CLARKSVILLE, GA – They came right after church on this balmy Spring afternoon. At first it was a guy on a motorcycle waving an American flag. Later a Vietnam Veteran drove up in a Chevy pickup truck. By early noon, there was a crowd of nearly 500 lining all four corners of Madison and Peachtree Industrial. They came waving posters, flags, banners and their children on their shoulders. They chanted loudly at cars that passed by. Most drivers honked their horns and gave the thumbs up. Others waved and smiled to those that lined the street. Some did neither, but that only invigorated the supporters to chant even louder.
By one-thirty, the crowd had doubled in size and news reporters were on the scene taking photographs and interviewing people. Susan Grieves was there with her son Patrick, her husband was in Iraq, possibly in Baghdad. He was a PFC in the 1st Expeditionary Marines as a tank gunner. Another woman overheard the conversation and gave her a hug. There was an instant bond between two wives who had been left behind while their husbands were at war and in harm’s way.
After two-o’clock, the mass of people had swelled to nearly five times the original size. A Georgia Highway Patrol trooper had arrived to manage traffic and maintain a semblance of order among the rally. It was a futile battle, many motorists were slowing down and some were stopping in the median to get out and join in their support. Sgt. Perginko relayed back to headquarters “We need twenty more people out here for crowd control”.
Cars continued to stream by but at an increasingly slower pace. Traffic had been backed up to I-85 and the honking of horns was incessant. That’s when six trucks with truckbeds full of new supporters stopped in the middle of the intersection and unloaded. Sgt. Perginko was unable or unwilling to stop them. The Ku Klux Klan had arrived to show their support for the American troops in Iraq. Some waved the rebel flag/American flag mix, one waved a placard espousing us to “Kill the Sand Niggers” and “Steal their Oil”. They all wore white robes and hoods.
Initially, many in the crowd did not know how to respond, but soon the anxiety was gone and a chant of “Kill the Muslims” was roaring through the crowd. Cars were honking steadily and news crews were calling their stations to authorize live feeds. The intensity of the situation was nearing the brink of chaos, then fell over the edge in awe inspiring form.
A VW microbus made the mistake of trying to navigate through the crowded intersection, supporters started rocking the van and jeering at the long-haired driver. The driver held up his hands and gave the peace symbol to the crowd and yelled “Peace is Patriotic”. The crowd encircled the VW and began rocking it much more violently.
Sgt. Perginko was nowhere to be found by this point, we later found him in his squad car sleeping, or badly injured, but there was no way to verify what happened to him, because what happened next was what set off the riot on that corner. The VW was rocking back and forth in a giant pendelum motion and the crowd screamed “USA, USA, USA” all around. In a blink, some Klan members had dragged the hippy driver out of the vehicle and began beating and kicking him in the middle of the street. The police backup had never arrived, and it was definitely too late. The microbus had been flipped over and someone threw a molotov cocktail at the thing, setting it ablaze.
It was at this point that this reporter left the maelstrom of “patriotism” and “national pride”. I was keen to watch it from a distance, even though I am deeply patriotic and love the USA. However with the carnage of watching a hippy finally get what he deserved, I felt it was appropriate to leave the scene before the backup Georgia Highway Patrol made their entrance.