause in defending the confederate flag and monuments in the US south that recall the era of slavery.

They are outdated, awful symbols of racism for many Americans, who are mobilizing to have them taken down from public places.

The debate is taking place in many former Confederate states, and even in Washington, where a stained glass window in the National Cathedral depicts a Confederate soldier.

In Charlottesville, population 50,000, no major battle in the 1861-1865 war was fought. But here, too, passions have been stirred.

A pro-Democratic town linked to the university founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, people here abhor the planned arrival of members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a small white supremacist group based in North Carolina.

Many say they plan to stay away from the park where white supremacists plan to gather.

Others plan prayer services or peaceful meetings designed to show their rejection of racial intolerance.

– Deep wounds –
In the end, the KKK adherents who turn out might only come to a few dozen. But they have warned they will be armed and ready to defend themselves if attacked.

The Charlottesville police department, run by a black man, has arranged a massive security detail to keep the peace.

The KKK members will not be allowed to wear the pointy white hoods so emblematic of the group. The flowing white robes that were also part of the costume associated with lynchings and cross burnings against the night sky have faded away over time.

In this town of handsome red brick buildings, the decision in February to remove the Lee statue after years of debate has left deep wounds.

And it is actually on hold: a judge suspended the town council’s narrow decision for six months until a court reviews the case.

“Robert E. Lee has a lot of admirers across the South, partly because Southern education has taught that he was this noble man who was a gentleman and worked very hard after the war for reconciliation,” said Kristin Szakos, the town councilor behind the drive to bring down the statue.

“For a lot of people he is also more problematic, especially in the statue where he is depicted in full battle gear, riding against the United States of America,” she added.

“We have lots of ways to learn history that aren’t giant statues overlooking our downtowns.”

In its heyday in 1925, the KKK had as many as four million members.

These days it has from 5,000 to 8,000, mainly in the deep south, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors and studies extremism in America.

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