The Bloomsburg Fair’s opening weekend has been quite a public relations nightmare.
The fair asked vendor Lawrence Betsinger to leave after a Facebook photo went viral late Sunday night showing a large Nazi flag on display at the stand. Facebook user Chloe Winters originally posted the photo, saying:
“Okay so after a lot of thought and apprehension I finally decided to post this… I was absolutely shocked and appalled when I saw this Nazi flag hanging at the Bloomsburg Fair yesterday. This flag represents the brutal and horrific genocide of innocent people. It stands for the hatred and destruction of a religion I feel blessed to be a part of. It’s 2016 and the world is still full of SO MUCH hate. When is it going to end? I’m sad to say that I’ll never go to the Bloomsburg Fair again, but it looks like I’m not wanted there anyway.”
The post was shared at least 1,900 times, according to a screenshot, before Facebook removed it early Monday morning because it didn’t “follow the Facebook Community Standards.” But different versions of the photo littered one-star reviews that were piling up on the fair’s Facebook page. Among these were pictures of some of the stand’s merchandise, which included a bumper sticker saying “AIDS cures fags.”
To make matters worse, the vendor was identified as Lawrence Betsinger, a registered sex offender who pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in 2007. In an interview with Philly Magazine, Betsinger said of the offenses: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I downloaded some shit on the internet, and now I’m being punished for the rest of my life.”
Someone who sees nothing wrong with child pornography, symbols of genocide, or hate speech definitely doesn’t belong at a family friendly event like the fair. And after several hours of silence, Bloomsburg Fair issued the following statement on its Facebook page:
Bloomsburg Fair President Paul Reichart has issued a statement in reference to earlier posts on our Facebook wall regarding the questionable flag that a vendor was displaying at the fairgrounds:
“We were initially unaware of the flag and other merchandise being displayed by a vendor on our fairgrounds. Most posts were made after midnight, and as soon as we were made aware of it early this morning, we took the appropriate action with the vendor to remove those items. Unfortunately, we have over 1200 vendors on our fairgrounds and it’s difficult to monitor each one individually. Whenever someone brings something like this to our attention, we always discuss it with the vendor and take any steps to maintain a family-fun atmosphere at our fair.”
Unfortunately, this statement failed to mention how, specifically, the situation was taken care of or what steps were being taken to prevent it from happening again. It also failed to apologize for not catching this egregious display before opening to the public. (And Bloomsburg Fair officials have failed to respond to my calls to clarify any of this.)
As for being “unaware” of the humongous flag and other hateful merchandise this vendor had on display, I’m not sure I buy it. Especially when, reading through the growing number of negative reviews, I discovered that the fair’s security had confiscated money PSU students were raising to fight pediatric cancer.
I don’t necessarily have an issue with them confiscating the money—according to WNEP, the students had been told three times that they weren’t allowed to solicit donations on the property before security took the money. And the fair promises to donate the confiscated money to a (different) charity.
I bring this issue up because it speaks volumes to me that fair security was spending their energy kicking out students trying to raise money for a good cause while seemingly ignoring the vendor with the huge Nazi flag.
Eventually, Bloomsburg Fair posted another update clarifying that Betsinger was asked to leave the fairgrounds Monday night after the fair closed.
“When we became aware of the additional details of the vendor in question, we had them close their stand and they have been instructed to leave the fairgrounds tonight after closing. Again, the stand is now closed, but for the safety of our visitors today, they are not able to leave until after the fair closes.”
It’s unclear whether the “additional details” were in reference to Betsinger being a sex offender or something else, because according to PennLive, Reichart “stressed. . .that the vendor was expelled on grounds of the offensive flag—not his sex offender registry.”
As for me, I’m appalled that there are still people who think it’s OK to hang Nazi flags. I’m even more appalled that there are enough people supporting businesses like this to keep them going. But what appalls me the most about this incident is that the Bloomsburg Fair—a supposedly family-friendly event—didn’t stop a vendor from displaying a flag that “represents the brutal and horrific genocide of innocent people” or from selling stickers praising a public health epidemic.
The Bloomsburg Fair runs from September 24th through October 1. I suggest you don’t go.