Bellefonte community turns out in force to re-paint defaced mural
BELLEFONTE — When a Pride mural in downtown Bellefonte alley was vandalized, it didn’t take the community long to respond.
On Saturday afternoon, dozens of people turned out to quickly repaint a Pride flag mural on the side of Jake’s Cards and Games, which is located at 131 W. High St. in Bellefonte. The mural was vandalized on Friday with messages of hate from the same white supremacist group that left stickers throughout downtown State College last week.
The vandalism took place in the wake of the Capitol riot that occurred in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6. Someone used stencils and spray paint to deface the mural with the website of the white supremacist group Patriot Front in numerous places as well as an image of the United States with one of the group’s slogans, “Not stolen, conquered.”
Patriot Front, a white supremacist group that calls for American fascism and white nationalism, formed after breaking away from a similar organization, Vanguard America, following the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies it as a hate group.
In 2019, ProPublica called Patriot Front “perhaps the most active white supremacist group in the nation.” Its organization occurs largely in private internet communications, which BuzzFeed News reported in October “reveal a sophisticated network of extremists who are training for violence.”
Needless to say, it was unnerving for Bryce Taylor to see this group posting messages in Bellefonte.
“We reject it utterly,” Taylor, owner of Jake’s Cards and Games, said. “Jake’s stands for tolerance, we’re a place for inclusion and tolerance, where people come to gather and talk and use our reason. There’s no reason for this, it’s just hatred.”
Taylor said that Jake’s Cards and Games has been a part of the Bellefonte downtown for a decade. The store, he said, is entrenched in the community.
“It’s bigger than me now,” Taylor said. “It means so much to so many.”
The store, which sells collectible cards and games, has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when Taylor heard about the vandalism, he knew he had to do something about it. A message on Jake’s Cards and Games Facebook page garnered a massive response from the public.
Taylor grabbed leftover paint, brushes and headed to the shop. He wasn’t angry, he said. In fact, he chose to see the positive effect it had on the community.
“I don’t want to say that I’m glad they did it, but I’m glad they did it. They showed themselves,” he said. “People were horrified by it, but the response to it made it all worthwhile. During COVID, we all feel alone. But (on Saturday), we all came together.”
According to Taylor, the vandalism took place on Friday. However, he was unsure if it took place during the day or once the sun went down.
“My guys went to open the store, saw it and said ‘there’s something you should see.’ I took some pictures, talked to the police and put it on Facebook. It really took off … I didn’t expect the response. It was overwhelming,” Taylor said.
One of those who showed up to help paint was Centre County commissioner Mark Higgins. According to Higgins, he felt obligated to help paint over the hate.
“I strongly condemn racism,” Higgins said matter-of-factly. “That’s why I showed up.”
Higgins, along with dozens of others, took turns re-painting the Pride mural. Because of his height, he was asked to assist with the yellow section of the mural, which is one of the highest points.
“They asked me to hit that (area), but even I needed a stepstool,” Higgins said with a laugh.
Higgins said he was extremely bothered by seeing the hate splashed across the mural, though it was gone within an hour once the re-painting began.
“We never used to see this sort of thing in our community. But a lot has changed in the last four years. Sadly, racism is everywhere … so it made me feel good to cover up that racist, hateful graffiti,” Higgins said.
Bellefonte school board member Donna Smith also took a turn helping re-paint the mural. When she heard about the vandalism on Saturday, she jumped at the chance to help fix it.
“This act was an unsuccessful attempt to intimidate and spread hate to our community,” Smith said. “Fortunately, the effect was the opposite — it inspired good people to react with kindness and support. I love it when evil backfires.”
Bellefonte resident and Centre County jury commissioner Laura Shadle was also on hand to help paint.
“My initial sadness somewhat subsided after seeing such strong community support for restoring the Pride wall and denouncing white supremacists,” Shadle said. “We all must take part in building a more inclusive Centre County, and we won’t be intimidated when doing so. I do hope that the investigation into this matter is as thorough as the crime is serious.”
Taylor said the way the community responded made the day all the better. He said the hateful graffiti was covered up in less than an hour.
“The community really came together,” he said. “We had it done in 30-40 minutes, which was just an amazing thing to see.”