March 5th was declared a national day of honor for the Confederate battle flag by those who would seek to rewrite the history of the American Civil War to present the South as benign defenders of the nebulous idea of “States Rights”. To this end, the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans announced that they intended to conduct a ceremony honoring that symbol of oppression at the Eternal Peace Light Memorial in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Far from being an antiquated symbol relegated to the dustbin of history, the Confederate flag remains an inflammatory representative of the white supremacist and nationalist movements, and so anti-fascists in Central PA, Maryland and Eastern PA mobilized to counter the ceremony and provide a response to the erroneous argument that “the flag is about heritage, not hate.” In addition to Antifa elements, a local professor of history and Africana at Gettysburg College also coordinated a counter-rally that was attended by less militant anti-racist elements, and was staged in conjunction with the 15-20 individuals who arrived already dressed in black bloc.
The rally and counter-rally both secured permits from the National Parks Service permitting them to gather between 2:00 and 4:00 pm on Saturday. However, by 1:00 that afternoon many of the “flaggers” as well as the counter-protesters were already staging up and beginning to occupy the spaces designated for them by the Parks Service. These spaces were roped off by steel barricades and yellow rope, and there was a 50-75 yard “free speech zone” that the Parks Service Police explained was for “tourists”. They warned that no attendees from either side would be permitted to cross this neutral area under threat of arrest; however many Confederate flaggers were later permitted to do so, although several counter-protesters attempted to cross afterwards to highlight the double standards of enforcement and prove a point. These counter-protesters were met with immediate police responses, threatened with implied threats of arrests and turned back aggressively by the police.
The flag day ceremony was well-attended, with some estimates ranging to 200 people during their event. The counter-protest was slightly smaller, but made up for that by being significantly louder and very vocally aggressive in an effort to disrupt and disturb the racists. Displaying both black and black-and-red flags, as well as banners with slogans like “Northern Aggression” and “Your Heritage IS Hate”, the multi-regional coordinated efforts of the anti-fascists proved successful in drowning out the podium speakers with chants and megaphones, despite the large distance of separation between the two groups. The megaphones were utilized to great advantage by the counter-protesters, and even national media reported that the flag rally speakers were not able to be heard during their ceremony due to the continuous noise.
The flag day ceremony ended somewhat early in response to the constant chanting, shouting and disruption from the anti-fascist counter-protesters. The staging area for the counter-protest was directly in front of the parking lot and the road leading away from the monument, therefore all of the confederate apologists were forced to walk or drive past a victorious and enthusiastic crowd cheering them on as they were leaving. This resulted in some heated verbal exchanges as well as threats of physical violence from the Confederates, which were met with invitations to come to the other side of the line. Several face-to-face confrontations and shouting matches broke out, but the Park Police were quick to step in and maintain order. Predictably, the police were much less aggressive about preventing the flaggers from harassing counter-protesters on their way out, as well as enforcing the boundaries established before either protest began.
Because of this, counter-protesters held the ground until the majority of the flaggers had departed, and then arranged group escorts to provide security for all participants returning to their vehicles to ensure their safety and show solidarity. Although outnumbered approximately two-to-one, the four groups that allied were successful in their efforts to disrupt and confront racists in an area where racism is dominant. This shows that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the setting, racism can be confronted and shut down with the right tactics and organization. Fascism should never be allowed a platform to spread racist and nationalist views, and every effort should be made to meet them in the streets whenever and wherever they decide to show up.