Etown protest 060620

Militia men stand on top of a roof at the corner of High and Market streets in Elizabethtown during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday, June 6, 2020. The men were with the Carlisle Light Infantry, a militia group from Carlisle.

THE ISSUE

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Ty Lohr and Paula Knudsen reported in last Sunday’s edition, “Members of two groups — some of them armed — that profess to protect businesses and civilians stood watch during a Black Lives Matter protest in Elizabethtown (on June 6). Members identified the groups as the Carlisle Light Infantry and Domestic Terrorism Response Organization. Several of them watched from a rooftop overlooking the town square. Elizabethtown police Chief Edward Cunningham said his department was aware of the groups’ presence. ‘We’re obviously keeping an eye on them,’ Cunningham said. ‘As long as they’re being peaceful and following the rules, they have as much of a right as everyone else.’ ” This newspaper reported Thursday that some business owners and the militia members wore green tape during the protest to distinguish themselves from demonstrators if violence broke out.

So a 30-year-old Elizabethtown resident named Jay — so brave he refused to give his last name to a reporter — belongs to a group called the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization.

His group, Jay said, has some 300 members in central Pennsylvania and is dedicated to protecting businesses, citizens and homes.

Protecting them from whom?

From peaceful protesters marching for the lives and equitable treatment of African Americans?

From the woman pictured in The Elizabethtown Advocate wearing a hat adorned with yellow daisies and wielding a sign — so scary — that read: “Everybody Love Everybody”?

From Alaak Deu maybe? He’s a 21-year-old black man who asked a white Elizabethtown police officer, “Is being black a crime?” to which Detective Dustin Ryan replied, “Absolutely not,” and then the two hugged.

Like we said, terrifying.

There was so much to be afraid of in that crowd of 400 demonstrators holding signs, including one that read, “Jays for Justice,” a reference to the local college mascot.

There was so much to fear, that is, if the mere prospect of African Americans and their allies rallying for justice in your streets leads you to summon armed protection.

Green tape

“Insane” is one word that kept coming to our minds as we considered the events of June 6 in Elizabethtown.

Insane and dangerous.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Dan Nephin reported Thursday, “a couple dozen people — including shop owners and militia members, one of whom was on a roof, armed — wore strips of chartreuse green tape. Tape also marked at least a half-dozen shops.”

Jeri Culbertson, owner of Naturally Gifted by Jeri, wore one of those green tape strips. Her business is located in one of the buildings where armed men were on the roof.

The reason for the green tape?

She told LNP | LancasterOnline that she wore it as a way of showing solidarity with her fellow small business owners.

But she also said this: If some kind of violent incident had occurred, the tape would identify those wearing it as concerned citizens who would be able to help those in distress to be “sure they were taken care of.”

It’s not a leap to think that the green tape also might have protected the wearers if shooting started.

Which is deeply disturbing.

As is this: Elizabethtown police Chief Cunningham said he became aware the night before the protest that a few businesses planned to have security inside their shops.

“I asked that there be some sort of a signal so that my officers would know who these security persons would be. It was supposed to be a very discrete signal that no one would know about except those who absolutely needed to know,” Cunningham said.

In an email, the police chief wrote of the militia in attendance: “I did not invite them, I did not ‘approve’ their plans, and I did not know that the Carlisle Light Infantry was going to be in elevated positions until I saw them there.”

That is not at all comforting.

Apolitical?

If any violence occurred, who was more likely to set it off? The daisy hat-wearing demonstrator? The demonstrator who hugged a police detective? Or militia members clad in militaristic gear and wielding semi-automatic rifles?

We’re guessing these militia members aren’t getting together on weekends to drill in deescalation techniques.

Christopher LaFrance, 30, of Avondale, Chester County, identified himself to LNP | LancasterOnline as Carlisle Light Infantry’s “first sergeant.” He said borough businesses requested the “apolitical” group for protection.

We’re curious how LaFrance came to be a “first sergeant” — what military training was involved in attaining that designation, and how much training is required even to join that organization.

Moreover, we — and others — are unconvinced that the Carlisle Light Infantry is “apolitical.”

As retired journalist and journalism professor Mark Kelley pointed out in an LNP | LancasterOnline column that ran Saturday, that organization asserts on its website that opening up the U.S. to the world and its many peoples and cultures "invites risk and harm to our own." And, it maintains, it may be hard to maintain "order and vigilance with the growing number of diverse people who reside within our communities."

Dan McCorkel, 49, of Carlisle, Cumberland County, told LNP | LancasterOnline that the group was organized in 1784 and participated in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, which is a great piece of historical trivia, if indeed it is truly descended from the same infantry from which it borrows its name (Kelley expressed doubt).

The organization’s own website points out that it hasn’t had much to do since the Civil War — indeed, after that war, it “fell into a state of idleness.”

Interestingly, there was some momentum in September 2016 toward restarting the organization “to challenge what may lie in our futures.”

But then President Donald Trump was elected, not Hillary Clinton, and many of those “previously interested in seeing the Carlisle Light Infantry reactivated had now elected not to be part of it,” which “severely put a damper on things,” the website says.

We wonder why those who were interested in restarting a militia in the event that Clinton was elected lost interest when Trump won the White House.

Now, the organization is “awake and going strong,” its website states — and defending Elizabethtown businesses against apparently terrifying protesters.

We are left with the same question that borough Councilman Bill Troutman has asked: Exactly “who put those people on the roof?”

If business owners “really needed security, there are at least a dozen companies in the area that are bonded and insured,” Troutman said.

He is right, of course.

But do those bonded and insured businesses have self-important names like the Carlisle Light Infantry and the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization?

That latter group, Nephin reported, was renamed from a group formed June 1 called “Anti ANTIFA.”

That was just five days before the Elizabethtown protest.

There had been rumors that anti-fascist groups might be coming to town — similar rumors were spread in other towns across the U.S. and debunked on social media — but they never materialized. And even if they had, and if business owners had real reason to be alarmed, the Elizabethtown police are charged by taxpayers to handle problems.

What did materialize was a scene right out of a dystopian movie.

We hope Troutman — and the Elizabethtown residents who were genuinely frightened by the sight of armed militia members on rooftops — get answers. And soon.