A small anti-Trump protest was held in front of the Potter and Tioga County Courthouses on Monday.
Gene Stilp, a political activist from Harrisburg, has been traveling to towns and burning different Trump flags, including a combined Trump-Nazi flag with a Trump campaign flag on one side and a Nazi flag on the other side; a combined Trump-old Russian Flag and a Trump-Confederate flag.
He said he uses these flags in his burning demonstrations to make sure people see Trump’s name associated with white supremacy, racism and bigotry. He hopes it also shows people that Trump and Putin have a dangerous connection and that Trump has fascist and dictatorial tendencies, he said, referring to the old Russian and Nazi flags.
Stilp said burning these flags — which were not real American Flags — was an “educational demonstration.”
“We like to come up to rural counties were there are more Trump flags, if you will, so we can educate the people here ... about what Trump’s misguided values are,” Stilp told the Potter Leader-Enterprise.
He hopes voters take a harder look at what Trump values.
“Really study what Trump’s horrible value system is and why he bows to Putin and his terrible values, why he bows to white supremacists and why he bows to racists,” Stilp said. “They have to learn what Trump’s values are.”
Stilp has also filed a criminal complaint for criminally negligent homicide against Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“You could call Trump a serial killer for his criminally negligent homicide activities,” Stilp said at the demonstration in Wellsboro, citing the 200,000 people in America who have died from the coronavirus.
Though the demonstration in Wellsboro was peaceful, Stilp was met with a handful of counter protesters who were more aggressive toward him in Coudersport. They were swearing, yelling, calling Stilp vulgar names and some attempted to block the view of Stilp’s staff, who were filming the demonstration.
Some counter protesters had Trump signs and flags, and at one point erupted into a chant of “four more years.”
To that, Stilp said, “Some people cling to the Second Amendment. I embrace the Ffirst.”
While he was starting his demonstration, some counter protesters said Stilp was inciting violence. Coudersport Police Chief Curt McClain said the demonstration went on without any issues.
“There was just some banter back and forth, normal stuff, but no citations, no arrests made,” McClain said.
The department also had two “plainclothes officers” at the protest, in addition to McClain, which the department will do depending on what they expect the needs of the event to be.
“It depends on the type of protest. It depends on if we need to show force or if we just need to make sure that it stays calm. We can pick out any instigators easier in plain clothes,” McClain said.
Several people asked why this event was allowed. Potter County Commissioner Nancy Grupp said Stilp requested a permit on Thursday, but the county doesn’t issue permits to use the courthouse square. It does have a courthouse square usage policy, but because of the limited amount of time between the request and the event, there wasn’t enough time to hold a public meeting to approve or deny.
Potter County does not have any ordinances against burning, she said.
The Coudersport borough does have a burning ordinance. It states burning must be in a container with a person attending the fire and it must have a lid, Coudersport Borough Manager Beverly Morris said.
Because the fire was contained in a metal can and was attended by Stilp, the police department did not extinguish the flames and allowed the full burning demonstration to continue, McClain said.
“It’s public property and he wasn’t breaking any laws so we didn’t feel there was any need for us to intervene in any way,” Grupp said.
Grupp said several residents have asked if there is burn ban in Potter County; there isn’t, she said, and if there was one, that would come from DCNR, not the county.