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Swastika-wearing man: This is my country

A man in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, says "rural America spoke up when they elected Trump." CNN's Sara Sidner speaks to him about his beliefs.

Posted: Aug 12, 2018 12:40 PM
Updated: Aug 12, 2018 1:00 PM

Daniel Burnside painted a huge swastika on his home. His woodshop dons Nazi carvings and a Nazi flag. A scarecrow made to resemble Adolf Hitler keeps watch in his yard.

It all sits atop a hill in this small Rust Belt town, a beacon of hate greeting anyone who drives through.

Burnside says he's fighting a culture war.

"The last 20 years, my country has just turned into a cesspool. Garbage," he told CNN. "The UN's taken over. Our cities aren't American anymore."

By that, he means, they're not white.

"We're staring down the barrel of a gun here in white America," the 42-year-old father said. "There's still 193 million white Americans. Yes. The vast majority of them are in their 60s and 70s, will be in the ground in the next 20 years, and therefore we have the possibility of becoming a minority in our own country."

Already, Burnside has been marginalized by residents of this Pennsylvania town. Though he extols Donald Trump -- whom 79.5% of voters here in Potter County chose for President in 2016 -- he's drawn the ire of his neighbors in Ulysses, who say his intense racism doesn't reflect their values and has generated unwanted attention, angst and even fear.

After a story in The Washington Post exposed Burnside's bluster, death threats arrived online, taking aim at the town at large. But for all his fuming, Burnside hasn't broken any laws, a top elected leader in the area said, leaving little officials can do to remove the target of their collective backlash.

"People were posting things like, 'We're going to bomb the place,'" Ulysses Borough Council President Roy Hunt said. "He's just one guy in this town. We don't even want him here. But we cannot legally do anything about that."

"He's disrupting the peace," lifelong resident Carm Barker said. "But since we have no ordinance against that yet, ... he gets away with it. And we live in fear."

'This guy feeds off that stuff'

Burnside says he "doesn't care at all" about scaring his neighbors or hurting his town's reputation. His desire for attention -- he said he sometimes dresses his eight children in Nazi regalia so his neighbors can see them -- seems to outstrip almost everything except his fear of the nation's changing demographics.

"Rural America spoke up when they elected Trump," he said. "Rural America."

Burnside seems to disregard the fact that of the 713 residents the US Census recently estimated live in the Ulysses area, 705 of them -- or 98.9% -- are white. Or that at last count, 250 million Americans -- far more than even he boasts -- described themselves as white.

Meantime, it's not Jews whom Burnside hates but "capitalist Jews," he said, without acknowledging the President's capitalist agenda, including imposing stiff tariffs on longtime US trade partners.

Extreme views didn't always dominate Burnside's character, said Ivan Lehman, a resident of Ulysses. He was a smart kid in school. He seemed to get along with folks.

The Nazi stuff began more than three years ago. And while no one is quite sure why -- and everyone insists blame lies squarely on Burnside -- Trump's rhetoric hasn't helped, Lehman said.

"I would say that the President that we got right now hasn't helped the situation a whole lot," he said. "This guy feeds off that stuff."

'Who does he think he is?'

Burnside, in yet another contradiction, also denies the Holocaust but claims his grandfather fought in World War II and witnessed concentration camps.

The false assertion hits close to home for Barker, Burnside's neighbor, who said his racist views dishonor the legacy of her own grandfather and all other WWII veterans who fought the Nazis, including some who are buried in the town cemetery.

For now, as ever, Burnside rants by day and fires bullets by night to draw notice to his cause. And though at least one supporter said he'd do anything for his neo-Nazi neighbor, most people around here try to shut him out.

"I usually put my book down at 9, and I'm in la-la land when the gunshots go off," Dot Smogyi said. "It's, it's exhausting. I'm a little aged."

"If I disagree with you, I don't go up and hit you in the face," Hunt, the council president, added. "I just go about my business and ignore you, and that's what we have done here. ... Just because we tolerate him doesn't mean he is welcome here."

For others, though, it can be too much to bear.

"We're good people, and he's stepping on us," Barker said. "He's stepping on all of us. You know, we are all one tribe. And who does he think he is?"

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