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Local Pennsylvania district attorney changes political affiliation after fallout with GOP

Amber South
Chambersburg Public Opinion

Update: The president of the Franklin County Republican Committee, Allen Coffman, said Matt Fogal's move to change his party affiliation from Republican to Independent is not surprising given he was not affiliated with a political party before being appointed as district attorney in 2009. 

He said he is surprised, however, that Fogal "didn't go the rest of the way" and become a Democrat. 

Coffman, who is also a member of Chambersburg Borough Council, said he had heard about Fogal's statement but had not read it before a reporter contacted him Wednesday. After being told a summary of Fogal's comments on the election and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, he said: "My party, as far as I'm concerned, denounces violence too. We agree on that."

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Franklin County's district attorney is speaking out following last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. 

District Attorney Matt Fogal, who has been criticized by the county's Republican committee for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement and President-elect Joe Biden, announced Monday that he recently changed his political affiliation from Republican to independent. 

"I am a prosecutor and will continue to exercise my duties, serve my community and Nation at this most critical time, and continue to steadfastly support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That is my primary focus, as it must be," he said in a statement, which he gave in the style of his "Ask the DA" column series that once ran in the Public Opinion. 

Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal

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In the historic year that was 2020, Fogal made it known that his views did not always align with the GOP.  Following the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the county's top law enforcement officer shared a statement that gave his full support to the Black Lives Matter movement and reflected on how his views evolved.  

He also urged people to have "political courage" and vote against Donald Trump in November. He later endorsed the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. 

The Franklin County Republican Committee censured Fogal in August, saying he "departed" from the conservative views held by local citizens. 

Addressing his previous statements, Fogal said this week that "Black women saved the United States of America." 

"They assembled in historic numbers, and along with other voters, pulled the rest of us off of the brink. So yes, my Black brothers and sisters more than matter. And now in the aftermath, we should be horrified yet not surprised that it is their votes in our major cities in particular that have been desperately and fanatically challenged as invalid," he added. 

Citizens should "feel safe and secure" knowing the courts stopped the people trying to change the results of the election in Trump's favor based on unsubstantiated claims of v, Fogal said. 

He called the attack carried out at the U.S. Capitol last week as lawmakers met to certify Joe Biden's win in the presidential election a result of American citizens being "psychologically abused for far too long." According to Fogal, certain political leaders have used insecurity over changing demographics to twist calls for unity and equality into calls for Marxism and socialism, stoking fear among many. 

"We have collectively taken the blessings of liberty for granted and our society has behaved in an extraordinarily selfish manner. It is up to all of us to unite, and check the azimuth (direction) of our moral compass, together," he said. 

Fogal said he submitted the application to change his political affiliation on Nov. 13. He was first appointed to the role of district attorney in 2009 and has run for election to the office as a Republican several times since then. He is up for re-election in 2023. 

More:Hundreds sign letter supporting Franklin County D.A., Black Lives Matter after GOP censure

Read Fogal's full statement below: 

Previously, I had agreed with a local newspaper to participate in an “Ask the D.A.” column. That effort was not widely utilized by readers, and went away several years ago. Lately, I have been asked many questions in the community, and I believe it would be useful to briefly resurrect the “Ask the D.A.” concept at this time.  Please see below:

Q:  In your letter in June 2020 about Black Lives Matter and local social justice demonstrations, and then again in your September 2020 letter endorsing Joe Biden for President, you repeatedly asked people to vote. What are your thoughts on the Presidential election results?

A:  Black women saved the United States of America. In addition, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (followed very closely by Stacy Abrams for her work in Georgia) deserves distinct recognition for his leadership and crucial role in the 2020 primary and general elections. The analysis of the voter data available to date shows that Black citizens organized and they voted, and did so in record numbers. In doing so, democracy was preserved.  Think about that. As former Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers eloquently said earlier in 2020, it is astonishing that Black citizens are even able to love this country under all historic and current circumstances which shows that they are not loved back. Despite that, they love the ideals of our founding documents and clearly discerned the profound stakes in this specific election. They assembled in historic numbers, and along with other voters, pulled the rest of us off of the brink. So yes, my Black brothers and sisters more than matter. And now in the aftermath, we should be horrified yet not surprised that it is their votes in our major cities in particular that have been desperately and fanatically challenged as invalid.   

