Burning Nazi-Confederate flag, activist asks if racism exists in York
When Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp held his first demonstration burning a hybrid Nazi-Confederate flag outside Rep. Scott Perry's office, he had no idea he'd soon be in a position to challenge the incumbent Dillsburg Republican.
Stilp has been holding his demonstrations in counties across Pennsylvania in response to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was run over with a car last summer during rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Noticing white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville waving Nazi and Confederate flags, Stilp said he decided to combine the two into one flag and burn it because "both symbols represent racism, bigotry, hatred, white supremacy, slavery, racial intimidation, genocide and death."
His initial demonstration was outside Perry's office in Wormleysburg, Cumberland County, he said, because he felt the congressman's comments following the events in Charlottesville were insensitive.
After Heyer's death, Perry condemned violence, racism and bigotry in all forms, saying that white supremacists and anti-fascists shared blame.
Congressional campaign: Recently, Stilp announced he would run as a Democrat in the newly redrawn 10th District, which includes Perry's home, for 2018.
The state Supreme Court's new map took Perry from the 4th District — which includes all of York and Adams counties and parts of Cumberland and Dauphin counties — to the 10th District — which includes all of Dauphin County and parts of York and Cumberland counties.
State Republican leaders are challenging the new map in federal court, but the 10th District now has six declared Democratic challengers, including Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, of York City; George Scott, of Dillsburg, and Alan Howe, of Carlisle.
The latest Democratic candidates to declare in the 10th District are Eric Ding, a Carlisle epidemiologist, and Lancaster's Christina Hartman. Hartman was originally challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, and lives in the new 11th District, but congressional candidates are not required to live in the district for which they are running.
Racism: Stilp held his latest demonstration Wednesday, Feb. 28, on the steps outside the York County Judicial Center in York City.
He said he hopes his demonstrations lead to people really thinking about whether racism exists in York County and, for those who choose to display Confederate flags, to think about why they're doing it.
"Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not white and sees such a symbol," he said. "What does it say to them? It says stay away from this place."
Aided by Holly Wertz, an Enola woman whose father had been a prisoner of Nazi soldiers during World War II, Stilp burned the hybrid flag inside a trash can. He also tossed a sign displaying the name of President Donald Trump into the flames.
Stilp said he believes Trump is the most racist president America has had since racial segregation ended, and his primary platform for his congressional campaign is impeaching the president.
Lawsuit: The demonstration in York was originally scheduled for November, but Stilp delayed his plans after receiving a permit denial letter from county solicitor Glenn Smith.
In his letter, Smith cited an ordinance requiring that "any person who desires to congregate, assemble or use county property" must make such request in a letter at least 60 days in advance of the desired time of use and include a check for $100.
Stilp filed a lawsuit against the county, arguing that the ordinance violated the First Amendment, and the two sides reached a settlement wherein he was allowed to hold his demonstration and the county will change its ordinance.
County spokesman Mark Walters said information regarding changes to the ordinance will be released as they are finalized.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.