It all started out with a hilariously bad social media post. It was a graphic that was just too oddly made. I won’t say bad, but I certainly won’t say good – either way, it certainly wasn’t made the way that an antifascist would. “ANTIFA PRESENTS” should have been the first sign… before you even got to the face paintings.
After that, I noticed others popping up.
That’s when the fake account LeftBehindUSA started posting and fucking around. In the weeks since the July 4th rally the Washington Post uncovered the self-described ‘troll’ behind these events – Adam Rahuba. You can read the piece here.
At this point I should note that we’ve been here before. Three years ago all of this same shit happened. No “antifa” showed up, the far-right youtube channels and fake news sites spread the news and dozens of militia, 3%ers and more showed up to protest the national park from miscreants.
Check out this thread from my colleague and friend Alejandro Alverez.
So that brings us to July 4th, 2020 I drove down from Upstate New York basically with no confirmation that anything would actually happen, but deciding that it was worth the risk. Worst case scenario I would just hang out and Gettysburg on July 4th… Not necessarily the worst place to be on such a day.
Nearly on coincidence, I happened upon General Robert E Lee’s headquarters on the edge of town as the sun started to rise. Seeing nothing happening that early I tried to nap but as the sun was rising and traffic was increasing around town there was no way that was happening. So I just decided to start making loops around the park hoping to catch a bumper sticker, a patch on some driver’s shirt, or a baseball cap.
The sign came in the form of a large pickup truck with an American and a Gadsden ‘Don’t tread on me’ flag. I did a quick u-turn and followed it.
Losing it at a red light, I ended up in the direction of the national parks parking lot. Upon arriving I saw this.
I jumped out of my car and walked cautiously towards the 200 or so gathered men. As far as I could see all white and nearly every single one of them wearing some sort of pro-America gear. The man on the left in the photo above is Christian Yingling, a CO in the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia. (Here’s a piece on him after the 2017 Unite the Right rally which I neither agree nor disagree with it’s contextualizing, but it does hit many of the important points on the man)
The ones that spotted me with cameras in tow look nervous and avoided eye contact. I took photos as the Yingling and others spoke to the crowd about plans and when they were going to meet back here. It was still very early in the morning and the supposed ‘Antifa’ flag burning wouldn’t even happen for 6 hours or so. But they were all on edge as supposedly there were many violent leftists and anarchists lurking in this small historic Pennsylvania town.
As they ended the speechifying, one of the crowd raise their hand and ask if they could pledge allegiance to the flag. He did not specify which flag.
The crowd looked around spotting a US flag directly behind me turned in unison and started the pledge.
After that crowd scattered all to their different assigned locations. I decided to try to follow again but to no avail. Again I ended up losing the lead car but ended up finding this truck with a bunch of armed men hanging out the back like some Pennsylvania ISIS.
I went back to the parking lot and found a different crew of militia. These guys were from the area, representing the Carlisle Light Infantry, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls an “Anti-Government Group.” One of their organizers made sure to note that they WERE NOT associated with the other militia (Lightfoot).
As it was public space they allowed me to film their organizing. Amongst them were your standard militia types and a handful of OathKeepers. The Oath Keepers, as a reminder are, according to the SPLC an active extremist group since 2009. (I previously interviewed members in Ferguson, Missouri for TheMudflats.)
Several members of the Light Infantry were calm and collected about the day’s proceedings but some were more nervous, asking about the laws in Pennsylvania, and when they could use their firearms to stop vandalism. The answer was that they couldn’t – they were just there to document and well maybe get in the way of some of it if they can.
As we were still hours off from the supposed ‘Antifa’ flag burning event I drove more loops around town trying to find interesting spots. Stopping at red lights I saw men and women with guns and flags walking amongst July 4th tourists checking out the gift shops. Normally this town would be packed today but COVID-19, not Antifa
Finally finding a stop near a small gathering of men with guns and Confederate flags, I approached a man wearing a stars and bars baseball cap. Unlike many of the, mostly men Steven Schultz was just dying to talk to me. he started telling me his thoughts about the day before I even had a chance to hir record on my camera. Pointing to his Confederate flag which was flying off-camera he told me “It doesn’t matter which side of the American flag they’re on – they’re American soldiers. They deserve respect.”
Stopping for a moment in his rant he took off his sunglasses looked into the camera and stated with his chest out, “My name is Steven Schultz and I am damn proud to be here.” Steven thought that the Antifa that was supposed to descend on this battlefield had “bit off more than they could chew.” He would not be dissuaded by my news that there would not be anyone showing up to oppose him or his friends.
There was an interesting assortment of people at this small grassy knoll near the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Some militia, some bikers, and at least one Proud Boy. The man in the photo below here, who chose put on his mask as he ‘wanted to be a school teacher one day’ carried a bat with a punisher logo at the end.
After listening to many of them go on about Antifa, and how COVID-19 was either made up completely or that the CDC/Media was lying about the numbers of people having it… I decided to move on. As fun as that was, I’ve heard it before.
Finally, I headed towards the main event, the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Gettysburg Park. It’s the largest of all the Confederate statues of people and has a paved circle around it, unlike any of the other statues that I saw in the park. The assorted men and women that came to protect the park treated the spot like a tailgate, just without the food. Sitting on lawn chairs, motorcycles and leaning against pickup trucks. There was also DHS agents, who worryingly blended in with many militias.Become a Patron!
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