BY TANYA BRICKING and JULIE IRWIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In front of two dozen police officers, several protesters and a crowd of spectators, four Ku Klux Klansmen revived their tradition Tuesday of placing a Klan cross on Fountain Square.
The cross was absent last year, as local Klan leader Tony Gamble -- who usually obtained a city permit -- awaited trial on charges of raping two girls. He's now serving a 55-year sentence, and another branch of the KKK filed for this year's permit.
The tradition was short-lived.
About midnight, Cincinnati police reported that someone had thrown the cross into a nearby trash bin. Police had no suspects. The cross remained in the bin early today.
The return of the Klan cross renewed an annual controversy that began in 1990, when U.S. District Court Judge Carl Rubin allowed a Jewish group to erect a menorah on Fountain Square. The Klan then demanded that it be allowed to put up a cross. The city fought the Klan in court but lost.
"We don't go where we're not wanted," said this year's permit holder, Jeff Berry, earlier Tuesday. He is national imperial wizard of the American Knights of the KKK based in Butler, Ind., about 25 miles northeast of Fort Wayne.
"There's people who want us here. We have a constitutional right. It's going up."
As the four erected the cross, one downtown man held up a "KKK Sucks" sign, and others argued with the Klansmen. Two of the four Klansmen later donned white robes and prayed briefly over the cross. The debate drew a crowd of lunchtime spectators and half a dozen others who held hands in prayer.
One local group, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, plans to hold brief prayer vigils at the cross every day at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. until it is taken down Dec. 10.
"It just seems like they're trying to turn back the hands of time," said Pamela Thompson, 37, of Avondale. "The thing that bothers me is the kids who will be down here for the holidays and see this."
But James E. Hogg, the state exalted cyclops of Ohio, who at one point Tuesday displayed the burning cross tattoo on his back, told the crowd the Klan cross represents not hate, but his own faith.
"It's the Church of the American Knights," he said. "We're carrying on a legend that someone else has started."