An ongoing battle between Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons and local liberal activists that has been brewing for months in meetings and on social media continues to grow and accusations are levied by both sides.
Parsons has accused the activists, some of whom are members of left-wing organization Lancaster Stands Up, of veiled threats of violence and that the group is a “socialist or communist organization.”
The activists, in turn, have accused Parsons of grandstanding and using the threat allegations as a distraction from controversial votes by the County Commissioners, including the spending of more than $100 million in county funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parsons has turned to social media posts to question the motives of the activists and Lancaster Stands Up. Parsons said he believes some members of Lancaster Stands Up attending County Commissioner meetings are paid to be there and are using the online streaming platform of the meetings for exposure for the group.
“I just thought that I ought to just put it out there publicly because people ought to know that this is what Lancaster Stands Up is doing,” Parsons said.
The current dustup between Parsons and the activists dates back to the May 4 County Commissioner’s meeting when Lancaster Stands Up members presented a banner labeled “A fair deal for working people” with messages to the commissioners on how the ARPA funds should be spent.
Most of the messages were innocuous, including “Medicare/affordable healthcare 4 all” and “We need support for renters who struggle to find affordable housing.”
Two different messages written on the banner caught Parsons’s attention. The first, “Revolution,” he said constituted a threat to the commission.
The second message, “The proletariat is angry and finally realizing our power. Watch your back, 1917 can come twice,” referencing the 1917 Communist Revolution in Tsarist Russia, especially impacted Parsons. The message included a drawing of the hammer-and-sickle symbol used by the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist countries for more than a century.
Parsons said the inclusion of the two messages on the banner was indicative of Lancaster Stands Up radical leanings.
“They’re a far left radical, by their own definition socialist or communist, organization,” Parsons said. “They submitted this to us as their document, as a Lancaster Stands Up document. And they were very proud of it. They asked that it be entered into the record.”
The issue of the banner was later brought up by Parsons in several social media posts at the end of July and the beginning of August, saying the messages were a “written implicit threat of violence” and that “since 2020 some on the far left have sought to normalize political riots and threats violence, including here in Lancaster County.”
Parsons said anyone who had lived through Communism or anyone who studies history knows how “terrible” Marxist doctrine is towards people. He said Pennsylvanians “experienced a little taste” of tyranny during the pandemic with edicts from Gov. Tom Wolf shutting down businesses and imposing mandates.
“I think many of us never thought we would see a time where a governor was attempting to control every aspect of people’s lives,” Parsons said. “I think a lot of people’s eyes were opened by that. But there are others who have bought fully into that ideology.”
In an Aug. 3 tweet, Parsons said, “As we are seeing now with inflation and gas prices, the policies of the woke far left hurt working people so badly the left cannot win a policy argument. So they resort to threats of violence against us. But we can’t be bullied. We speak the truth. That is why we are their target.”
Parsons said he is against political violence on either side, but since 2020, the left has “normalized” political violence.
“Certainly since Trump, and certainly since 2020, the left has gotten much more radicalized and much more aggressive,” Parsons said. “I guess that’s just the nature of what we have to deal with these days.”
Parsons’s social media posts resulted in backlash. The Aug. 3 tweet alone elicited more than a dozen responses, including from members of Lancaster Stands Up.
Suzy Wurtz, an Ephrata resident and organizer for Lancaster Stands Up, responded to Parsons’s tweet, saying, “No. You are being held accountable by people who elected you to office. Stop wasting our time with public tantrums and start governing in a way that is becoming of a leader.”
Wurtz was one of the Lancaster Stands Up members present at the May 4 County Commissioner’s meeting and gave the banner to the commissioners. She has been active online in responses to Parsons’s allegations, making her own allegations that “people on a right-wing media personality’s page were advocating for parents like myself to be lined up and executed” and calling for Parsons to condemn the messages.
Lancaster Stands Up made its own post on Facebook in response to Parsons, saying his posts were “slandering” the group.
The group said it has been advocating for more than a year for the County Commissioners to spend the $106 million in ARPA funds “for the intended purpose of providing much-needed support and economic relief for everyday working people across our county.” Members of the public were invited during a rally on May 1 to write messages on the banner to be presented to the commissioners.
“Commissioner Parsons has resisted all efforts to include meaningful public input on how to spend these funds,” Lancaster Stands Up said in its statement. “And rather than acknowledge the many thoughtful requests from his constituents — most of which were about Lancaster County’s growing housing crisis — Parsons latched onto one rally attendee’s comment that referenced the Russian Revolution of 1917. This is the entire basis of Parsons’s absurd accusations that Lancaster Stands Up made ‘violent threats’ and is a ‘communist’ organization.”
Parsons said there has been a continued “back-and-forth” dialogue during public comments with Lancaster Stands Up members and activists at the commissioner meetings. But he said it doesn’t seem like the individuals want to have a conversation and “don’t know that they have a coherent issue” to discuss.
“I don’t think they’re interested in having meaningful dialogue,” Parsons said. “This is an example that they’re interested in achieving what they cannot achieve through the ballot box in Lancaster County. They’re interested in achieving through threats or other means, and this is clearly a threat of violence or at least implied violence.”
Asked whether he is bothered by the messages he receives on social media or in person at meetings, Parsons said he’s not intimidated.
“I’ve been an Army infantry officer, I’ve jumped out of airplanes, I’ve been a prosecutor, locked up drug dealers – I’m not bothered by people calling me names,” Parsons said. “But I do take it seriously when people make threats or implied threats, because there’s no place for that in political dialogue.”
Staff writer Michael Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @YoderReports on Twitter.