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Misinformation after Pa. shooting fueled white vigilantes


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Jordan Wolman
September 30, 2020
Misinformation fueled white vigilantes, conservative news outlet shutters, fact-checking debate claims (can we even call that a debate?), and a trip to Flavortown. You're halfway there. It's Wednesday.

In late August, a group of Black and white civil rights marchers stopped along a highway in rural Bedford County. They were making their way from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C. to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. 

But that night in Schellsburg things went very wrong.

The incident made national news for a day, another thread in the country’s ongoing struggle with racism. But a closer examination by Spotlight PA and Pittsburgh City Paper reveals a changing narrative by law enforcement authorities and how local community members took up arms in response.

The Context: Pennsylvania State Police at first said an “argument” between residents and the marchers “culminated in gun fire.” But by the end of the day, the official story had changed twice more. Police finally said property owners had called them about a gathering of people in a private business parking lot. Before troopers could arrive, police said, the property owners confronted the marchers, the confrontation escalated, and “gun shots were exchanged.”

Police say the investigation is ongoing and wouldn't talk about the incident. The district attorney in Bedford County said the same thing. 

But interviews with nine marchers and a review of four videos from the scene do not support those official accounts — namely, the contention that there was some form of confrontation with the marchers before the shots, and the possibility that a marcher had fired first.

Regardless, the narrative took hold. As the marchers continued their trek toward Washington, D.C., they were met by racial slurs and insults chalked on local roads. At the same time, white vigilantes with firearms gathered in town squares, convinced that "Antifa" was coming to burn down their communities.


“This uptick in violence is a perfect storm of things … violence is just an expression of all the things that have been happening under the surface."

–– Rev. Laurence Tom, pastor at the Chinese Christian Church + Center in Philadelphia, on how COVID-19 has exacerbated gun violence that plagues the city
POST IT: Thank you, @mjsowa9, for this sweet exposure shot of Bradford, Pa. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
RAINY RALLY: Gun rights advocates gathered on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to show support for the Second Amendment and oppose any additional regulations, the AP reports. A "red flag" proposal — which would allow courts to temporarily take a person's firearms if they pose a danger to themselves or others — had gained momentum in the legislature, only to be blocked by a GOP committee chairman last fall.

SHUT DOWN: Backers of a conservative news website and planned weekly paper in Lancaster said they will shut down the project after LNP | Lancaster Online revealed its editor is a notorious white nationalist. An unsigned message on the Lancaster Patriot's website said the investors "do not approve of or condone those views.”

WINNERS SEEK LOSSES: The business owners who sued Gov. Tom Wolf over his COVID-19 orders and won in federal court are now seeking $135,000 in attorneys' fees, TribLive reports. A federal judge in Pittsburgh earlier this month found Wolf's business closure and stay-at-home orders unconstitutional, though the decision could be on thin ice. 

SAVING LIVES: The University of Pittsburgh, in partnership with the state, has launched an effort to reduce suicides by members of the military and veterans, Erie News Now reports. The CDC will chip in $700,000 annually over the next five years to fund the program, which aims to reduce suicides by 10% in 15 northwestern counties.
DEBATE DEBACLE: Yes, there was a presidential debate last night, and yes, it was ugly. A few items from Pennsylvania came up, including this story of discarded ballots in Luzerne County, a false claim about poll watchers in Philadelphia, and the fact that counties right now are still unable to begin processing ballots before Election Day because the GOP-led legislature has so far failed to give them more flexibility.
THE NAKED TRUTH: In order to raise awareness about a recent state Supreme Court ruling on "naked" ballots, two elected officials ... actually got naked. Allegheny County Council members Bethany Hallam and Olivia “Liv” Bennett both posed in their birthday suits for a campaign aimed at letting voters know they must use secrecy envelopes when mailing in their ballots.

NEXT STOP ... FLAVORTOWN: Congratulations, Pittsburgh. Like Philadelphia and Mt. Pocono, you will soon have access to celebrity chef Guy Fieri's culinary delights including Trash Can Nachos. Before you mock the man, I implore you to watch this enlightening 4-minute comedy routine.  

MOVE OVER, PUMPKIN BEER: Hershey and Yuengling have once again collaborated on a seasonal chocolate beer. This time, you'll be able to buy the brew in six-packs at local bottle shops and distributors

A HOME OASIS: Pennsylvanians are turning to plants more and more for stress relief during the pandemic, especially with anxiety particularly high among vulnerable and elderly populations. 

'IT WAS TRULY HORRIBLE': The year is 1970. The place is Philadelphia. There are 31,822 fans at Connie Mack Stadium — ready to tear the place apart.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
O S S E I N M S I 

Yesterday's answer: Lighthouse

Congrats to our daily winners: G
eorge D., Craig W., Brandie K., Chris W., Lynne E., Jarrod B., Thomas B., Maureen G., Kathleen M., Chip K., Michael S., Mark O., Tracey C., Tish M., Karen W., Theodore W., Alex L., Patricia R., Kim C., John C., Ron P., Joel S., David W., Bruce B., Carol D., Joan S., Bill C., Irene R., John H., Ann and John, Daniel G., and Beth T.
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