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Political Notebook — Bedford crowd highlights fears

Political Notebook

When a crowd of armed residents gathered in Bedford on Tuesday, some invoked fears of outside attackers — an increasingly common claim in rural areas as protests against racism continue in larger cities.

As the crowd of dozens met Tuesday evening, many carried rifles and wore clothing supporting President Donald Trump. Some said they were waiting for an unspecified “they” to appear that night, according to WJAC, while a recording from the scene shows one man shouting: “It’s not going to happen in this town.”

Vague and unfounded fears of attackers have become a part of the political landscape in some rural and conservative areas, especially when protests appear in the news. Fast-spreading social media posts warn of imminent attacks by Black Lives Matter activists or antifa — short for anti-fascist, a broad, leaderless movement opposed to the far right.

In June, The Associated Press detailed a series of similar panics across the country.

In an Idaho county of 24,000 people, residents called the police warning of antifa rioters, a claim that was swiftly debunked. In Klamath Falls, Ore., armed activists surrounded businesses and warned of antifa attacks that never came. In rural Washington state, a family on a camping trip was surrounded in the woods by locals who feared they were outside radicals.

In Gettysburg, large crowds gathered to fight off an expected Independence Day antifa flag-burning — all the product of an online hoax.

The Bedford gathering followed a series of incidents in the county involving a group of cross-country Black Lives Matter marchers. The marchers, walking from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., were involved in an “exchange” of gunshots on Monday that left one member hospitalized, according to state police. A man later allegedly fired into the air near the marchers’ hotel, drawing criminal charges.

The armed group in Bedford expressed familiar concerns about militant invaders, according to Chelsea Rae Moses of Hollidaysburg, whose 20-minute video of the scene has been shared thousands of times online.

“They were convinced that the protesters from the night before were going to come back and they were going to burn down the courthouse,” said Moses, who filmed the scene as she walked through the crowd. Many in the group launched political arguments with her, suggested she was working to “defund police” and demanded she leave town.

“I’ve gotten a lot of death threats (since), which is a little bit terrifying,” she said in an interview.

The armed gatherings carry a sharp political edge, especially as Trump warns of “anarchists” purportedly attacking U.S. cities. On Friday, he tied Democratic challenger and former vice president Joe Biden to the protests roiling some cities.

“Democrats and Biden didn’t even mention the Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and so called ‘Peaceful Protesters’ at their Convention,” Trump said on Twitter on Thursday. “They will allow rampant crime, just as they do in Portland. If they ask us, as they must do, we will end crime in their Democrat run cities, FAST!”

Pro-Trump TV ads have featured fictionalized scenes of citizens hiding and fleeing in terror from rampaging criminals.

Fears of rioters have provoked further armed encounters, including two killings at a protest in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday night. Authorities charged 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Illinois, a former member of a youth police cadet program, with shooting the victims during a late-night confrontation after he crossed state lines to observe the protest with a rifle.

While the cross-country protest marchers were set to continue past Bedford County this week, investigations into the shootings continue.

“This is an ongoing investigation, and we must allow the dedicated law enforcement officials of Bedford County to do their job and discern the facts,” U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, said in the aftermath, according to the Chambersburg Public Opinion.

Wolf calls

for legal pot

While past efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use in Pennsylvania have fizzled, Gov. Tom Wolf lent his weight to the issue this week, citing potential economic benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Wolf included legalization in a raft of proposed reforms as the Legislature prepares to return to Harrisburg.

Legalizing the drug — already allowed in some forms for medical purposes — would provide funds to help small businesses during an extended economic downturn, Wolf said in a series of statements on Twitter.

“At the same time, we must pursue policies that restore justice for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses,” he said.

A growing number of states have legalized or decriminalized recreational use, but marijuana remains broadly illegal in Pennsylvania. Several city governments have cut back on enforcement, leaving a patchwork of de facto local policies.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman completed a statewide “listening tour” last year to gather public views on legalization.

GOP starts

override push

Republican lawmakers are renewing efforts to overturn Wolf’s emergency declaration after a string of defeats, Spotlight PA reported this week.

More than a month after the governor vetoed House Resolution 836 — which would end his pandemic emergency declaration and end state restrictions on businesses — House GOP officials said they’re trying again.

This time, they’ll work to override the governor’s veto, an effort that would require additional Democratic support.

The bill handily passed both legislative chambers in May and June. Local lawmakers Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, and Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, were among the cosponsors.

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