Ku Klux Klan members are still allowed to pass out pamphlets warning white Americans about "violent black on white crime" while wearing robes and hoods in the small Missouri town of Desloge.
They'll just have to stick to the sidewalk.
That's the ruling from the three-judge panel of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected the lawsuit from the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan -- one of the five active KKK offshoots in Missouri -- over the town's rules for leafleting.
The KKK has been fighting in court battles for two years for the right to pass out leaflets to drivers in Desloge, a small town about 60 miles south of St. Louis with a 97 percent white population. The town says its rule against standing in roadways to hand information to motorists is designed to protect public safety, not to limit anyone's freedom of speech.
A district court originally ruled in the KKK's favor, saying Desloge's ordinance was not specific enough and violated the group's First Amendment rights. This month the appellate court sided with the town's safety argument and overturned the lower court's decision.
"The record here does not indicate that the city's real motive for curtailing speech activities was to discriminate against particular messages," circuit judge Diana E. Murphy wrote in the decision.
The Klan regularly passes out leaflets on public streets and sidewalks, sometimes while wearing their hoods and regalia, to spread messages about the dangers of methamphetamine to the "White Race," a "warning for White Americans" about "violent black on white crime," organizing neighborhood watches, obtaining firearms for protection, and defending "White Christian culture [and] the future of our nation" against Shariah law, according to the lawsuit.
The leaflets list a P.O. Box address for the KKK in Park Hills, a Missouri town one and a half miles south of Desloge.
In Desloge, the Klan's original strategy was to hold the pamphlets up at a four-way stop intersection. When someone in a car indicated that he or she wanted a leaflet, a group member would step into the street to supply one.
But that violates the town's ordinance against entering a roadway to pass out information or to solicit. The court's ruling supported the town ordinance, saying the KKK can choose a different, safer method for distributing leaflets.
Frank Ancona, the imperial wizard of the KKK, testified during the trial that Klan members are "white Christian patriots" trying to advance white supremacist principles.
"We do not commit acts of violence, and we believe in perpetuating our race," Ancona said. "We believe in having children and grandchildren, white ones."
In November, Ancona told Daily RFT the protests in Ferguson was bolstering the group's recruitment.
"These Ferguson protesters are the best recruiters since Obama," he said. "Normally we might hear from ten people a week in Missouri, and now we're hearing from more like fifty people a week. Sometimes, depending on these news stories, we get 100, 200 calls in a day."
But experts say the KKK tends to over-exaggerate its numbers.
"It's common for extremist groups in general, and Klan groups in particular, to make extravagant claims about their membership," said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League. "But the reality is that they can never back up those claims with real-world evidence."
Here's the appellate court's ruling:
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