Ku Klux Klan meeting raises concern in rural California

MERCED, Calif. _ A Merced County sheriff's deputy drove past a small gathering in early 2009 not often seen in this rural county whose population is mostly Latino _ a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

The Klan, which has a presence in other parts of the state, hasn't been reported in Merced County for some time.

While local law enforcement's reaction has been guarded concern _ there's little that police can do unless laws have been broken _ some academics argue that despite a shrinking number of racist groups nationally, smaller, more isolated groups can be more dangerous.

On Feb. 22, 2009, according to a police report obtained by the Sun-Star, a Merced County sheriff's deputy rolled up on a gathering in the backyard of a house just outside of the town of Dos Palos.

Ten men stood behind a low chain-link fence in the backyard of the house. They wore white robes and pointed white head pieces. On their chests they wore circular badges with a black cross at the center. One of the men wore a purple robe, another a gold robe. Several children played in the yard on that section of Lexington Avenue.

When the group noticed the patrol car, they started yelling at the deputy and then retreated into the house. Soon people began leaving the house and started to get into their cars parked along the road. One man crossed the road towards his truck and covered his face.

About a half hour later, three more deputies arrived at the house and knocked on the front door. Rudy Lish opened the door and said he had just gotten home and didn't know of any gathering. He said his brother, Bobby Lish, who's involved with racist groups, may have been in the house while he was gone.

Then Rudy Lish's father, William Silva, came to the door and told deputies, "I ain't had no damn Klan meeting here!" The two men then asked the deputies to get off their land. No further action was taken.

The towns of Dos Palos and nearby South Dos Palos, both in the center of the San Joaquin Valley, are depressed farm towns whose main problems are poverty and gangs, not white power groups.

Beyond the sheer novelty, however, the meeting raises questions about racial amity in Merced County: Are these sentiments more widespread in the white community? If so, did such a meeting signal a souring of racial harmony? Or was the meeting just a one-off?

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