PARKERSBURG - A recent European newspaper article identified Mountwood Park as the site of a Ku Klux Klan rally held in late April.
The London Daily Mail published an article on its website Sunday that follows a family who attended the April 26 event. It describes a "secret meeting" of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, including frequent use of racial slurs, shouts of "white power," and a speech about plans to train members in survival, firearms and unarmed combat in preparation for the anticipated collapse of American government and society.
Armed guards were present at the event to "keep the unwanted out," said John Himmler, a Parkersburg resident who holds the title of Grand Dragon of West Virginia in the group.
Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt said there is no law prohibiting open carrying of firearms at the park. Although he said he did not expect any problems, he had plainclothes deputies on the scene "just in case."
No incidents were reported, Merritt said.
Wood County Parks Director Jeremy Cross said he did not learn of the nature of the event until after it had occurred.
View the London Daily Mail article:
"The lady that reserved it told us that it was actually for a family reunion," he said.
Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch, who serves on the Mountwood Park board, said an individual reserving space at the park is a common occurrence and generally isn't questioned. A larger gathering would have been called to the board's attention.
Cross said park board President Bob Buchanan instructed him not to release the reservation paperwork because it contained personal information like credit card numbers. The Wood County Prosecutor's Office was contacted for a redacted copy of the document, but it had not been received by Monday evening.
Himmler said the event was probably registered as a reunion to keep from attracting any "protestors or negativity."
The gathering was announced through flyers distributed in the area a few months ago. Recipients were instructed to call a number to get information about the location.
When contacted by The Parkersburg News and Sentinel in April, Himmler declined to reveal the location of the event and said it was not open to the media. In an email, he described the group as "a clean, legal, fraternal order.
"We commit no violence in any shape or form," Himmler said in the email.
The Daily Mail story says its staffers were invited to the meeting by the family featured in the story. Their last names were not given because the family members said they feared retaliation.
Himmler said about 40 Klan members attended the rally, along with around 15 prospective members.
He said he would like to see the group do more in the area, including community service activities to show people "another side of the coin."
"There is good with us," he said.
Couch and Cross said they didn't receive complaints about the event, but had gotten some calls asking about it.
If the true nature of the gathering had been known when the reservation was requested, Cross said he would have taken it to the board.