GETTYSBURG, Pa. — A self-described political activist burned a combined Nazi and Confederate flag in Gettysburg on the eve of Remembrance Day.
Gene Stilp, 67, of Middle Paxton Township, burned a handmade flag outside the Adams County Courthouse just after noon on Nov. 17 as part of an “educational tour.”
“The heritage of the Confederate flag is hate,” Stilp said from behind yellow barricades and caution tape.
A crowd of approximately 40 civilians and law enforcement officials swarmed the sidewalk at 117 Baltimore Street. Some were present to support Stilp and others stood against his message.
Stilp approached the county commissioners about two weeks ago to request permission to burn the flag, under First Amendment rights.
Stilp held up the flag over a metal trashcan, turning the flag to show people the Confederate symbol on one side and swastika on the other. People booed when they saw the Nazi side. “Both flags stood for the same thing,” Stilp said. “They’re two sides of the same misguided value system.”
People talked over Stilp during his presentation, saying the Confederate flag represents heritage, not racism.
“People just need to deal with it and get over it,” one onlooker interjected.
One man told another to stop interrupting and an argument ensued. Stilp halted his speech to intervene, asking the men to “keep it calm.”
Stilp put the Confederate-Nazi flag inside the trashcan and added a few items he bought from a shop downtown. A knit cap and T-shirt with the Confederate flag printed on them were burned, in addition to a Confederate soldier cap.
“Is there racism in Adams County? That’s up to you to answer,” Stilp said.
During his speech, Stilp kept saying “we” when describing the “educational” flag burning effort. People repeatedly asked who Stilp meant when he said “we.” Stilp didn’t respond to the hecklers, but afterward said he is only representing himself. He noted the collective “we” may represent others who share the same opinion.
His journey to flag burning started when the Bloomsburg Fair board voted to allow vendors to sell Confederate flags, according to Stilp. He was further motivated to take action when he noticed Confederate flags flying outside Pennsylvania homes.
Stilp said after the presentation he does not have a problem with the Confederate flag being used in museums to educate people. He said his issue is with people using the flag as a racist symbol or using it commercially.
Stilp said he purposely asked to burn the flag in Gettysburg during Remembrance Day weekend.
Although a few people heckled Stilp during the event, the event did not incur any violence.
The Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Gettysburg Borough Police, Pennsylvania State Police, and courthouse security were present.
Commissioner Randy Phiel called it a “great cooperative effort” among law enforcement.