LEWISBURG — Two road signs defaced with swastikas were taken down by PennDOT workers on Saturday after protesters rallied on Buffalo Road outside Lewisburg.
Both signs on Buffalo Road in Buffalo Township inform drivers of an upcoming crossroads with Hoffa Mill Road, but an unknown person spraypainted the signs to look like a Nazi symbol associated with hate and intolerance. It's the second racist message spread through vandalism found in Union County in a week.
When the latest ones were discovered on Saturday afternoon, Matt Nolder called for people to come to the site of one of the signs to demand they be immediately taken down.
"None of us should have to drive down a street and see how much hate there is," said Nolder, of Milton, with about 20 other protesters near the driveway at 3341 Buffalo Road in Buffalo Township not far from Buffalo Valley Repair. "I don't think allowing this up overnight is OK."
Someone — Nolder wouldn't say who — attempted to paint over the sign in an effort to fix it, but Nolder said they were warned not to touch it by police otherwise they may face legal action. The group then covered up two signs with black trash bags and spray-painted a white crossroads symbol onto the plastic bag.
Willow Bechdel, of Mifflinburg, climbed a ladder and taped the bags over the signs with the help of Nolder, Nolder's son Mekhi Nolder and Rebecca Warner, of Lewisburg.
"I feel it shouldn't be tolerated," said Bechdel. "That's why we're all here."
After they put the plastic bags over the signs, state Troopers Chad Kramer and Colton Killon of the Milton State Police Barracks stopped to tell them that PennDOT was on their way to take the signs down. They reminded the group to be safe by staying on the side of the road.
After they left, a man in a truck stopped at the sign that no one was standing at and took the garbage bag off. The group attempted to confront the man, but he drove away. Other drivers revved their engine, shouted as they drove by, made obscene gestures and refused to slow down as they were passing the protesters over the time they were there.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., about two and half hours after the protesters arrived, PennDOT workers came and took down the signs.
Bucknell University senior Silja Hilton, 22, of Harrisburg, said the graffiti made her think about her older sister, who is half black.
"I love my sister," said Hilton. "It's my responsibility to fight for black lives and against this (racism)."
Nolder said Union County and the surrounding area is getting noticed and recognized as a racially tense area. Last week, racist and political remarks were spray-painted on Tower Road and Turkey Run Road in Limestone Township, west of Mifflinburg.
A photo shared on Facebook of the Tower Road incident showed the phrases “Trump 2020” and “White Power” and a rebuke of the Black Lives Matter movement sprayed on the macadam along with a smiley face. It was subsequently covered up by concerned citizens, according to a followup post.
Union County Chairman Preston Boop said the incident on Saturday should not reflect on the area as a whole.
"I'm glad somebody took the sign down," he said. "I think some kid was playing a prank and wanted attention, and he got it. That's probably what happened."
Lewisburg Borough Council Vice President Jordi Comas, who is not an elected official in the township but is involved with local social issues, said there's a pattern of hate in the area. He's been at protests where people were threatened with physical violence.
"And now someone feels emboldened to put a Nazi symbol on a sign and they think that's appropriate and relevant," said Comas. "This is scary."
Comas said he hopes that Boop is right and it's "just some young kid," but he said he's afraid it might be evidence of something deeper.
A supervisor of Buffalo Township was not able to be reached for comment.