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Monday, June 17, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kkk Meeting In Auburn Puts Legion On Defensive

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Stung by what they called an unexpected Ku Klux Klan meeting at their Auburn hall Saturday, officials of American Legion Post 78 scrambled yesterday to distance themselves from the white-supremacist group and vowed to be more cautious about who rents their facility.

"We didn't know anything about it until it was too late," said Post Cmdr. Art Astala. "We believed and we trusted, and we got stepped on and lied to."

Astala said he spent much of the day yesterday fielding angry phone calls from members demanding to know how the Klan spaghetti feed and induction ceremony ended up at the Auburn hall. A state Legion representative wanted answers also, and Astala said he expects questions from the national headquarters of the veterans organization as well.

"Everyone's going to say we've got a black spot on us," he said.

A man identifying himself as the KKK group's imperial wizard, Bill Albers of Modesto, Calif., estimated there were 30 people at the Saturday meeting. Media reports placed the number of attendees closer to a dozen. A minor scuffle broke out outside the hall at 707 Auburn Way S. as protesters clashed with people attending the Klan meeting, but Auburn Police made no arrests.

Cliff Manning has booked events at the hall for about 20 years, most often parties and wedding receptions. He said he wasn't suspicious when he received a call a few weeks ago from a woman who said she wanted to rent the facility for a seminar on taxes and government.

"There's a lot of people thinking about government and taxes right now," he said.

Manning said he met the woman, who gave her name as Mara Hulett, at the hall a few days later. She paid the rental fee in cash and wrote an Auburn address on the rental agreement. Legion officers said the hall rents for $75 to $150 a day.

Manning said he didn't hear of the Klan meeting until he read an advance story about it in the newspaper Saturday.

"I probably should've asked more questions," he said.

Building chairman Peter Laush said he learned of the Klan gathering from another Legion member. "It was after she already got the key and paid the money," Laush said. "It was too late to stop anything."

Legion members called police, but stayed away from the hall Saturday. After Klan members left the hall, Manning said Hulett called to say she didn't know about the KKK meeting. Manning was not convinced.

"They didn't just show up," he said. "She knew darn well they were going to be there." Hulett could not be reached for comment.

Astala said Legion members hold various political views, but as an organization, it tries to stay neutral on political issues. Rules prohibit the Legion from renting the building out for political fund-raising events.

Astala said he was confident none of his members was sympathetic to Klan beliefs.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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