Police chief stirs furor over videos
The police chief of a small town in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal country who is an outspoken gun-rights advocate and is trying to organize an armed nongovernment group is making no apologies for online videos of his confrontational, profanity-laced tirades punctuated by his firing of automatic weapons.
At one point in one of the videos, he blasts U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as a traitor for pledging to sign a United Nations treaty that requires ratifying countries to begin controlling the international arms trade; then he fires a weapon and screams, “Come and get it!”
The chief, Mark Kessler, the one-man police force of tiny Gilberton, population about 800, and some other gun-rights advocates view the treaty — which Congress would have to ratify for the U.S. to take part — as a step toward restricting the domestic use of more conventional weapons that are personal property.
In a telephone interview, Kessler said he made the videos to draw attention to what he views as the erosion of the constitutional rights of free speech and to bear arms and to speak out for the many others who are afraid to do so.
He also said he is increasingly concerned about what he views as a government out of control, citing the FBI’s use of drones, the National Security Agency’s collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records and the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of applications for tax-exempt status by politically active groups.
“I’m trying to wake people up to say, ‘Hey, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.’ A lot more,” Kessler said in an interview from Texas, where the 41-year-old father of four was vacationing. “It goes way beyond the Second Amendment, the First Amendment. It’s a shame. Our Founding Fathers didn’t intend for our government to be the way it is.”
Kessler, who called himself “a wholeheartedly good man who loves his country,” acknowledged that some people were upset by the videos, but he said he does not regret posting them and insisted that many more people were supportive of them.
Gilberton Mayor Mary Lou Hannon said Wednesday that she found the language offensive and understood that many others did, too.
“They’re like watching an R-rated movie,” Hannon said. “The profanity and violence in it was a little upsetting.”
The weapons in the video are legal weapons and belong to the police department after he purchased them with his own money and donated them in a transaction approved by the borough council, Hannon said.
The council, which has had a contract with Kessler for 14 years, is planning to address the matter with Kessler in a private session Wednesday, Hannon said. She said she supports his continued employment, noting that he has made a lot of residents feel safe and responds to emergencies at all hours.
“If you were in trouble and you needed somebody to protect you, Mark would be the person you would want running to your aid,” Hannon said. “My experience and that of many of our residents (is) he will die for you. He’s loyal and I think that’s important.”
Kessler, a former coal miner, is active in gun-rights circles, appearing on an online radio broadcast on the conservative conspiracy theory website Infowars, hosting an online radio show on a website that bills itself as the “voice of the resistance,” speaking at gun-rights rallies and hosting his own website where he is seeking recruits for what he calls the Constitutional Security Force.
He also has claimed in recent weeks that his outspoken views on gun rights have earned him death threats.
On Wednesday, he would not say how many people have signed up for the security force, but said there are chapters in 45 states and many recruits are current or former members of law enforcement and the military. The mission, he says on the website, is to help the military or peace officers to defend the constitution and country from “tyranny.”
In January, Kessler drafted a resolution the borough adopted that calls for “nullifying” any federal, state or local regulations that infringe on the Second Amendment. He boasted about the resolution while speaking at a February gun-rights rally on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol.
“If they come in and try to disarm any of my citizens, it’s not going to go over very well,” he told the crowd.