Norman Asa Garrison III once joked about the Holocaust, saying “nothing is better than throwing some Hebrews on the fire.”
He scoffed at films starring Black actors in lead roles, describing the actors as “ridiculous coal-skinned, bootlips blue gums.”
And he encouraged his supporters in the alt-right, a loosely connected group of white nationalists, to commit violence against women and smash journalists in the face with bricks.
Now the long-time Texas resident, described by experts who study hate groups as a notorious white nationalist with a history of instigating harassment campaigns, has set up shop in Lancaster County.
The 51-year-old former journalist, who does not reveal his name on his social media accounts or on his website, claims to be launching a conservative, weekly print newspaper called The Lancaster Patriot.
Identifying himself only as “Trey,” Garrison has used his social media accounts and website to claim without evidence that members of antifa -- far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists -- infiltrated the recent rallies against police violence in Lancaster.
His posts focus disproportionately on civil unrest in Lancaster city and cast the Black Lives Matter movement in a negative light, playing on fears of racial violence among the primarily white and Republican population living in the suburbs and rural parts of the county. Reads one Lancaster Patriot headline: “BLM/Antifa Rioters Clash with Police in Lancaster After Police Shoot a Violent Knife-Wielding Felon.”
Garrison’s web presence alarms local racial justice advocates, media experts and political analysts.
Michael Hayden, who has reported on Garrison for the Southern Poverty Law Center and who also reports on the rise of extremism in America since 2016, said the partisan nature of Garrison’s writing stands out because it’s based in Pennsylvania, a top battleground state for the 2020 election.
“It is certainly disappointing to see a Dallas-area conman, who for years lied and pretended to be a wealthy psychiatrist while living a double life, descend on a city like Lancaster and raise hell in it,” Hayden said. “Garrison is a white nationalist, a misogynist, a bully and a grifter.”
While evidence does not show that partisan sites like this one actually sway votes, it has the potential to exploit confusion around the election or deepen tensions in the community, said Stephen Medvic, a government professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
And with President Donald Trump declining to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election and sowing doubt about mail-in voting, Garrison could spread misinformation to stoke unrest, Medvic said.
“A website like this is perfect for that sort of thing,” Medvic said. “This is the sort of thing that seems to put out information with very little evidence provided and could help to really, really agitate people on that side of the spectrum who will now believe the election is being stolen from them.”
Lancaster’s police department wouldn’t comment on whether Garrison’s writing and presence in the city is a concern. “Local law enforcement along with our Federal and State partners are always interested in groups or individuals that pose a potential threat to public safety. However, operating a website, blog, podcast or demonstrating in a public place is often protected by the First Amendment and a more overt criminal act has to be committed for a prosecution,” said police spokesman Lt. Bill Hickey
Garrison did not respond to numerous phone calls or requests for interviews sent to his email and social media accounts. LNP | LancasterOnline verified Garrison’s identity through a personal email address connected to The Lancaster Patriot.
Garrison uses multiple encrypted or anonymous email addresses that do not include his last name. His website also offers a newsletter through MailChimp, an email marketing service. When someone signs up for the newsletter, the messages come from a GMail account -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- and feature an avatar photo of Garrison. This is the same email address he used in news articles published by a Dallas publication under the byline “Trey Garrison.” The Southern Poverty Law Center also confirmed the email address belongs to Garrison.
Jentzen Reed, a Lancaster city resident and member of racial justice group Green Dreamz, first identified Garrison as the author of the social media account and website. He told LNP | LancasterOnline he was concerned by the site’s mischaracterization of protesters who staged sit-ins and rallies early this summer after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.
“Although it took an exhausting amount of research to find this man’s identity, once I found it, I was shocked,” Reed said in an email. “It’s scary to think a small town like Lancaster could be affected by a person with such vile nature.”
Though he portrays himself as a journalist, Garrison offers conservative readers a biased account of news events that supports their world views and takes advantage of the blurred lines between fact and opinion.
“These kinds of sites really are designed to prey on confirmation bias processes of different audiences,” said Patrick Lee Plaisance, a journalism professor at Penn State University and editor of the Journal of Media Ethics.
“Once it finds its audience that has a similar worldview, it will feed it information that simply reinforces that worldview,” Plaisance added. “That is part of the problem. We have entire communities getting their news separately.”
Plaisance said The Lancaster Patriot is the latest example of an advocacy or partisan news site masking itself as a reputable news source. Most journalists strive for transparency and “a sense of balance,” which is not apparent on Lancaster Patriot, Plaisance said.
“Just the fact that it’s very difficult to track down and identify the actual people, this site tells you quite a bit about their motives and whether or not they should be considered journalists,” Plaisance added. “This is a classic case where a politically zealous writer has really tried to clothe himself as a journalist.”
Garrison may have other people working for him. Calls made to The Lancaster Patriot’s phone number are answered by a woman named “Jen,” and he has made several references on Twitter to employing a staff.
