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Protests draw counter demonstrations

The events in Mifflintown and Lewistown were nonviolent

Sentinel photo by BRIAN COX
Activist Gene Stilp, foreground, speaks during a social media livestream while a group of pro-President Donald Trump counter demonstrators chant messages of support for the president Friday outside the Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown.

LEWISTOWN — A planned protest against President Donald Trump Friday outside the Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown drew not only a group of around a dozen pro-Trump counter demonstrators, but also earned the organizer a citation for violating the borough’s ordinance prohibiting open burning.

The organizer — who had performed a similar act earlier Friday at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte and previously orchestrated a similar act in Snyder County — then drove to Mifflintown to do it a third time, this time outside the Juniata County Courthouse.

Gene Stilp, a man from Harrisburg who describes himself as an “anti-Trump citizen activist,” displayed anti-Trump signage and Trump campaign flags modified to include images of the Confederate battle flag, the flag of Nazi Germany and the flag of the former Soviet Union. Stilp also presented what he describes as “a criminal complaint for criminally negligent homicide against President Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.” Stilp criticized Trump for being “racist” and claimed the American president is aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He then placed one of the flags into a metal trash can he had brought with him and set it on fire before the item was promptly extinguished by a local firefighter. Stilp was then cited for violating the borough’s open burn ordinance. Stilp said he was aware he would be cited if he proceeded with his plan to burn the flags and that the fire would be immediately put out as a result.

The demonstrations, which had been advertised on social media for a few days prior to the events, drew a group of at least a dozen supporters of the president who were stationed in front of the annex building, across Third Street from the Lewistown protest.

While Stilp was making his presentation in Lewistown, the Trump supporters, many of whom were holding signs, wearing Trump clothing, hats and face coverings and/or waving flags could be heard chanting Trump’s name, “four more years” and various other messages supportive of the president. Several individuals shouted a variety of other pro-Trump statements and criticisms of Democrats in general and Trump’s general election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, specifically. Some members of the pro-Trump group also shouted directly at Stilp, who did not respond to the counter demonstrators.

Several motorists who were passing by on Third Street sounded their car horns in apparent support of the pro-Trump group and at least one man shouted a profanity at Stilp as he drove by.

The Mifflin County crowd also included a few other anti-Trump individuals and several onlookers who did not outwardly express support for either side.

There was a noticeable presence of law enforcement as several police officers, at least one Pennsylvania State Police trooper and personnel from the Mifflin County Sheriff’s Department — who are responsible for courthouse security — surrounded the area of the Lewistown protest.

There were no apparent physical confrontations and no arrests were made at the Lewistown event, which lasted approximately 25 minutes.

In Juniata County, Stilp drew a smaller crowd, one that did not want to hear his message. When he lit a Confederate flag, one onlooker extinguished the flames with a water bottle. Each time Stilp opened his mouth to speak, a man amongst a gathering of Trump supporters on the courthouse steps would blow a bugle to drown out his voice.

When he left, Mifflintown became the scene of a protest on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with a second group of counterprotestors who argued with the BLM group.

Also present was the Lightfoot Militia, which stated it was there to protect the courthouse and prevent or de-escalate violence. There also was a police presence and in at least one case police had to break up a scuffle between protestors from both groups.

One arrest was made following a physical altercation between protestors and a counter-demonstrator who crossed the street, but it was unclear who was arrested and what they were charged with.

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City editor Kier Harris contributed to this story from Mifflintown.

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