In the disinformation and lies which were perpetuated even before the election and up through January 6, 2021 (even by Members of Congress just hours after the attempted coup/insurrection), I am likewise proud that our Judiciary displayed its vital role in our Nation. The Rule of Law remains very strong in the United States of America, just having been put to an ultimate and unprecedented test. All citizens should feel safe and secure that we have this resolute bulwark.     

Q:  Speaking of safety and security, what are your thoughts on the attack at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021?

A:  First, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was murdered in the line of duty while literally, physically defending our Democracy, and in his valor there is hope for all of us. Though the casualty numbers could have been far worse overall, we cannot ignore the actual damage and actual injury inflicted even in the imagery of that day. For example: a Confederate flag was inside the Capitol (!) along with men wearing vile anti-Semitic shirts, an American flag was thrown to the ground and replaced with a “Trump” flag and another American flag was used as a weapon to attack a law enforcement officer. A flag with the words “Jesus” and “Trump” was displayed in front of the Capitol, a man dressed as George Washington was photographed praying in the midst of the attempted coup/insurrection, and another was photographed holding the Holy Bible in the midst of this violence and insurrection. I saw at least one “Jesus Saves” sign and a crusade flag. There may have been other similar images which I have not personally viewed yet.

So once again, I have personally seen my own faith publicly misappropriated, now in the midst of treasonous violence incited by the President of the United States. I was shaken by that, and I fully and unequivocally denounce it. Others must do the same. 

There is a sickness in our Nation which must be thoughtfully and skillfully confronted. Disinformation has left far too many of our fellow citizens broken and unmoored from reality. Many have obviously been radicalized. White supremacist extremists are a domestic terrorist threat and “certainly the most persistent and lethal internal threat” in the United States of America, according to intelligence experts and our Department of Homeland Security.

Far too many have an insecurity or fear of changing demographics and a disruption of what is at least subconsciously processed as white order. So recent calls for equality and unity have been completely distorted by “leaders” as calls for Marxism or Socialism. This is another lie that has been repeated over and over and over again. This kind of manipulation and stoking of fear has been dangerously reckless. The American citizenry has been psychologically abused for far too long. What we are left with is what we witnessed on January 6, 2021. Dim, small, inadequate men and women who have ascended to leadership positions and who are driven by their own ambition are complicit. All persons involved must be held fully accountable as appropriate for their specific roles, lest others try again.

Moving onward, there must be no minimizing or distorting of what happened on January 6, 2021, or what could have happened. There can be no submission or passive sympathies whatsoever to a radical and violent ideology. Directly outside of my personal office inside the District Attorney’s suite in the courthouse, there is a 6x6 sign with the words “Stay Frosty.” That means we must always be vigilant. That sobering sentiment is now as instructive as ever.

We have collectively taken the blessings of liberty for granted and our society has behaved in an extraordinarily selfish manner. It is up to all of us to unite, and check the azimuth of our moral compass, together. And to keep checking our azimuth, ensuring we do not stray from the path our Founders have set for us. I am ever hopeful that we truly will, and that the line of Democracy will continue to hold. Indeed, I am absolutely certain of that.

Q:  You are a registered Republican. How does the Republican Party right the ship?

A:  I am not a Republican. On November 13, 2020, I submitted an online application to change my voter registration status to “not affiliated,” often referred to as “Independent.” I am a prosecutor and will continue to exercise my duties, serve my community and Nation at this most critical time, and continue to steadfastly support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That is my primary focus, as it must be.

Amber South can be reached at asouth@publicopinionnews.com.