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Two former mayors denied permits to Nazi sympathizers

The city granting a permit for a neo-Nazi organization to hold a rally on April 18 in Brandon Park brings back memories for two former mayors who faced similar requests and denied permits for similar groups.

“They wanted police protection,” said John Dorin, former mayor of Montoursville, who recalled how that was the issue that led him to deny the National Socialist Movement a permit in either 2009 or 2010.

“I told them I couldn’t guarantee them protection because the borough could not afford it,” he said.

Dorin said they wanted to assemble in Indian Park.

The park is used by the public for softball games, walks and recreation.

“They didn’t argue about the First Amendment and freedom of speech and assembly,” Dorin said.

“Instead, they went to Williamsport,” Dorin said.

At the time, Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said he conferred with a close legal adviser, Clifford A. Rieders, a Constitutional scholar skilled in federal case law.

“He told me not to grant it,” Campana said.

Rieders told him the key word in the First Amendment is to “peacefully assemble,” Campana said.

“These groups spew hate, cause havoc and hurt people,” Campana said.

“I told them they weren’t getting a permit,” Campana said. “They went away.”

But now they’re back.

Rieders was in Israel when he heard about the planned rally. He fired off a letter to Slaughter, City Council and city solicitors.

“The First Amendment doesn’t give the right to spew hate speech,” Rieders said. “The question is not how others will react to the rally, but rather their conscious effort to create violence in the community under the guise of a First Amendment protected rally.”

Asked about the Constitutional angle, Norman Lubin, city solicitor, said he did not believe Slaughter had a choice. “The group has agreed to speak and move along, or it could have a lawsuit against the city,” he said.

When asked about his decision, Slaughter declined comment other than to refer to his news release announcing that the permit had been granted and a counter rally was planned by the city. The news release referred to “the group’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech” while detailing the police presence and other precautions the city is undertaking.

The news release indicated a “strong police presence” would be at the park, and road closures will be in place.

The counter rally, “Dare to be Different,” is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. the same day at Bowman Field.

Meanwhile, Slaughter also had planned to hold a town hall Tuesday night, but postponed the town hall due to concerns about COVID-19.

Still, Rieders is worried that by allowing the rally, the city could face legal trouble.

“Holding ‘counter rallies’ does not address the underlying hate of the eliminationist organizations, and the extent to which they deliberately foment violence,” Rieders said.

“As you know, that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, and many other places,” he said.

In Charlottesville, a self-described neo-Nazi killed a woman when he crashed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters on Aug. 12, 2017, after a white supremacist rally.

The 22-year-old neo-Nazi, James Fields of Maumee, Ohio, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole by a federal judge.

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