GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The national debate over the removal of Confederate statues from towns and cities has reached the midstate, but this situation is a little different.
This one concerns Gettysburg, where states have erected statues representing their roles in the Civil War.
Recently, Democratic commissioner from Adams County, Marty Qually, called for the Confederate statues’ removal on Facebook following a hoax flag burning on Independence Day weekend, reportedly organized by Antifa.
That flag burning never happened, but the threat of it spread online and caused hundreds of armed protestors to still show up — some wearing racist attire — to protect those monuments.
Qually, in that since-deleted Facebook post, called the groups who showed up to defend the statues as “armed racist morons.”
“Amongst them, there were clear white supremacists, Klan members, coming to protect our monuments,” Qually said. “If I see 100 people at a monument and I see a Ku Klux Klan flag, I see people with swastikas tattooed on their necks for everyone to see, and Confederate flags, I’m gonna assume that that group, is a racist group.”
It’s a new battle brewing in a place that has seen its fair share of clashing ideologies.
“If you don’t tell the whole story or you only tell half the story, what good are you doing?” asked State Representative, Dan Moul, whose district encompasses Gettysburg. “If you don’t remind people of our history, you are bound to repeat it and that’s a place we don’t wanna go — we need to learn from our history.”
Qually argues the statues attract hate groups, and claims the county’s tourism industry cannot survive both a pandemic and a “moron-demic.”
“Our $850 million tourism industry cannot handle that group coming here every weekend,” Qually said. “If these people keep coming back to protect those statues, then we have to consider, ‘do we take them down, do we relocate them, do we add additional signage?’ There are many options.”
Moul on the other hand, disagrees, saying it isn’t right to remove statues from a place many consider to be an outdoor museum.
“Are you really gonna erase history, you would really like to bring the kids to Gettysburg and people from all over the world and say ‘well, the North fought but we don’t know who they fought or what they were fighting for?” Moul posed. “I think it’s insane.”
He said he will never bow to groups like Antifa, and considers them hate groups of their own.
“It’s not the decision of a couple of thugs that are out of control that just wanna cause destruction because they feel they know what’s best for us,” Moul said. “The way [the statues] need to either stay or be removed from the town center is by the people who are elected to represent the people of that town center — not a bunch of thugs!”
Since deleting the Facebook post due to major backlash and nasty comments, Qually said, he has rethought his beliefs and said Thursday that removal should only be a last resort.
“If we can’t educate the public to the point where people aren’t driving from eight hours away to come here to protect [statues], then I think we have to look at their removal as an option,” Qually said. “I don’t know that there’s enough education in the world to get them to understand they’re harming our local economy.”
Qually said he backs law enforcement 100% and believes they had a handle on last weekend’s proposed flag burning, and didn’t need the help of armed private citizens. Still, he wants a better plan to be devised with the park service to accommodate future similar protesters.
“I think we need to have a discussion with the park service about where we have protests, how we maintain civility, [and] appropriateness,” Qually said. “There is only one flag that should be flown for this country, and that is the American flag…period!”
“Nobody’s gonna desecrate our monuments, whether they’re Northern or Southern monuments – no one desecrates our homeland, that’s our homeland,” said Moul.
Both men seem to agree that Gettysburg’s Confederate statues are different than ones that were purposefully placed in town squares across the nation in an attempt to intimidate black citizens.