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Man who allegedly set Biden hay bale sign on fire was Trump supporter, police report says

This Oct. 9 photo provided by Megan Whilden shows a stack of hay bales that were painted to show support for the Democratic presidential ticket in Dalton. The man who allegedly set fire to the display was a Trump supporter, according to a police report.Megan Whilden/Associated Press

The Dalton arson fire that drew national attention was allegedly started by a supporter of President Trump who told police he was drunk and grieving the death of his son when he set fire to a hay bale display endorsing the Democratic presidential ticket, police said.

Lonnie P. Durfee was arraigned Tuesday in Central Berkshire District Court in Pittsfield on a single charge of burning personal property, a felony, for allegedly destroying the hay bales Dicken Crane had painted and stacked on his farm to show his support for former vice president Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris.

A not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf and he was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing sought by Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office. The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16.

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“This is a sad reflection of the vast polarization in our country and in the Berkshires,” Harrington said in a statement. "We believe Mr. Durfee destroyed personal property because he disagreed with the property owner’s political views. Our community will not accept those types of actions under any circumstances.”

Shortly after the installation along Route 9 in this small Berkshire County town was finished Friday, the painted hay bales were set afire.

About two hours later, local and State Police spoke to Durfee as he sat outside his parents' residence on Home Terrace, where a Biden sign on a neighbor’s front lawn had also been set on fire, with an American flag placed on the charred remains.

Durfee twice admitted that he was responsible for the hay bale fire, first on the night of the fire while he was drunk and shared his sadness about his son’s death, and the next day when he was sober during an interview with State Police in the Dalton police station, according to a police report filed in court. He also admitted to burning the Biden sign on his neighbor’s lawn, the report stated.

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“He’s distraught over the death of his son Jacob” and had “been drinking heavily to cope with the loss,” Dalton police wrote. “He is frustrated with the Democratic and political left agenda and believes they are ruining the country.”

Durfee used “old oil and gasoline” to set the fire, police said.

Durfee’s 24-year-old son was recently killed in a motorcycle crash in New Jersey, police said.

During an investigation that led them to Durfee, police interviewed a number of residents who recounted what happened at a dinner party at a neighbor’s home several weeks ago.

The hosts banned political discussions in hopes of a peaceful evening, police wrote. But Durfee ignored that rule and was thrown out after he argued loudly with one of the hosts about Trump.

“Lonnie is a vocal supporter of President Trump and proceeded to make a huge scene during the dinner related to politics,” a neighbor told police. One of the hosts “got into a confrontation with Lonnie and asked him to leave.”

An off-duty police officer saw Durfee driving away from a service station after filling up two gas tanks, one of which fell out of the back of his yellow pickup truck, the report stated.

A bartender at a bar called Paddy’s gave police a written statement that Durfee told fellow customers his plan was to burn a “Biden/Harris sign” down.

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During his initial interview with police, Durfee was “clearly intoxicated," police said.

“At one point, he stopped the conversation to show photographs of his son growing up,” the report stated.

Durfee also agreed to show up at the Dalton police station Saturday morning and did so, police wrote.

Over the weekend, Crane and others at Holiday Brook Farm built a new collection of stacked bales of hay, painted red and blue over a white covering. It spelled “love,” “unity,” and “respect.”

Crane said he chose the new message to reduce “the divisiveness around the election."

“It’s a message that we really hope this country is about,” he said. "If we respect unity and love, it makes the names on the political message less important.”

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him @JREbosglobe.