About 100 law enforcement supporters turned out in muggy, overcast weather at the square in Annville to show their support for police at a Thursday afternoon “Back the Blue” rally.
The mood was friendly and relaxed. Motorists passing through the intersection of Routes 422 and 934 honked and waved to show their approval of demonstrators holding signs saying “We Support Our Police,” “Back The Blue Annville,” “Honk For The Blue,” and “We Respect The Blue.”
Sitting on the wall at the southwest corner, Kevin Miller of Annville said the great majority of cops are honorable public servants who have been unfairly lumped in with the few who are not. He echoed the feelings of many present when asked why he was there: “The police deserve this support.”
“There’s always a small group who destroy the image for everyone else,” said Miller, “and they need to be held accountable, but that’s just a small minority.”
Heather McLaughlin made the hour and a quarter drive from Chester County to support her son, Trooper Joey Burke, who is stationed at Bloomsburg. She couldn’t find anything like it closer to home. “I wish there were more of these in Pennsylvania,” she said.
As they did during a series of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, Annville police stood by in two cruisers parked well back from the intersection on the Sunoco convenience store lot. They were not needed, and rumors that “counter-demonstrators” might show up turned out to be unfounded.
The identity of organizers and sponsors of the rally remains unclear. Those at the rally who were asked how they found out about it almost unanimously said they saw it on Facebook or other social media.
A rally flyer distributed over the last week or so featured the phrase “Back the Blue” over the web address of Act for America (“AFA”). It listed an email and a phone number, but did not identify any local person or organization.
That led some Annville residents to question whether AFA, considered by some to be a right-wing, anti-Muslim hate group, was behind the rally.
Annville Township Police Chief Bernard Dugan told LebTown that a permit for the rally was issued to Bill Dougherty, a local resident.
Reached for comment on the morning of the rally, Dougherty stated that the flyer was prepared and circulated, before he became involved, by the rally’s original organizers, who had backed out earlier in the week.
As of publication time, LebTown has been unable to verify the identity of the rally’s original organizers.
Dougherty said he was never involved with the flyer or the original organizers, who did not say they were connected to AFA. When he learned that the rally might fall through, he said that he and some acquaintances who support law enforcement decided to keep it alive without affiliating with any organized group.
Dougherty added that he volunteered to be the person applying to the township for the required permit, but that he was not doing so on behalf of Act for America or any other organization, and that he and his acquaintances have never had any contact or communication with AFA.
He also said he believes that the AFA logo used on the flyer may have been downloaded by the original organizers and used without AFA’s permission.
Emails sent by LebTown to the address on the flyer were not answered. A phone call to the contact number on the flyer was answered by a person who refused to be identified, but who confirmed that the rally’s original organizers had ceased all involvement with it.
No visible signs of Act for America were seen at Thursday’s rally. A Google image search revealed that “Back the Blue” is a slogan widely used by many organizations and merchants.
Act for America is a right-of-center organization that describes itself as “[t]he nation’s premier national security grassroots organization.” It was founded in 2002 by Brigitte Gabriel, who today remains the primary public face of the organization.
In its early years, AFA focused heavily on Islamic militancy and terrorism, warning of its dangers to the United States, including a 2008 claim that “Shariah Islamic Finance is quickly infiltrating our financial markets – and bringing Islamic shariah law with it.“
The Anti-Defamation League describes Act for America as “the largest anti-Muslim group in the United States, with a purported 750,000 members nationwide.”
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Full Disclosure: Bill Dougherty has served as a campaign manager for candidates who have advertised on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.