An Ambridge business owner called in a private militia group to protect his establishment on Sunday and warned that any protestors who approached his building would be “met with the ball of steel.”
Jason Zajac is the proprietor of Muscles’ Gym, a membership-based exercise facility on 10th Street in Ambridge that has been in business for nearly four years.
Zajac said it was Saturday night when he saw an ominous message on Facebook warning of protests.
“Wow. The Mayor of Ambridge just called me to warn me that protesters might be coming across the bridge (from Aliquippa) into Ambridge tomorrow, and I need to be ready in case it gets violent since I’m a business owner,” posted Lorianne Stangl Burgess, proprietor of Stangl’s Bakery. “Heavy.”
Tracia Bratton told BeaverCountian.com that as a woman with African American children, she felt it was important to organize a protest in her community of Ambridge in reaction to the May 25 death George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“I am a mother. If not me, then who,” Bratton said. “My daughter made the signs. One of them said, ‘When the color of your skin is seen as a weapon, you will never be seen as unarmed,’ and that’s the truth.”
After no protesters from Aliquippa materialized in Ambridge, Bratton made a post to Facebook on Sunday encouraging a peaceful rally; dozens of people showed up in response.
Zajac said he became fearful for his business, which has been shuttered since March 24 due to orders in place by Governor Tom Wolf intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“You see on TV what’s going on, you see what’s happening to small businesses, you hear a rumor that there’s going to be trouble coming into town, what are you supposed to do,” Zajac said.
He decided to speak to several customers of his gym who he knew to be members of IronCity CRU, a self-proclaimed militia group based out of Pittsburgh. The group has no official authority beyond that of any private citizen, including being able to openly carry a firearm which is generally legal in Pennsylvania.