Among some Americans, fear of Islamic extremism continues to breed fear of Syrian refugees, and Pennsylvania has been no exception. Yet another anti-refugee rally took place this weekend in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley, but its message did not go unchallenged.
On January 2nd, opposing rallies took place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one opposed to resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., and another in support of refugees. The dueling demonstrations took place outside of Church World Service, which provides services to immigrants and refugees in central Pennsylvania.
According to Lancaster Online, the Facebook page for the "End the Influx of Refugees Rally" called Church World Service "a phony Christian group bringing refugees into our commonwealth" and claimed that "[t]heir only god is gold and they intend to get rich at our expense." One of the organizers of the End the Influx of Refugees Rally was Bridget Fisher of the Patriotic Liberty League. Fisher told Lancaster Online that the rally was not about xenophobia, but "tyranny", insisting that "our government is failing us" and "Americans have to come first."
Photos captured by Pennlive show anti-refugee protesters with signs that read "Vets B4 Refugees" and "Secure Our Border". Pennlive also reported that one man held a white flag with a red cross, a symbol of the Knights Templar.
Pennlive shared a video of John Rentschler, a co-organizer for the End the Influx of Refugees Rally, warning attendees about Islam, refugees, and extremism.
"They call us racist because we don't want bomb factories sprouting up in the house next door. They call us bigots because we don't want the problems associated with Islam in the Middle East being played out in our country. They don't see the harm and damage being done to Europe and Greece and Malta and all these other countries which are being inundated right now. How many more events like the one in San Bernardino, the one in Boston, the one in Fort Hood, and 9/11 do we need before we get real? How many Holocausts and [inaudible] do we need before we realize that tyranny is all the same, all evil?
Instead of blaming the ones that are responsible, like ISIS and terrorists, our White House blamed the NRA. They blamed people like you and I because we're evil white people."
On the other hand, the Lancaster Welcomes Refugees Rally expressed solidarity with refugees in the Susquehanna Valley. Hosted by the Seed (a Lancaster restaurant and community space), the counter-rally drew roughly 200 demonstrators, according to Pennlive.
"The reality is that individuals who come to this community have been coming for over thirty years," said Kevin Ressler, co-organizer of the pro-refugee rally and director of Lancaster Meals on Wheels. In a video posted by Pennlive, Ressler observed that resettled refugees are productive members of the community. "They significantly contribute to the local economy through a variety of means," he said.
I'm disappointed that some of my fellow Pennsylvanians are cultivating fear through xenophobic rallies. However, many other Pennsylvanians strive to help refugees and cultivate welcoming communities, which gives me hope. I applaud those who organized and attended the Lancaster Welcomes Refugees Rally. Syrian refugees who have resettled in the U.S. have already endured enough misery.