A near-riot breaks out when

KKK members rally in Pittsburgh

A six-foot metal fence, a wall of police officers in riot gear wielding 3-foot clubs, and 135 feet of space prevented an angry mob from storming nearly 40 Ku Klux Klan members speaking on the steps of Pittsburgh's City-County building Saturday.

Thousands of onlookers surrounded the building, many pressing themselves against the chain-link fences that blocked each street, waving signs and screaming obscenities.

Dozens of armed police carrying hand-held metal detectors searched members of the crowd as they entered the caged-in parking lot directly across from the Klan rally.

Police prevented onlookers from smuggling in weapons, but once the Klan began to speak, dozens in the parking lot began tearing up the very ground they stood on and hurled the chunks of broken asphalt at the masked, ranting members of the KKK.

Because of the crowd's size, police could not identify or prevent the ones throwing rocks.

When the first Klan member marched out of the City-County building to test the microphone, the crowd rushed the fence, causing it to warp and come apart.

Police charged forward to reattach the fence, blasting several in the mob with pepper spray to force them back.

Waving American, Confederate, and Nazi flags, the Klan poured out of the City-County Building and flooded the steps. Ironically, because of the crowdUs shouting and a poor sound system, few of the KlanUs words could be heard.

Still, arms reached above the fence and waved at the Klan. Some had clenched fists, others raised their middle fingers, and still others beckoned the Klan to take of their masks and come into the crowd.

But not everyone inside the fence was there to protest the KKK.

Randy Bartley and three friends came all the way from Connelsville, PA., to show their support. Clad in Confederate flag T-shirts, Bartley and his crew stood together in a tight circle, silently watching the rally from behind the crowd.

"I'm here because we give [blacks] too much," he said. "[The KKK] is here because they want to show that you have to help yourself and can't expect the government to give you equal rights."

Bartley watched the crowd ruefully, but he never raised his voice when he spoke. Others who shared his opinions were more daring.

Andy D'Marco was overheard saying he supported the Klan and was soon surrounded by reporters and angry protestors.

"'Scuse me, sir! Ex-cuse me sir!" shouted a black man named Charles Alfaro, as he pointed at D'Marco from between several reporters.

D'Marco, his face red from shouting, "I just said I'm against the Jews because they started communism!" glared at him.

"Do you believe in God, sir?" Alfaro asked him. "Do you believe in God?"

D'Marco smirked, "No, I don't have to believe in God."

"Is that why you have hatred and evil in your heart, sir?" Alfaro asked.

D'Marco became enraged, spit flying from his lips as he shouted at the crowd of people who had surrounded him.

"Look back at history!" he shouted "You'll see! The Jews are trying to make America communist!"

Police bossed the crowd back and escorted D'Marco away.

"I wasn't trying to harass him," Alfaro said as the crowd broke up. "I just want to show that, hopefully, we can understand these people, and understand their negativity rather than feed into it with rage."

But Alfaro's feelings were the minority, as people continued throttling the fence and hurling rocks overhead.

"THE COPS AND KLAN GO HAND IN HAND!" chanted protestors as police forced them off the fence.

"Nobody likes us," said one deputy county sheriff. "The Klan hates us; the crowd hates us and calls us racists. It's raining. God doesn't even like us. It's my golf day."

A cameraman and reporter from KDKA-TV, interviewing a mother and her young daughter in the midst of the mob, were surrounded and had to race out of the parking lot when people started tearing the camera apart.

The frightened mother and her daughter squeezed between the horde and retreated to the wall behind the crowd, refusing to speak to any more reporters.

City Council President Jim Ferlo walked around the back of the crowd and said he thought the turnout was positive.

"This is great," he said. "It just shows the Klan how Pittsburghers feel about them. Death to the Klan. I mean, death to their ideology."

Mike Greisler, a Pitt student, was overheard screaming at the Klan, "It's not about hate; it's about being dead! THE KLAN SHOULD DIE!"

Greisler said he thought the Klan should be killed because "if you kill hate before it can breed, then it's gone."

When asked if he thought that philosophy was similar to the Klan's, he said he "didn't think so." "

When I say the Klan should die, I'm talking about killing people who would be more than happy to kill other people," he said.

Greisler and several friends agreed that violence "should break out."

"I think we should go after them," said Greisler's friend, Matt Flegel. "I guess some people would get hurt, but as long as the Klan got hurt then I think it would show people what this kind of rally can produce. If other people got hurt, it would still show how dangerous it is to give the Klan the right to speak."

As the Klan blared their static-filled message through the streets, Greisler pointed at them and shook his head.

"This is just embarrassing," he said, as more protestors shrieked obscenities and hurled rocks over the fence.

"They say they have the right to speak because of the first amendment!" shouted one man. "But if I tried to exercise my... right to bear arms and brought my shotgun in here, even though it's legal, the cops would arrest me!"

A few moments later, an explosion from one of the side streets sent the crowd scattering for cover while the news media rushed to get a closer look.

"It's just a firecracker! An M-80!" the police shouted over the fence. "Calm down! It's a hoax!"

The KKK finally ended their rally, and the crowd quickly dispersed without incident.

When asked if he thought the police were successful in keeping peace, a deputy county sheriff escorting people from the parking lot simply shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "I hope nobody was hurt. Hard to call this kind of thing 'successful.'"