The quiet town of Jasper was invaded by an onslaught of outsiders Saturday, when the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally to condemn the murder of James
Byrd, a black resident of Jasper, was chained to a truck and dragged three miles to his death.
Authorities suspect that the crime, allegedly committed by three white males, was racially motivated.
Leaders of the KKK said they traveled to Jasper to disavow the murder of Byrd. So, through such Klan anthems as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie," with the confederate flag waving in the wind, Klan leaders in white sheets spoke of the tragedy that had touched the small east-Texas town.
"The drunken act of violence that took the life of James Byrd was indeed a disaster," said Rick Anderson, grand titan of the western provinces of the Knights of the White Kamellia.
"What on God's Earth could cause someone to do such a thing?" he asked the crowd.
Members of the New Black Panthers and The Nation of Islam also made appearances in Jasper, some of them carrying weapons.
The two black racial-interest groups said they came to Jasper to protect its black residents from the KKK.
"We're here to say to the Klan that you will no longer intimidate and harass people, and if you get out of line today, wishing to drag a black man behind a truck, we have brought our God and our guns, and we will blast you to hell and back," warned Minister Quanell X, from the black Muslim movement in Houston.
Some people, not affiliated with any particular group, arrived in Jasper hoping to convey more tolerant thoughts.
Jon Sprinkle journeyed from Lufkin with the prayers of his friends to read them during the rally.
"I hope these make a difference," said Sprinkle, holding out a crumbled stack of papers.
Other members of the crowd who filled the lawn of the Jasper County Court House responded less ambivalently to the Klan's shouts of "white power," brandishing signs and repeating chants which urged the Klan to leave.
"Hey, hey, go home. The KKK has got to go," many shouted.
Through the eyes of his hood, Anderson made it known that, "Jasper is part of the empire.
"Make no mistake," he said. "This is Klan country."
Though much of the rally progressed in peace, at one point black activists attempted to push through police barriers to reach the KKK members.
"Black people, we can take these bastards. We can run over the damn police and take their ass," shouted Khalid Muhammed, a former Nation of Islam spokesman .
Before the rally, Byrd's family tried to avert any potential confrontations by releasing a statement imploring peace.
"Let this horrendous violation of the sanctity of life not be a spark that ignites more hatred and retribution," the statement said.
"Rather, let this be a wake-up call for Americans - for all Americans. May it spark a new cleansing fire of self-examination and reflection."