Town officials 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.
Gilberton council members made the decision Thursday concerning 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, nongovernment group that critics call a private militia.
Kessler, despite insisting he was simply exercising his constitutional rights in the videos, said the town council’s 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, said his attorney, Joseph Nahas.
Nahas said the charges were trumped up to conceal the town’s intent to fire Kessler for the videos. He said after the vote he’ll request a public hearing at which both sides can call witnesses, as is Kessler’s right under due process rules. The council would then have to vote a second time to fire Kessler.
Kessler told reporters outside his disciplinary hearing that he had been an excellent police chief and had nothing to apologize for. He said later he’d broken no laws: “None. I’d be in handcuffs.”
“My message was to wake up the people who are independents,” he said, “to say, ‘We’ve had enough and something needs to change, because we’re in bad shape all around. Not only here in this little town but across the nation. It’s a mess.’ “
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.
Council members declined to comment after Thursday night’s vote. Earlier, 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.