BLOOMSBURG — Social media complaints and even some threats against a Bloomsburg Fair vendor who was selling swastika flags led fair officials to confiscate the flags and a couple bandanas bearing swastikas on Monday morning — then later ask the vendor to leave.
Lawrence Betsinger, 72, of Indiana, Pa., who has a temporary Bloomsburg address and is a convicted sex offender, complied after talking with fair security officials, said Bill Barratt, the head of fair security. Fair officials reimbursed Betsinger $851, the cost to rent the spot on the fairgrounds, and returned his flags and bandanas.
Betsinger, who said he was convicted in the past for downloading child porn, said earlier in the day, "I have permission to be here, from the state police."
While he was not familiar with the specific case, Tpr. Joseph Warunek of state police at Bloomsburg said there is nothing under Megan's Law that would prohibit a sex offender from being at the fair.
"I don't think there's anything to prevent him from being out in public," the trooper said.
The complaints about the flags started coming in late Sunday night after some people shot photos and posted them on social media, specifically on Facebook, which later removed the photos. After the fair received complaints via social media about Betsinger displaying and selling the full-size flags with the Nazi symbol, which he sold along with a number of other flags and war memorabilia, fair security confiscated 32 Nazi flags and two bandanas bearing swastikas on Monday morning. Among the military and political flags Betsinger was trying to sell were flags supporting Donald Trump and others advocating prison for Hillary Clinton, as well as belt buckles, medals, knives and leather belts in the trailer stand on 5th Street on the fairgrounds.
"He was told it wasn't in the best interest of the fair," Barratt said after security took the swastika flags.
"It doesn't matter," Betsinger said afterward. "I'll get them back on Saturday night. It's their party. They want to be politically correct."
He claimed fair security also took about a dozen of his Confederate flags, but Barratt said only the swastika flags and bandanas were removed.
Betsinger said he had been a vendor at the fair for a number of years, but missed last year. He sold World War II memorabilia and German history flags, how he referred to the Nazi flags.
"Why do you think our people died over there?" asked Betsinger, who said he was an Army veteran who served in Korea. "So I have the right to sell this sh__."
He said he sold 100 history flags for every American flag and 300 Rebel flags to one American flag.
Betsinger said he didn't have a problem when he first opened at the fair because the swastika flags were in the middle of the flags hanging from his stand.
He said someone rearranged them.
"Some idiot came and flipped the flags," he said.
Betsinger, who was convicted on Dec. 7, 2007, of obscene and sexual materials and performance, according to the Pennsylvania State Police Megan's Law website, freely admitted he was a registered sex offender when asked.
"I downloaded some porn," he said. "Now I'm paying for it."
He admitted some of the pictures were child pornography, but he said he just downloaded it.
"I didn't sell it," he said.
Barratt said that with 1,200 vendors, fair officials don't normally do criminal background checks on the merchants.
"There are 70 (thousand) to 80,000 people in the fairgrounds," he said. "I can't know everything about everybody."
Charlie Confer, an incident officer with the fair, said the fair returned the confiscated flags and bandanas to Betsinger, and he was going to move out his trailer on Monday night. He would have gotten them back after the fair if he had remained open. If he had tried to sell more of the same items, he would have been asked to leave.
Fair officials decided to ask Betsinger to close up shop and leave because of threats against him, among the "many" complaints on social media.
Barratt said the fair typically receives a variety of complaints and comments on social media on handicapped parking and other issues.
"We came to an agreement," Barratt said. "It took a while. We talked about it and decided it would be in the best interest."
"He volunteered to go," Confer added. "He didn't want to get anybody else hurt."
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Sylvester on Twitter @JoepSylvester.