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Klan condemns fatal dragging of black

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The Ku Klux Klan rallied Saturday to condemn the slaying of a black man who was allegedly dragged to his death behind a pickup truck by three white men.

Black counterdemonstrators carrying guns showed up, and police kept the two sides apart, making one arrest as the 90-minute Klan rally ended."If nothing else, we've taught Jasper County freedom of speech," Klansman Darrell Flinn said. "And we've gotten to denounce the murder."

James Byrd Jr. was beaten and dragged behind a pickup truck for more than two miles along a rural road in this east Texas town on June 7. Byrd's torso - missing his head and an arm - was found the following morning.

Three white men charged with murder in the killing had ties to white supremacist groups, authorities said.

About 25 Klan members paraded in the courthouse square, with temperatures reaching the 90s in high humidity.

Tensions were heightened when about 50 black activists arrived and made a show of unloading weapons from trunks. Shouting "black power," they pointed shotguns, rifles and other weapons in the air as they marched.

"These men are here to freely exercise their divine and, yes, constitutional rights after building this country for 400 years to defend ourselves and carry armed and loaded weapons to defend the black community against this murderous and hypocritical outfit known as the Ku Klux Klan," said Malik Z. Shabazz, an attorney for the New Black Panther Party.

Authorities roped off a two-block radius around the square near the courthouse. Texas Rangers, FBI agents and other law officers patrolled the area.

After a white man in the audience heckled blacks, law officers rushed in to prevent a confrontation.

About a dozen armed blacks twice failed twice to pass through a police barricade. Former Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Muhammad threatened law officers after he was rebuffed, but later retreated and was allowed to keep his gun.

Most residents in this community of about 8,000 took the advice of officials and stayed away, but about 200 spectators did show up, some of them jeering as the Klan emerged from the courthouse door carrying flags.