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Nearly 300 Opponents, Supporters Show Up at Immigration Protest

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SILER CITY — The rally that had a lot of people feeling uneasy and brought a couple hundred people to Siler City, including a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan leader, came and went peacefully Saturday.

The controversy about the rally, which protested Hispanic immigrants, started with one man's decision to get a permit, and really picked up a lot of momentum when white supremacist David Duke decided to join the protest.

Many people were very anxious about what might have happened, including law enforcement officers. Dozens of police officers from several different departments, the highway patrol and the sheriff's department were on stand-by just in case something happened, but the protest ended peacefully two hours after it began.

As protesters applauded white supremacist David Duke during his speech, Hispanics watched from behind a barricade, and offered a different answer to the questions Duke posed.

"I'm here to show them I'm not scared of them," said Michelle Perez. "That's my sole reason for being here. I'm not scared, I'm proud."

About 75 people collected on the lawn in front of City Hall, protesting what they call the "Mexican Invasion of Chatham County."

Rally organizer Will Williams of the National Alliance in North Carolina suggested during his speech that more people shared their ideas than the size of the crowd suggested.

"They don't particularly want to get out here and expose themselves because they know it will bring the heat of the neo-Nazi label, the Ku Klux Klan label, and they don't need that," Williams said.

About 200 onlookers from across the state were kept separate from the protesters. Most watched quietly as the event unfolded, but others made their voices heard, shouting, "Asian, Latin, black and white, people of the world unite." Many also brought competing signs and ideas.

"I think if David Duke had to walk one day in the shoes of Mexican migrants as they worked some of the fields, he would be a different person," said rally opponent Mary Shettig.

Richard Vanderford, the Siler City man who launched the protest had little to say, but David Duke defended their right to criticize illegal immigration and fight for change.

"I think European Americans have a constructive right to defend their heritage and way of life and community like any other group," Duke said.

Duke's message was that whites will some day be overrun by the wave of immigration from Mexico.

According to the Associated Press, Hispanic newcomers are now about one-third of Chatham County's population.