Washington -- With a vast array of police sealing the capital's downtown for his free-speech hate march, Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a self-described neo-Nazi from cyberspace, proved himself more of a Chicken Little on Saturday.
Hundreds of counterdemonstrators were waiting near the White House to shout him down. A force of 1,426 police officers -- more than double the normal contingent -- provided a security cordon on a scale last applied here to the NATO spring summit meeting.
All eyes and vocal cords were directed toward the Pennsylvania Avenue march route as a security helicopter hovered ominously overhead.
But at the appointed hour, only four followers of Hawke's American Nationalist party showed up, after 300 were promised, police said, and those four quickly sized up the situation and left town without marching a step or uttering a protest.
"I think the city ought to sue these people," Police Chief Charles Ramsey angrily declared as he stood in his riot helmet complaining that the city had just spent close to $1 million protecting the civil rights of a no-show troublemaker.
"I don't care if they have no money," Ramsey fumed. "We still should sue them. I'll take their gym shoes. I'll take their jackets."
Hawke is a 20-year-old student at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., who founded the Knights of Freedom party in 1996 to promote himself as the nation's future "absolute, supreme dictator." His party, now known as the American Nationalists, sports Nazi paraphernalia and speaks hate against Jews and nonwhites.
Hawke, who hate-group researchers found changed his name from Andrew Greenbaum in denial of his Jewish heritage, has been belittled by older neo-Nazi groups as a mere "hobbyist" hatemonger trolling for disgruntled surfers on the Internet.
In a recent interview with Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a research organization that tracks American hate groups, Hawke bragged that, after unsuccessful attempts to attract attention, "we started the Web site and that basically catapulted us."
Potok estimated that no more than 150 enrollees pay the $5-a-month party dues to Hawke as he denounces "the Jewish media" and aspires to fascist control of the nation. "It's largely a cult of personality," Potok said, describing the followers as a gang of high school and college misfits entranced by a self-styled "evil genius from a Batman comic."
Nevertheless, Hawke set off a security and publicity storm in this city when he obtained a three-hour demonstration permit from capital authorities. After a media drumbeat of anticipation, the net result proved to be an event of gross anticlimax as police officers with gas masks and truncheons watched and waited and ultimately slouched by the parade route.
Streets bordering the march route bristled with television trucks and satellite broadcast antennas last seen here in such concentration for Monica Lewinsky's grand jury appearance. Socialist Worker agitators worked the crowd. Tourists got caught up in the day, with one hand-scribbling a sign that proclaimed, "Hillbillies Are Against Nazis."
A regular anti-Clinton demonstrator, miffed that he was displaced by police, still wielded his big sign that seemed odd for the day: "The Bates Motel: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." Three separate counterdemonstrations were meanwhile speaking out against a foe that was never to appear.
"Hey, they're not coming!" a man wearing an American Labor Party T-shirt shouted, delivering the news to a group of fewer than 200 people waiting at the police barricades in the Lafayette Park rally site across from the White House. "Give yourselves a round of applause!"
The largest group of counterdemonstrators, who were determined to go nowhere near the neo-Nazis, was gathered by government and civic leaders on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. "Democracy is demanding, but it is worth it," Mayor Anthony Williams told the crowd of more than 200 people who prayed and orated against hatemongering.
Down by the White House, as long lines of police officers finally retreated from the march barricades, Police Chief Ramsey openly wondered who might sound the next false alarm. "I'm concerned about the taxpayers," he said. "I mean, you've got all these groups turning up on the Internet, and so here we are."
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