Rumor of Antifa flag-burning event on July 4 brings heavily armed militia groups and bikers to Gettysburg
Heavily-armed right-wing militia groups descended on Gettysburg on Independence Day in response to an online hoax that claimed anti-fascists were planning to burn American flags at the Civil War battleground. The Pennsylvania city is known for the Battle of Gettysburg, a historic event during the country's civil war that saw up to 50,000 soldiers from both, the Union and Confederate armies, die, and is considered to have been the turning part of the struggle.
The battle took place between July 1 and July 3 in 1863, with an event posted online seemingly calling for "peaceful flag burning to resist police" in what was an extension of the protests against police brutality and racial inequality that have been taking place across the country in the wake of George Floyd's Memorial Day death. Some of the other posts called for the protesters to show up in face paint, with a supposed organizer on Facebook promising to "give away free small flags to children to safely throw into the fire," reported the BBC. Another called for people to "get together and burn flags in protest of thugs and animals in blue."
These posts made their way to numerous right-wing and alt-right websites and forums, where users promised to arm themselves and defend the battleground and its surrounding monuments. One of the users claimed that these were Antifa protesters had been trained by radical Islamists and wanted to kill as many White and supporters of President Donald Trump as they could.
"30,000 members per state...many trained by radical Islam they plan on killing as many Trump supporters and whites as possible!!" they wrote. "ANTIFA To Desecrate Gettysburg National Cemetery on July 4 - Then MURDER & BURN White Suburbs under cover of 'Fireworks.'" "ANTIFA is planning to desecrate the Gettysburg National Cemetery by burning flags there on July 4; just before they begin MURDERING White people and BURNING DOWN Suburbs the same day. It will start at the desecration of Union Soldier graves at Gettysburg, Pa."
As the news continued to gain traction and became the talk of the news and social media, Gettysburg Police released a statement where they said they were aware of the rumors and that they would be ready to protect monuments, homes, and businesses. "We want to assure those we serve that we are taking all precautions at our disposal to maintain the safety of all residents and visitors to the area as well as the protection of property to include businesses, homes, monuments, churches and other historical treasures located in the greater Gettysburg area," Gettysburg Borough Police Chief Robert Glenny Jr. said.
But when the day came, none of these flag-burning protesters made it to Gettysburg. Instead, photographs and videos showed hundreds of armed bikers and militia members converge to the Gettysburg Cemetery in anticipation. Speaking to the Hanover Evening Sun, a spokesperson for the Antifa chapter for Central Pennsylvania said no such flag-burning event had been planned. "No, we did not create the event page. We have no interest in demonstrating at Gettysburg, we are all home with our families. The right-wing loves to stir up their base with these ridiculous rumors and conspiracy theories," they said.