Left-wing activists have been sending threatening messages for more than a week to local businesses to shut down the premiere of “The Return of the American Patriot: The Rise of Pennsylvania,” a documentary that highlights the growth of the patriot movement in the state. The activists have managed twice to coerce the owners of the event locations to back out of hosting the premiere.
Organizers of the event said Monday, July 11, that they have secured a new location for the first public showing of the documentary, which is set to take place Saturday evening, July 16, and will feature an appearance by Republican gubernatorial candidate Senator Doug Mastriano, who will speak after the screening.
Ralph Cochran, the president of Turley Talks LLC and the producer of the film, said that the new location selected for the premiere is in the Lancaster region, but the exact location is being kept private until closer to the day of the event. This is due to the fact that messages from activists, including some linked to the left-wing organization Lancaster Stands Up, led to the cancellation of the movie at Penn Cinema in Lititz and at the Wyndham Lancaster Resort and Convention Center in East Lampeter Township.
The change in venues is not without its benefits, at least. Cochran said the size of the new venue allows Turley Talks to sell additional tickets to the film premiere. Penn Cinema’s theater was sold out initially at 400 tickets, and Wyndham Lancaster sold out at 600. The new location for the premiere has more than 1,000 seats. Tickets for the available seats went live Monday evening.
“The Lord keeps growing this thing. It’s insanity,” Cochran said.
The Birth of a Documentary
The documentary, Cochran said, started taking shape in January after Mastriano officially announced his run for governor. Steve Turley, a conservative podcaster, author and scholar and the founder of Turley Talks, spoke at the announcement, and brainstorming sessions started afterward to examine ways the production company could help the campaign.
Cochran came up with the concept of filming a documentary on Mastriano and the burgeoning movement in Pennsylvania to combat globalism and governmental tyranny arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mastriano expressed interest in participating in the documentary, Cochran said. Mastriano, a retired Army colonel who has a doctorate in history as well as masters degrees in military operations and strategy, regularly gives tours of American battlefields, and scenes were filmed of him giving high school students a tour of Gettysburg, then being interviewed on the historic battlefield.
The film used the talents of young people working for Turley Talks, including Joshua Williams, who directed the documentary, and Conrad Franz, who wrote the script. The crew spent most of the beginning of 2022 traveling around Pennsylvania, interviewing individuals involved in grassroots movements, such as Tabitha Valleau, the founder of FreePA, and Toni Shuppe, a co-founder of Audit the Vote. The Lancaster Patriot owners Dave and Jen Stoltzfus are also featured in a scene in the documentary.
One of the final scenes filmed was Mastriano’s victory speech in Chambersburg after the May 17 primary election results were announced.
Cochran said that what initially began as a project to support Mastriano turned into a story highlighting the people of Pennsylvania and the movement to free the commonwealth from governmental overreach.
“We wanted to show the patriot movement in Pennsylvania as an inspiration for patriots all over the country, especially the things we’ve noticed in Lancaster,” Cochran explained. “In Lancaster in particular, this movement has come together very well.”
Leftist Efforts Shut Down Screenings
In May, Turley Talks reached out to Penn Cinema about hosting the documentary’s premiere in the company’s theater, and this included sending owner Penn Ketchum the trailer of the film. Cochran stated that Ketchum knew what it was about and had an “upfront conversation” with him about the themes in the movie.
The film sold out nearly as soon as the tickets were put on sale in June, which resulted in the showing being moved to the location’s larger IMAX theater. Only last week did Turley Talks start notifying ticket holders about where the event was taking place.
“That’s when the social media mob came out,” Cochran said.
Susanna Wurtz, an Ephrata resident and an organizer for Lancaster Stands Up, began posting messages about the event on several different social media platforms. Her posts included a message on Facebook that read, “Heads up: Penn Cinema is hosting Christian Nationalists at their theatre on Saturday, July 16.”
On Thursday, July 7, the Lancaster Stands Up Twitter account featured its own post about the event, saying, “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: harmful political rhetoric that targets members of our community is not welcome in Lancaster. @PennCinema should cancel the premier of this film.”
Wurtz also posted a screenshot of messages she had exchanged with Ketchum. Her message to him read: “Hi there, I am wondering why you are hosting someone like Dr. Steve Turley and a known Christian Nationalist Doug Mastriano at the theatre on the 16th. I’ve been a frequent theatre-goer at Penn Cinema and this event makes me extremely worried for my safety.”
Ketchum had responded, “We did have plans with this group but once we learned of the nationalist populist agenda, we canceled the event. Thanks for reaching out and double checking! We worry about your safety too and we are ALWAYS committed to putting your safety and comfort first! Thanks for reaching out and double checking.”
Penn Cinema notified Turley Talks on Thursday, July 7, that it was officially canceling the movie premiere, stating that the event would put too many good relationships with weekly customers in jeopardy.
On July 8, Turley Talks published a press release in which Cochran called out Ketchum and Penn Cinema for breaking the contract.
