An Army officer and his wife had what seemed to be a great and wholesome idea, to share the American Halloween tradition in Poland.
But then people dressed as the Ku Klux Klan showed up at their party.
Maj. Allen Rust of the Army Reserve's 7th Mission Support Command and his wife decorated their home in Imbramowice, a Polish village, for Halloween last year. Neighbors in the town, who typically don't celebrate the holiday, paid the couple compliments, leading them to plan a costume party this year. They invited the whole town.
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More than 200 people showed up, including at least six individuals dressed as klansmen, complete with crosses to burn, according to photos of the event reviewed by Military.com.
"I see these guys dressed as the KKK, and these guys were not a part of my event," Rust told Military.com. "I thought it was a protest. But when I passed them, someone told me these guys were in costumes and wanted to come to the party, and that was a problem."
At first, Rust didn't want to make a scene in front of the kids at the party, he said, partly over concerns about whether the men would be violent or whether there was some cultural misunderstanding of what was considered appropriate at a Halloween party. The men in klan garb, who were seemingly in their late teens and early twenties, were ostracized by other partygoers, according to Rust, and were not allowed inside the party.
Eventually, the men were confronted and told to leave the neighborhood altogether after they started jumping on people's cars and igniting small fires in the street, according to Rust.
"I handled it the best I could; it was a bunch of hooligans that crashed the party," he told Military.com. "I'm not sure if they were radical right wingers; they didn't speak English. But there is no doubt in my mind they understood what the klan was."
It's unclear whether those in the hoods were part of a group supportive of the racism often symbolized by KKK paraphernalia, or simply did not fully grasp the implications of their outfits.
Far-right and nationalist movements have grown in Poland in recent years. In 2017, 60,000 people marched through Warsaw during the nation's Independence Day carrying banners with overtly white supremacist messaging, including advocating for a "white Europe" and a "pure Poland."
The group at the party was also lighting red flares, which has become a staple of white supremacist and far-right nationalist protests in Europe, including in Warsaw; a 2018 protest in Germany; and one in 2019 in Ukraine.
Immediately after the party, Rust's wife posted in a Facebook group for the event, making it clear the KKK group was not welcomed.
"The KKK group was not part of the event," Izabela Rust said in a post. "It was not organized by us or supported in any way. We are against the KKK and in no way did we support or plan their participation in the party."
All posts in the Facebook group were written in Polish and translated to English for this article with Google Translate.
But some in the Facebook group seemingly did not understand the cultural baggage the KKK has in the United States and its long history of terrorism, white supremacy and antisemitism.
"With all due respect, but you are organizing a fancy dress party. … They made an appointment, sewed, and came to play with others, and were excluded," one person who was in the Facebook group said, presumably referring to the klan costume wearers.
Another person added, "Please also remember that when introducing innovative approaches, it is worth defining guidelines, instead of killing creativity in youth -- as I dare to say it is popular now."
But Rust feels his Halloween party was ultimately successful, despite the young men in klan costumes, and plans to host another celebration next year. He said he isn't sure whether he'll be more clear about a dress code.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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