By the time I arrived at the county courthouse in Skokie last Saturday, the Ku Klux Klan rally was in full swing. I counted more than 400 protesters and more than 100 police, some on horseback. I’d read that about 30 KKK members were expected, but I couldn’t see or hear them. They were near the courthouse or inside, and police in riot gear had blocked the long driveway leading up from the road. Beyond the police barricade a small crowd of protesters milled around outside the courthouse entrance.

I asked one of the cops if I could go past the barricade. He told me to step back. I asked how I could get permission to join the crowd at the entrance. He again told me to step back and gave me a sour look. I stepped back.

Anti-KKK chants filled the air. Protesters carried signs and cameras. My sign read “Are Those Hoods Made in America?” In my mind the answer was simply yes–the KKK’s message seems as ineradicable here as anywhere. But many of the people around me interpreted the sign more literally, shouting, “Hey, right! They probably do buy ’em from overseas!”

I was standing on the far side of the street on a snowbank when four skinheads approached from the direction of Harms Road, police forming a small phalanx around them. The tallest skinhead, who carried himself as if he were the leader, wore a T-shirt featuring a Star of David with a red circle around it and a red line through it. He had a large plain face and a dismissive sneer. The other three wore leather and metal and similar sneers. A girl accompanied them, a kid of 16 or 17.

They made their way toward the barricaded drive, evidently seeking to join the rally inside, but the crowd of protesters had blocked the drive entrance. The protesters started throwing snowballs, and political chants gave way to simple shouts: “Bastards!” “Kill them!”

More police arrived, but the skinheads began to retreat. The leader waved and laughed, then for a moment turned to face the crowd, his arms raised triumphantly. Snowballs flew.

The protesters cursed the cops for providing protection, chanting, “Cops and the Klan–they go hand in hand.” A man pounded on a squad car. A scuffle broke out between him and the police, and he was arrested. The crowd chanted, “Let him go! Let him go!” But the police engulfed and handcuffed him. The skinheads rounded the corner onto Harms.

The police tightened and reinforced their line, then began to clear the driveway entrance, pushing back the protesters. They shouted, “Shame!” “Stop protecting them!” “Let us at them!” One man shouted that the police were “breaking norms of international law.” I told one cop that some of us understood what they were doing. He told me to step back please.

The crowd finally backed up until the driveway entrance was clear, and a yellow bus shot forward, windows draped with swastika banners. More snowballs. More chants and curses as the bus rolled away surrounded by squad cars. Anger seemed to turn to bitterness.

Most of the crowd began drifting east on Old Orchard. Then suddenly there was a buzz, shouts. Young men sprinted past us from behind. I peered ahead and saw another pack of three or four skinheads walking stiffly toward us.

This time there was no police phalanx. The crowd surrounded the skinheads, pelting them with snow and ice. Without saying anything, the skinheads pushed forward, but the crowd pressed in, screaming.

Suddenly the lead skinhead bolted like a wild horse toward several police officers who were running up. The others followed, but the crush of protesters stopped them. The crowd shouted and shoved. The leader tripped and fell, and two young men started kicking him. There were a few cheers from the crowd, but they quickly faded as most onlookers hung back, shocked.

One of the attackers disappeared into the crowd. The other was still kicking, going for the skinhead’s face, when four cops pushed into the crowd. People quickly made way for them. The police collared the attacker and yanked him toward a squad car. The skinhead jumped up, evidently not seriously injured, and scrambled toward the squad car, looking back at the now mostly silent crowd with fear in his eyes.