“Despite down payments, concessions with Disney to show at prime time in place of Thor, and a complete understanding of the subject matter,” Cochran said in the press release, “the owner of Penn Cinema, Penn Ketchum, just hours ago abruptly canceled the showing following minimal social media bullying pressure from angry anti-Christian activists.”
Wurtz later gloated about the cancellation on social media, tweeting out the response letter from Turley Talks and saying, “I’m taking the kids to the movies this weekend just because @PennCinema kicked out these wanna-be fascists.”
Shortly after the cancellation, Turley Talks announced that the event was being moved to a larger theater in the Wyndham Lancaster Resort.
Again, social media activists started posting messages calling for people to call and send messages to the management of Wyndham Lancaster, threatening boycotts and worse if the movie was not pulled from the schedule.
According to an e-mail provided to The Lancaster Patriot by Cochran, on Sunday, July 10, Jason Confair, a lawyer for Wyndham Lancaster, notified Cochran in a letter that he was recommending that the hotel management cancel the movie premiere.
The letter said, “I understand your organization would like to hold an event at the Resort on July 16, 2022. In an email dated July 8, 2022, you characterized the event as the screening of a ‘documentary film.’
“Subsequently, we have learned that your organization intends to premiere a cinematic feature entitled the ‘Return of the American Patriot.’ Since scheduling the screening, the Wyndham Lancaster has received numerous threats that, if the screening is held, there will be rioting, property damage, and potentially physical violence. Indeed, as you noted in an email that you sent to my Client this morning, there is a ‘woke mob’ that is ‘gathering to’ harass my Client and to ‘harass employees too.’
“To be clear, my Client has not seen ‘Return of the American Patriot,’ expresses no opinion whatsoever on your organization’s views, expresses no opinion on your organization’s right to express those views, expresses no opinion about viewpoints that are in opposition to your organization’s views, and expresses no opinion on the rights of others to express those opposing viewpoints.
“However, for reasons that I am certain you can understand and respect, the Wyndham Lancaster cannot put the many hundreds of guests and employees who will be at the Resort on July 16 at risk of harassment or violence.
“Legally, the contract for the screening gives my Client the right to cancel as a result of threatened ‘riot’ and as a result of any other circumstance ‘not within the reasonable control of Hotel which either prevents or inhibits Hotel’s performance.’
“Regrettably, in light of the threats my Client has received, I had no choice but to direct my Client to cancel the screening.
“My Client has not charged your organization anything, and I am reaching out to you on a Sunday afternoon to give you as much time as possible to find an alternative venue for the screening.
“I do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. However, I am confident you can appreciate and respect the virtually incalculable liability that my Client could face if there is rioting or physical violence at the screening. Candidly, it could ruin my Client’s business — and destroy hundreds of well-paying local jobs in the process. It is simply not a risk that my Client can afford to take, which is why I have insisted that the screening be canceled.”
Turley Talks appealed for Wyndham Lancaster to reverse this decision, but the resort confirmed that the event would not be held.
Cochran said protests of conservative events by left-wing groups have become more localized in recent years, moving away from focusing on national issues to targeting local events through social media and other means.
“I don’t know how they got organized, but they run quick, like a herd of hyenas,” Cochran said. “It’s more organized because it used to be more generic and broader before, like it was broken down into tribes.”
On the episode of Turley’s YouTube show that aired Friday, July 8, Turley addressed the cancellation of “The Return of the American Patriot.” As more than 6,000 tuned in live, Turley called out Ketchum of Penn Cinema and the messages of “woke leftists who have nothing better to do with their lives than to impugn and marginalize and lie about other people.” Turley also highlighted a GiveSendGo fundraising campaign to help pay for the film, which he said cost more than $50,000 to produce. As of noon on July 12, the campaign had raised more than $19,000 from over 300 supporters.
After his show, Turley spoke with The Lancaster Patriot, saying he was surprised the “pathetic cancel culture leftists” targeted a conservative event in Lancaster County. He said he didn’t consider Lancaster to be a “hotspot for left-wing woke activism.”
“I thought it’s Lancaster, a good conservative place of faith, family and freedom, and we could show off a documentary that we did on the patriot movement in Pennsylvania — the way it’s taking over the Republican Party, which is obviously very newsworthy,” Turley said. “So, I was very surprised to find out that even Lancaster’s not safe from this radical ultra-woke leftism that is deliberately trying to repress certain ideas and values from the public square.”
However, Turley said that considering the direction of political discourse on national and global issues, he wasn’t completely surprised that people would seek to silence alternative voices through cancel culture. He pointed out that the cancellation of the film at two locations was the “perfect microcosm” of what many conservative voices face today, with a “small group of elites” coming in with their loud voices and threats to business owners to make them bend the knee.
“I’ve been studying the origins of wokeness now for quite some time, and this is just typical crybullying playbooks that they operate from,” Turley said. “These people are a repressive people. And it’s a threat to the theater owner, ‘You take care of this, or we’re going to take care of you.'”
Despite the efforts of individuals trying to strong-arm conservatives into silence, Turley Talks said it will find a way to hold the premiere and to make sure that the stories that matter to many in Pennsylvania can be told out in the open.