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Marchers in Fontana Fete King, Draw Klan Taunts

January 18, 1988|LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writer

About 300 people linked arms and held a 1960s-style freedom march through downtown Fontana Sunday to celebrate the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., while a handful of Ku Klux Klan members shouted racial epithets.

Escorted by about 100 Fontana police officers and two dozen San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies, the marchers paraded for a mile, holding up Bibles and singing inspirational songs, including "We Shall Overcome" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Law-enforcement mobile units, a police wagon and a sheriff's helicopter closely accompanied the marchers and authorities repeatedly stopped suspected members of white supremacist groups that had promised a counter-demonstration. There were were only four arrests, however.

Object of Long Trip

In fact, only a handful of white supremacists showed up. Among them was J. W. Farrands, so-called Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Farrands--dressed in a sport coat and shirt and tie, with only a small lapel button bearing a replica of the Confederate flag--said he flew out from his home in Connecticut to be here and that he had presided over a recruitment meeting Saturday night at a secret location in Ontario.

After the march, police seemed to dog Farrands' every step until he left in frustration. As he drove off, he was followed by sympathizers in a small pickup truck, one of whom threw a handful of Ku Klux Klan cards into the street. Several spectators moved forward and kicked the cards into the gutter.

Also on hand was Loren Loudermilk, who called himself grand dragon of the Invisible Empire of KKK in California.

Marchers Ignore Shouts

As the parade proceeded south on Sierra Avenue, the town's main street, Loudermilk stood on a corner flanked by three supporters and yelled, "Long live the Klan. Long live the white boys." Most of the participants in the parade looked straight ahead and continued walking in the chilling rain.

One such marcher was Reggie Roberts, 35, of Rialto, who said it was his first march. "Liberty and justice for all--that's what I'm marching for!" he exclaimed.

Loudermilk later angrily chastised police, saying they had thwarted the constitutional rights of white supremacists to express their views.

"Sure I'm angry," Loudermilk said. "We've been searched and harassed by the police all day long."

But Fontana police and city officials, along with the Fontana Ministerial Assn., which sponsored the parade and a later visit by the slain civil rights leader's second son, Martin Luther King III, called the day a success.

"The rain was an answer to our prayers," said the Rev. David Rodriguez, an association member. "You cannot burn a cross in the rain."

Occasionally hecklers appeared on the route, including a man who held up a large red flag with a swastika in the middle. They were questioned by police.

Douglas Seymour, a representative of the Center for Democratic Renewal, said the event bore little resemblance to the last Klan rally seen here in 1980.

"Fontana used to have a bad reputation," he said. "Not any more. Not after today."

Talk by King's Son

The younger King arrived by police-escorted car from Ontario Airport after the parade had ended. He spoke to about 1,000 people at Fontana's Performing Arts Center, urging listeners to follow the tenets of nonviolence espoused by his father. He also criticized the way language has been used, he claimed, to teach minorities to dislike themselves.

Earlier, Mayor Nat Simon had expressed concern over the impact that the Klan's demonstration would have on Fontana's reputation. The smallest problem, he feared, "could be blown way out of proportion because of our history," Simon said.

In the past, Fontana has been known as a Southern-oriented steel town. Members of the ministerial group said the city is still plagued by racial tensions. In fact, they hoped to use the Sunday event as a means of focusing attention on the issue.

The parade led to four arrests Sunday, including one teen-ager described as a skinhead, a follower of white supremacist doctrines, police said. He was one of 15 young men in a van that was stopped by police. He was arrested on suspicion of illegally possessing an electric taser gun, but police also confiscated baseball bats, chains and shields with swastikas on them found in the van.

He told police he was a member of the Aryan Youth Movement of Riverside. Another teen-ager was jailed for possessing an unlawful weapon--a three-foot lead pipe. In addition, a 54-year-old man was arrested for being drunk in public.

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