Klan Group Will Protest for Augusta

Times Staff Writer

Circle the trained elephants and cue the ringmaster: The Augusta National membership flap has finally found a home -- under the Big Top.

The streets of Augusta, Ga., could be a little more crowded for the Masters, now that a Ku Klux Klan group says it will demonstrate in support of the club's right to have an all-male membership.

"Who?" Tiger Woods asked Friday on the driving range at La Costa when he was told of the development. "Who? If it's not one thing, it's another, isn't it guys?"

If members of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan show up, they will have company protesting. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH coalition requested a permit to protest Tuesday.

J.J. Harper of Cordele, Ga., imperial wizard of the Klan group, wrote the Richmond County Sheriff's Department on Thursday, requesting a permit to protest after he'd heard radio news reports of Jackson's permit request.

"We don't want Jesse Jackson in our state," Harper told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

However, Jackson said Friday there was no question that he will be there.

"We would prefer to be in the gallery, we may well be in the streets, or in jail, but we will be there," Jackson said.

"I am disappointed, but I am not surprised [by the Klan involvement], because racial bigotry and gender apartheid always attracts the ultra-right ring. The country club's position is creating a standoff and it is polarizing.

"This showdown encompasses all of that. America and the South deserve better in 2003. In the end, they cannot win the battle, because they are wrong."

Meanwhile, the women's group that kicked off the protest is still considering its options. Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said Friday that she had not yet applied for a protest permit.

Burk said a war would affect any action.

"And certainly, if more and more groups like the KKK cult have protection to assemble, then everything is in flux," she said.

As you might expect, Augusta National is far from thrilled that the Klan is on its side.

"Anyone who knows anything about Augusta National Golf Club or its members knows this is not something the club would welcome or encourage," spokesman Glen Greenspan said.

Jackson, however, was disappointed that Augusta National had not come on stronger against the Klan.

"They do not encourage the Klan, but do they condemn them?" Jackson asked.

Burk said she wasn't surprised that the Klan would become involved in the issue.

"It's a telling development," she said. "This is a direction they cannot avoid, attracting the support of the KKK, whose business is to discriminate."

Greenspan said linking the club with the Klan was a poor association.

"For our critics to try to capitalize on this sideshow is utterly reprehensible and has no place in any civilized discourse," he said.

Burk says she was comfortable with the involvement of Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH coalition and that she has had numerous conversations with Jackson about how to handle the protest.

"I think we're after the same outcome, which is to open the club to women," she said.

Richmond County and city officials say they will not allow protesters to assemble outside the gates of the golf club on Washington Road, citing safety issues.

However, Burk says an alternative protest site suggested by the city, an athletic field a mile away from the club, is unacceptable.

"Any time you do a protest, you want to have access to the individuals you're trying to influence, and those are the members who come in through the front gates," she said.

Burk did offer a prediction for Masters week, which begins April 7.

"They are going to have a real circus."

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