More controversy surrounds Stephanie Borowicz

SEAN KITCHEN VIA TWITTER Stephanie Borowicz smiles as she takes a selfie with a member of the American Guard.

By JOHN RISHEL

jrishel@lockhaven.com

LOCK HAVEN — State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, who represents Clinton and parts of Centre County, appears to be the center of attention again.

Back in March, Borowicz provided a Christian prayer invocation on the floor of the State House that drew criticism, praise and national headlines.

“At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord,” Borowicz said in her prayer, where she also thanked Donald Trump for standing with Israel. Many, including Philadelphia City Council, condemned Borowicz’s delivery of the invocation and found it to be “Islamophobic and inappropriate,” while others were inspired by her words and showed their support.

And on Tuesday, a “Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” an annual event hosted by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), provided the scene for Borowicz to ignite the next controversy.

Held at the State Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg, the event drew in a variety of pro-gun activists, opponents of gun control, and even some known white nationalist and hate groups. Among other things, Metcalfe advocated for the impeachment of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto for passing gun restrictions in the city.

Borowicz was a speaker at the event and drew criticism on Twitter after she posed for “selfies” with members of the American Guard.

Sean Kitchen, a southeastern Pennsylvania reporter and progressive advocate, took a photo of Borowicz and three members of the group and circulated it on Twitter.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies The American Guard as a hate group and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calls them an extremist group with known ties to white nationalism and white supremacy.

The ADL is a non-governmental organization that tracks anti-Semitism, racism and hate groups and advocates for an end to bigotry, racism and the defamation of Jewish people.

“It is irresponsible for state legislators to pose for selfies with white supremacists. ADL can confirm that the individual in the photo is connected to multiple right-wing extremist movements,” ADL Regional Director Nancy K. Baron-Baer said in a Tuesday statement. “There is simply no excuse for anyone in a position of leadership in the Commonwealth to appear to legitimize extremism. Whether or not Representative Borowicz knew who this individual was or what he stood for, she knows now, and should immediately apologize and condemn white supremacy.

“Bigots have always existed in our country, but they have long been relegated to the margins of American society,” Baron-Baer continued. “This is changing. We’ve seen white supremacists become emboldened and energized as their views have established a toehold in more mainstream circles. This is not just concerning, it is dangerous. That is why we urge elected officials to push back against the normalization of hate by rejecting bigotry in all its forms.”

The American Guard formed in 2016, and some members of the group have or had connections to white supremacist groups like the Hammerskins, Aryan Nations, and the Atlantic City Skinheads, according to the ADL.

Self-described, the American Guard is a “constitutional nationalism” group. Their goal is to provide “voluntary community protection, activism, and service based around the ideals of American Constitutional Nationalism and the preservation of western culture,” according to the ADL.

The group, originally formed as the Indiana chapter of the Soldiers of Odin by white nationalist Brien James, went national in 2017. They currently have members in 22 states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, New York, Florida, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Soldiers of Odin USA is an extremist anti-immigrant and anti-refugee chapter of a group formed in Finland in 2015, according to the ADL.

In 2003, James also co-founded the Vinlanders Social Club in 2003, who have been linked to several murders and violent crimes. He has said publicly that the American Guard has moved away ideologically from white nationalism to constitutional nationalism and promotes an “America First” agenda that is not exclusive of other races.

Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, the first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who’s swearing in was met with Borowicz’s controversial Christian invocation in March, responded on Twitter.

“Several hundred gun rights protesters rallied at the Capitol yesterday against additional gun safety measures, and among them were white nationalists from the group American Guard,” Johnson-Harrell said. “We cannot be intimidated. I will fight for common sense gun laws that promote safety and prevention.

“We need our elected officials to be aware and conscious of who they are meeting with, and the message that it sends to the public,” Johnson-Harrell continued. “Being seen smiling next to members of a hate group is not the image I would choose for myself. Hate has no place here in the state Capitol.”

Borowicz issued a statement of her own Tuesday, providing a response to what she termed “a Twitter thread falsely accusing her of racism for appearing in the photo,” in reference to Movita Johnson-Harrell.

“On any given day as a state lawmaker, I am frequently approached and honored to have my photo taken with individual constituents, groups and organizations, as are most of my colleagues,” Borowicz said. “We do not, nor should we, require ID or background checks as a condition for being photographed with the people of Pennsylvania – our constituents! The many photos taken of me at this year’s Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms are no different.”

The Express went to Borowicz’s downtown Lock Haven office for a comment on Wednesday and were told that she was not in the office. Calls to Borowicz Harrisburg’s office were not returned.

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