September 19, 2013

Pa. town seeks to fire police chief in gun videos

By Michael Rubinkam / The Associated Press

GILBERTON, Pa. — Officials in a small town said Thursday they intend to fire a police chief suspended after he posted online videos of himself shooting automatic weapons and going on profanity-laced tirades about liberals and the Second Amendment.

click image to enlarge

Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler, foreground, and his attorney Joseph P. Nahas speak during a news conference in August.

2013 Associated Press File Photo

Gilberton officials made the decision Thursday concerning suspended police chief Mark Kessler, the only full-time member of the town's police force, who's active in gun rights circles and is organizing an armed, non-government group that critics call a private militia.

Kessler said the decision was "no surprise."

"We knew it was coming," he said.

A closed-door disciplinary hearing earlier in the day had dwelled on allegations including that Kessler improperly used a state-administered program to buy discounted tires for his personal vehicle, failed to submit required crime data and made derogatory comments about borough officials.

The charges were trumped up to conceal the town's intent to fire Kessler over the videos, his attorney Joseph Nahas said. Kessler told reporters outside his disciplinary hearing that he had been an excellent police chief and had nothing to apologize for.

Kessler solicited donations to help keep his family afloat financially during his unpaid suspension, which he said was "really stressful."

"But I feel in my heart I'm doing the right thing," he said. "Yeah, I made some videos with some choice language, but that's my right. That's my freedom."

Kessler's pro-gun videos have garnered hundreds of thousands of views online. He acknowledges they are inflammatory but says they're designed to draw attention to the erosion of Second Amendment and other constitutional rights.

Mayor Mary Lou Hannon had said she found the police chief's language offensive.

Kessler, a former coal miner, often posts online radio shows about gun rights, has spoken at gun rights rallies and created a website on which he seeks recruits for the Constitution Security Force, whose stated mission is to defend the constitution and the country from tyranny.

Gun rights activists had descended on the community of about 800 people, in Schuylkill County in eastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal country, to show support for Kessler, some carrying flags and displaying weapons.

Constitution Security Force member Bob Gardner traveled from Philadelphia.

"Mark has gotten railroaded," said Gardner, who carried a semi-automatic AK-47. "He was exercising his First Amendment rights by backing it up with his Second Amendment rights."

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.

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