Jana Benscoter | firstname.lastname@example.org
Several events planned in Gettysburg this weekend potentially could cause tension but their organizers are getting together tonight to make sure they go off without a hitch.
The bottom-line message is peace, said Shaun Wood, who organized the “Battlefield Bike Rally.” He, Black Lives Matter supporter Matthew Alselmi and Niles Norby, Jr., a spokesperson for three militia groups, will use Facebook Live on their personal pages to share their conversation.
The meeting will begin at 7 o’clock tonight and it’s being held at Ragged Edge Coffee Shop, 110 Chambersburg St.
The bike rally, which kicked off today and ends on July 12, is in no way associated with Gettysburg’s annual bike week. Bike week 2020 was canceled due to the novel coronavirus.
“I originally created the event over a month ago,” Wood said. “BLM created their event a week ago knowing the town of Gettysburg would be filled with about 10,000 bikers. BLM protesters want to stand in the square peacefully silent tomorrow from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.”
Wood said he doesn’t have a problem with that. Neither does Anselmi. But both said they know people who attend events like this can suddenly clash under the influence of one person who could ruin the peaceful vibe they want to establish.
“We are spreading a message of peace and will be dispelling rumors,” Anselmi said of tonight’s meeting.
The bike rally does not require a borough permit, Gettysburg police Chief Robert Glenny said. However, if BLM has more than 30 people gathering, then they are required to have a permit. Anselmi said the group is working on having one by tomorrow but he is unsure whether that is going to happen.
“It isn’t an event, it’s a bunch of individual citizens coming out to exercise their constitutional rights,” Anselmi said, adding that he is only the promoter of the gathering and said he didn’t set the date or time. “But, I agree with hosting it on July 10th. We will again have visitors from out of town, like July 4th, and we think it’s important people know of the movement here in Gettysburg.”
Borough police have been instructed to be flexible, but Glenny said “they should have a permit.”
“People have their First Amendment rights, and we support all the Amendments,” Glenny said. “We can’t pick and choose. The borough ordinance though says when there is a gathering of over 30 people, you need a permit. As far as how this group has been in the past, they have been relatively peaceful.”
The Black Lives Matter protest was advertised on Facebook.
“I found out about it on Facebook and immediately, I was kind of hesitant, but I reached out to him, basically asking him why they picked July 10th to do this when he knew there was a bike rally,” Wood said.
Meeting in person tonight and having the accountability of others on Facebook Live will show that all the groups are being honest and transparent about the motives behind their events.
“We aren’t really even a biker community, but we want to bridge any confusion that we’re not white supremacists, we’re peaceful citizens,” Wood said. “We are all very patriotic about our country. We just want peace. We want to come down here to have fun and support our local businesses and the black and the blue who protect us and recognize our veterans who gave us our freedoms.”
He continued: “We can close this gap of differences between whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Chinese. We’re all Americans. We can fix this. Things were once settled before in Gettysburg; we can do it here again. We have to stop this division and this craziness going on in the country.”
A motorcycle ride will take place on Saturday, Wood said. Local and state police will be patrolling the area throughout the weekend.
A large crowd is expected and Glenny said officers ask that people remain as socially distant as possible and people wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.