KKK-style snowman outrages neighbors Police suspect builder of previous Klan activity

January 19, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis man who has acknowledged being a Ku Klux Klan member is a target of neighborhood outrage after building an oversized snowman in the shape of a Klansman next to a Confederate flag on his front lawn.

"That snowman was repugnant," said Van Nield, 58, who lives a few houses away from the figure on Fairfax Road, in the Parole section of Annapolis. "It was disgusting and embarrassing, and seriously damaged our credibility as a neighborhood."

Gene Newport, who spent two hours building the snowman in freezing temperatures after the recent snowstorm, said he intended to make a Klansman. He also said he does not understand why his neighbors in the 1900 block of Fairfax Road were upset.

"It's very innocent. It's a snowman. It can't move or talk or anything," said Mr. Newport, 32. "I'm a creative person. So I just made the snowman. I don't see what the big deal is."

The snowman stood more than 6 feet tall, had crossed arms, a pointed, hooded robe and a smile, neighbors said. Behind him was a large Confederate flag, a regular sight on Mr. Newport's property.

"It was so true to life," said William Henson, 37, a mail carrier who has worked in the neighborhood for the past four years. "It literally stopped me in my tracks. I just stopped and looked at it for two or three minutes."

Mr. Henson, who is black, said he dreaded delivering mail to Mr. hTC Newport's house because of the figure and the racist message it sent.

"I got a sick feeling every time I'd approach that house. It started in the pit of my stomach as soon as I'd be a couple of homes away," said Mr. Henson. "I was just praying I wouldn't get stuck in the snow in front of his house."

Some residents said they complained to Mr. Newport's in-laws, who also live on the street, and told them to take down the snowman. Others hatched a strategy to knock it down. Police called to the neighborhood told Mr. Newport that though the snowman was legal, it was upsetting others on the block.

Mr. Newport said he took the head off the figure on Sunday to quiet complaints. By yesterday, the snowman had become a melting lump.

About 50 modest, middle-class homes sit along Fairfax Road, a quiet neighborhood squeezed by the commercial hubs near Aris T. Allen Boulevard and Forest Drive.

The community's history demonstrates a mixture of outdated and modern attitudes. A neighborhood covenant -- written in 1939 but superseded by court decisions outlawing discrimination -- bans blacks from living on the street. At the end of the block sits a statue named for Aris T. Allen, a legendary civil rights leader and black politician. Last year, vandals placed a spear in the statue's hands.

Maryland State Police say Klan activity picks up around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, which was Monday, and Black History Month in February.

Roger Kelly, the Imperial Wizard of the Invincible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said he heard Mr. Newport was going to build the Klan snowman. He said he saw nothing wrong in building the figure.

"You're wasting taxpayers' dollars when you call the police on a snowman," said Mr. Kelly, who also said Mr. Newport had a right to express himself any way he pleased on his property.

A Klan pamphlet touting a 1994 rally in Annapolis listed a return address at a post office box rented by Mr. Newport. At the time, Mr. Newport acknowledged being a member of the Invincible Empire and defended the group as having "the record of Boy Scouts." Although Mr. Kelly said Mr. Newport still belonged to the Klan, Mr. Newport would not say yesterday whether he remained a member.

Mr. Nield, who heads the Fairfax Road Association, said his neighbor is threatening the property values and undermining the community's political power, in addition to voicing an opinion that the neighborhood detests.

Mr. Nield is still angry and tried to reach the two black neighbors on his street by telephone to apologize. He said he is writing a letter to Mr. Newport decrying racism.

"Some of us have gone to war to defend this guy's right to express himself," said Mr. Nield, a Vietnam veteran. "But we sure wish he wouldn't do it in our neighborhood."

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