“We are targets here,” said Michelle McFall, the chairwoman of the Westmoreland County Democrats.
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By Trip Gabriel
- Nov. 5, 2022Updated 6:53 p.m. ET
Democratic officials in Westmoreland County, Pa., where former President Donald J. Trump is speaking on Saturday, said they had seen an uptick in disturbing incidents targeting Democrats in the past year.
Westmoreland County, the populous area east of Pittsburgh, was once a Democratic-leaning enclave, but it has turned decisively red in recent years.
“We are targets here,” Michelle McFall, the chairwoman of the county Democrats, said at a rally of supporters in October. She cited three incidents:
In late summer, someone “tore down and destroyed” a 4-foot-by-8-foot sign for Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, within a day of its installation.
In September, a man in a rainbow clown wig was arrested at a Dairy Queen in the county carrying a loaded handgun. He told police he wanted to “kill all Democrats,’’ according to news accounts.
And on Election Day in 2021, a Democratic county committee member speaking in support of a write-in candidate outside a polling location in Alverton was attacked by a Trump supporter, who was charged with assault.
To Ms. McFall, the episodes suggest a pattern of “how dangerous it is” to be a Democrat in Westmoreland County.
But to Bill Bretz, the chairman of the county Republican Party, the incidents are unrelated and do not point to a pattern of violence or potential violence against Democrats.
“I can’t count the number of signs we’ve had to replace — small, large, they get damaged or stolen,” Mr. Bretz said. “I don’t attribute that to any particular party.”
He said Democrats were trying to deflect from their political difficulties in the midterms by promoting a “narrative of somehow being in a position where there’s some aggression from the Republican conservative people.”
Lisa Gephart, the Democratic committee member who Ms. McFall said was physically attacked last year, said in an interview that she was 54 at the time and that her assailant was 34.
She said the two had traded insults about President Biden and Mr. Trump before the man threw her against her car. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital and later required shoulder surgery, she said. The man she named as her attacker, Zachary A. Lambing, was charged with assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to court records. A criminal case remains active. Mr. Lambing said in response to a text message that the accusations against him were false. He said Ms. Gephart was “‘attacking’ me with her words” before the incident.
Ms. McFall, the Democratic chairwoman, said that while she had no evidence of a statewide pattern of attacks on Democrats, she had recently compared notes with leaders of other rural counties at a statewide Democratic meeting. “Anecdotally, no one seemed to have stories or evidence of patterns of attack like we have in Westmoreland,” Ms. McFall said.
Meanwhile, in Fayette County, just south of Westmoreland, a Democratic candidate running for a state House seat, Richard Ringer, told PennLive.com that he was knocked unconscious in his backyard on Monday by an unknown attacker. He told the outlet that his home had been the target of two recent acts of vandalism: A brick was thrown through a window, and graffiti that appeared to be related to the election was spray-painted on his garage door.