Richland stores reopen after panic, rumors about rioters coming ‘by the busload’ –

Posted By on June 9, 2020

Plywood boards were coming down from Petco at Richland Town Center on Sunday and cars once again packed the lot outside Walmart a day after social media sharing and local talk stoked fear that the plaza would be ransacked by rioters.

A number of stores including Petco, Walmart and Luu Nails were boarded up or shut down early Saturday while a protest in a slain Minnesota mans name was happening 8 miles away in downtown Johnstown.

At a time when some major cities have seen their protests turn to looting and massive property damage, Richland Township Police Department Chief Michael Burgan said his department fielded concerns about Richland Town Center mostly from business operators in the days before Johnstowns protest.

He described it as no credible threats, but a lot of Facebook chatter.

We spent most of Friday trying to verify posts about busloads of this or that coming to town and of course, nothing ever panned out, he said. Like Elvis sightings.

Vague, threatening social media posts about radical rioters traveling by buses sent a wave of panic through small towns over the past week.

Stories over the past week in small town newspapers cited residents panicking or arming to prepare for Antifa invasions that never occurred in South Dakota, New Jersey, Michigan and New Jersey.

While investigators across the U.S. have blamed both far-right and far-left groups for instigating violence during marches, President Donald Trump has singled out Antifa in recent days and pro-Trump social media accounts have followed suit.

One tweet that went viral in May that was allegedly signed by Antifa, suggesting they were headed to the suburbs.

Tonights the night, Comrades. Tonight .... we move into the residential neighborhoods, it read at the time.

The Twitter company ended up tracking the source to another radical group, the Washington, D.C.-based neo-Nazi offshoot Identity Evropa.

Labeled a white supremacy by the Anti-Defamation League, Identity Evropa first made national headlines during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Burgan said there was evidence some of the local communitys panic was fueled by similar viral national posts that were being shared across the country.

But in other cases, it was local residents hearing something from someone else and then scaring one other instead of calling us or researching it online to see if it might be a hoax.

Instead of calling the police nowadays, people just post something on Facebook, Burgan said.

The chatter worked its way from the plaza to the corporate level for some stores, Burgan said.

I think (the stores) were acting out of an abundance of caution, he said.

No violent activity was reported in either Johnstown or Richland over the weekend related to Johnstowns protests.

It turned out like we had hoped, Burgan said. It was peaceful. We had enough of a presence up on the hill in Richland. We feel we could have handled it. But everything turned out great.

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Reporter Dave Sutor also contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor. Follow David Hurst on Twitter and Instagram @tddavidhurst.

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Richland stores reopen after panic, rumors about rioters coming 'by the busload' -

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