On Saturday, April 18, 2020, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) will be conducting a rally in Williamsport at Brandon Park, according to an announcement today from the Mayor’s office. “The City of Williamsport, in conjunction with federal, state, and our local partners, is working diligently to ensure this event does not disrupt our community.”
The NSM is, according to the organization’s website, “An organization that specializes in theatrical and provocative protests, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) is one of the largest and most prominent neo-Nazi groups in the United States.” Founded in 1994, the neo-Nazi group is known for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric, racist views, and willingness to allow other hate groups to join up.
In August of 2017, a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. turned violent, culminating in the car attack that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wounded 30 others.
Charlottesville is currently involved in a lawsuit against the organizers of that rally, claiming that the violence that occurred was not spontaneous. NPR reports that "leaked messages show that events had been meticulously planned months in advance on the social media platform Discord."
The First Amendment protects several basic freedoms for Americans including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government. Why the group has chosen Williamsport is anyone’s guess; however they are within their legal right to assemble with a permit.
To combat the potential for violence, Mayor Derek Slaughter reinforced the working relationship with Federal, state, and local law enforcement, relying on the experience, especially at the federal level, “to ensure this is a safe event,” he said.
According to the Mayor and Damon Hagan, Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, there will be a very large law enforcement presence at the rally and several road closures in and around the Brandon Park area. “We encourage all of our community members to avoid Brandon Park on April 18 due to law enforcement activities. You may not be permitted to enter or leave Brandon Park for an extended period of time,” according to a statement.
Dare to be Different event and Town Hall meetings
To denounce this hateful rally, the City of Williamsport is hosting a positive community event called “Dare to be Different.” This event will take place at Bowman Field on Saturday, April 18 from 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Several community organizations have indicated a willingness to be involved with this event, and more details will be forthcoming. However, “the public can anticipate a free event with various activities for all ages.”
Additionally, the City of Williamsport will be hosting town halls for the public to provide details regarding both events. All citizens are encouraged to attend. City officials will be on hand to answer any relevant questions from the public.
Town Hall #1 is Tuesday, March 17, 7 p.m. in the auditorium inside of the Klump Academic Center (ACC) on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology located at 1034 West 3rd Street.
“In recent years, law enforcement agencies have learned how to better manage disruptive events held by groups like the NSM,” said city officials. “This administration is following law enforcement’s advice closely and we will be keeping the public informed.”
“We encourage all members of our Williamsport community to visit Bowman Field on Saturday, April 18 from 12 p.m.-4p.m. in a show of solidarity; letting the NSM know that Williamsport is no place for hate and that our community members will not acknowledge such a hateful rally. Williamsport always has been and will continue to be a welcoming community for everyone,” said city officials.