Plans for weekly publication
It is unknown who is funding the venture, though several area businesses are advertising on The Lancaster Patriot. They include Mt. Everest Moving Company in Ephrata, Lititz Family Chiropractic and Lancaster-based Advancing Alternatives, which makes technology for greenhouses.
Conrad Martin, owner of Mt. Everest Moving In Ephrata, declined to comment. A man who identified himself only as "Matt" at Advancing Alternatives referred questions to the company’s general email address and hung up without answering further questions.
A woman who identified herself as Haley at Lititz Family Chiropractic took a message for Drs. Krysta and Greg O’Neill. Asked about the firm’s advertisement on a website run by someone who’s expressed white supremacist views, she said “that’s not true.”
Garrison makes no qualms about his intentions with The Lancaster Patriot.
“As a writer, I am interested in exploring how this still lovely county and its rich conservative heritage and traditions have come under the sway of an aggressive, and it seems to me, out-of-control liberalism,” he writes in a bio on Lancaster Patriot's former site, Lancaster Blog.
“As a Christian, the rainbow flags so common on churches and restaurants in Lancaster city confuse me, even as a newcomer. How could this have happened here? Why haven’t the community leaders who should know better stood against this? Their predecessors must be turning in their graves.”
Several Republican officeholders currently or previously followed The Lancaster Patriot’s posts on Twitter, including county Commissioner Josh Parsons, state Sen. Scott Martin, and a handful of staff working for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker and local legislators. Several of these officials or staff said they only recently began following the account during its protest coverage, and saw that several LNP | LancasterOnline reporters follow it as well. They did not know who ran the account, and had never been contacted by Garrison, they said. Those who unfollowed after questions from LNP | LancasterOnline said they did not want to follow or associate with someone who holds these views.
Recently, Garrison reached out to Terry Christopher, a conservative podcaster who chairs the Lancaster Township GOP, and the two men had lunch this week for what Christopher understood as a chance to discuss a possible partnership. He said he believes, but was not 100% sure, that a man in photos provided by LNP|LancasterOnline was the same person he met.
Christopher said the man introduced himself as “Trey Oliver” and said he was formerly from Alabama and recently separated from his wife, details consistent with Garrison’s background. Christopher said the man did not express any white supremacist views during the meeting.
But when told of Garrison’s extensive record of racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic remarks, Christopher made clear he does not share those views.
“[Garrison] says things I absolutely would not say and am not comfortable with, and I would not want that to be the face of conservatism in Lancaster County,” Christopher said.
White nationalist podcast
Many of Garrison’s racist comments were made on The Third Rail, a podcast he hosts under the pseudonym “Spectre.” It’s a production of The Right Stuff, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist website where multiple alt-right personalities spread racial hatred and conspiracy theories.
In a 2017 episode, Garrison told listeners how to pull a “very bad prank” by falsely accusing Black people in retail stores of stealing, or to call the police on a group of Black youth and falsely state they have a gun.
In another episode, Garrison was talking about the movie “Black Panther,” predicting that it would not make much money. (The movie eventually grossed more than $1.48 billion after it was released in 2018, making it one of Marvel’s highest grossing movies.)
"No matter how they try to push that ‘Black is beautiful’ and put these ridiculous coal-skinned, bootlips, blue gums on the covers of movie posters and magazines, you can’t change that revulsion you feel,” Garrison said on the podcast. “Whites will always be attracted to whites, and whites are most beautiful."
In a different episode, Garrison said people should “never brake for fat chicks,” a comment made while discussing Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed when a white nationalist drove his car into a group of protesters in Charlottesville in August 2017.
On his dozens of now-suspended social media profiles on Twitter, the messages were more overtly racist.
“People say, ‘Oh you can’t make American White again, that would require ethnic cleansing,’” Garrison wrote on @JamesSpectreTM, one of his now-suspended accounts. “Ethnic cleansing is happening right now. We just have to become the cleaners.”
Garrison has also encouraged violence against reporters. He is responsible for spreading the hashtag #DayOfTheBrick in 2018 to advocate for attacking journalists with bricks, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported last year.
During the 2018 Capital Gazette newsroom mass shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, Garrison taunted the reporters even as the shooter was firing.
Responding to a Capital Gazette employee who tweeted that there was an active shooter in the newsroom, Garrison used one of his now-suspended Twitter accounts to respond: “Annapolis Maryland sheriffs are reporting multiple fatalities in a newsroom,” he wrote, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. “I wonder if it’s only journalists or any real people got hurt.”
The SPLC researcher, Hayden, said in an email that he watched in real time as Garrison taunted the victims of the Annapolis mass shooting while they called for help.
“I think that speaks volumes about what kind of person he is,” Hayden said. “The City of Lancaster deserves better than to have a person of Garrison’s character abruptly inject himself into their lives, particularly during such a tense time for their community.”