WEST PALM BEACH, NOVEMBER 16—Every Thursday evening, downtown West Palm Beach hosts a colorful, profitable street party drawing everyone from blue-haired retirees to Harley hoggers to the stroller brigade to young area hipsters. “Clematis by Night,” which runs from 5:30 to 9 p.m., has been a tradition around Centennial Square since June 8, 1995, after Mayor Nancy Graham approved it to help draw residents back downtown. The event is usually a middle-class bacchanalia of sorts, where crafts and lemonade vendors rake in the bucks, adults drink beer and listen to live music, and West Palm Beachers enjoy pleasant, mild weather and breezy talk, even in mid November.
This week, however, on November 16, the mood is likely to be a bit darker. A coalition of angry conservatives—neo-Nazis, Second Amendment zealots, and Confederate flag wavers, among them—are planning to crash the party. Many of the same Gore-haters who forced Reverend Jesse Jackson off the stage across town Monday at the Governmental Operations Center are planning to stage a demonstration to protest recounts in Florida and tell the world, “No more Gore!”
Unavailable for comment when this story was filed yesterday, the organizer of the rally, Joshua Light, says he wants no part of racial hatred or prejudice. But his event has nonetheless drawn the vocal support of the white supremacist Don Black, founder of the Florida-based Stormfront.
Describing himself as a Jewish kid originally from Philadelphia, Light says he intended only to rally Republicans and conservatives, because he believes Democratic “partisans in Palm Beach are trying to take the election away.”
Light has been advertising the rally on NewsMax.com, a national conservative news wire that has peppered protests all week with signs printed with its URL. On the site, Light’s ad calls for “troop enforcement” from local (and distant) conservatives who feel “outnumbered by the marches led by Jesse Jackson.”
The ad exhorts, “Stop the madness of anyone trying to steal this election away from the American people and what they believe in!”
Light appears to be drawing troops he never intended to invite. Black, the founder of the Internet’s first “hate” site is claiming he’ll help lead the rally. Black has been using his site to promote the event to the world from his home in downtown West Palm Beach, two miles from the voting action this week at the Emergency Operations Center. Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, will be there with his 11-year-old son, Derek (the webmaster of Stormfront for Kids.) Both father and son are featured in the HBO documentary Hate.com, airing this week.
The Pat Buchanan supporter—who voted for George W. Bush to keep Al Gore out—said Wednesday that he participated in the Jackson protest Monday, which he insists was more anti-Gore than pro-Bush. “I was right in the middle of things,” Black said with a laugh. “Not a single reporter recognized me. My ego was deflated in a way.”
That is not entirely surprising. Although Black is a former deputy of KKK leader David Duke’s (and actually married Duke’s former wife, Chloe), he tries to stay below the media radar in his wife’s hometown of West Palm Beach, where they moved in 1987. Likewise, Black said that he is counseling fellow “pro-white” extremists to show up to support Bush, but not to emphasize their controversial stances such as support for the Confederate flag.
“That’s the kind of thing that I’m sure the Bush campaign doesn’t want us to get into. That’s not the focus of it right now,” he said. Still, at heart, the protests are about race. “It’s an implicit racial issue here, which most people understand. But it’s probably not to our advantage to turn it into an explicit one.”
It would also be detrimental to Stormfront and other conservative groups if Thursday’s protest turns violent. Frustrations in the state have escalated as the contested election has become entangled in a web of court rulings and appeals. “I told everybody not to come if they can’t control their temper,” Black said. “Everybody’s doing that; apparently it’s worked. The Jackson rally did get pretty tense for a while, though.”
Black said mainstream press coverage has been skewed in its assessment of who actually lives in South Florida, especially when it comes to the potent minority of “pro-white” Palm Beach voters. “Palm Beach being exclusively Democratic and of course very Jewish and very cosmopolitan is not entirely accurate,” he said.