Williamsport, Pa. -- City officials were on high alert over rumors that a Neo Nazi group planned to hold a rally at Brandon Park in Williamsport this Saturday.
The city increased police presence in the downtown area, the local synagogues were barricaded by metal fencing, and the roads surrounding them were closed.
Things remained quiet in the city until 1 p.m. when reports of "suspicious vehicles" in Brandon Park prompted police forces to mobilize.
At the park, a group of about 15 individuals from the National Socialist Movement group were seen gathering by the baseball field. The group was militant; one member was armed with an assault weapon and two others had shields with swastika insignia.
The group stood by the fence and used a megaphone to voice their opinions, which included obscenities against the LGBTQ+ community, radical political assertions, and racial slurs about the Williamsport city mayor, Derek Slaughter.
Mayor Slaughter has not yet provided a comment on the rally. We will update this article with any statement he may provide.
The rally took place today despite earlier reports that Burt Colucci, commander of the movement, had instructed the group to move the rally to Ulysses, Pa. These reports came after the city's decision to deny the NSM an event permit for holding a rally on July 18 and reports of inclement weather.
Concerns over safety and civil unrest related to the event caused many local businesses to consider closing for the day.
"Vast public resources were put out at a time when funds are thin. Businesses such as restaurants are forced to question opening when they're just barely getting by already with the restrictions placed upon them by the Governor," said Jason Fink, President/CEO of the Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.
"Unfortunately too much media coverage was provided to these people that are anti-black, Jew, and gay. They should be a byline to today's news instead of getting the undue publicity that has been given to them over the past several months," added Fink. "There are so many positive stories that involve more than these roughly 15 people, that aren't even from Williamsport, who have overshadowed them. Hopefully we can soon move past this time when the press feels they need to feature this type of hatred and focus more on the truly more important aspects to our lives here in Lycoming County."
Police forces were stationed in the park and along sidewalk during the rally. Things remained peaceful, though the NSM group did verbally harass spectators with obscenities.
At approximately 1:45 p.m., the group began packing up and getting into three vans. As this took place, four men from the north side of the park approached the area shouting, "Get out of our town!" at the NSM group. In response, the NSM members got out of their vans in preparation for a conflict.
Police at the scene walked towards the four men and talked with them to diffuse the situation before things escalated. The members of the NSM group climbed back into their cars and left the Park by 1:50 p.m.
"NSM came to Williamsport, they participated in protest activity in Brandon park area, and then they left. There are no known criminal and/or property damages associated with the protest," said Williamsport Chief of Police, Damon Hagan. "City, county, state, and federal officials worked together cooperatively to ensure the safety of the city of Williamsport."
No further action took place and the city police began taking down the road barricades and metal fencing surrounding the synagogues around 3 p.m.