One in a series of occasional articles examining how President Trump’s ascendance and early moves have altered expectations and reality. This story is the second of three gauging those effects in one Pennsylvania county.
YORK, Pa. — Chad Eisenhart glanced at the image on his phone: a white, beefy face, partially obscured by ski goggles. The man wore a military-style helmet, backpack, and white polo shirt and was marching in loose formation with other men in helmets.
Charlottesville, Eisenhart quickly realized.
He looked closer with growing unease. The marcher looked familiar, like one of Eisenhart’s employees at Carryout Courier, a small business that shuttles pizza and hot food to the residential doorsteps of York.
Eisenhart’s social media manager, who sent the photo, had included a message: “Is our driver Bob a [expletive] Nazi?”
The hundreds of marchers at the violent white supremacist rallies in Virginia on Aug. 11 and 12 had to converge from somewhere. The racism and hate on display did not just spring from the earth in Charlottesville; it festered in communities across the country, encouraged, many believe, by the white identity politics and nativism of the 2016 campaign of President Trump.
York, it turns out, was one of those places.
It is a community with a diverse but divided population, where the local vocational high school boiled with racial anguish after Donald Trump’s election the previous November. It is not uncommon for trucks in the York County countryside to sport Confederate flags along with Trump campaign stickers.
But until that August Monday morning, the news of the hateful violence over the previous weekend in Charlottesville had seemed well removed from the small city in southern Pennsylvania.
It certainly seemed far removed from Carryout Courier and its 55 employees, and from Eisenhart’s own experience as a father, husband, and avid podcast listener who had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Now, in an instant, Eisenhart was forced to confront, in a stunningly personal way, one of the most stomach-churning events since Trump’s rise to power: his own employee, a local resident wearing white nationalist garb in Charlottesville and marching in public with racists and anti-Semites.
Bob Martin had been building up to a public demonstration of his beliefs for more than a year, a Globe review found. Over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, he had become increasingly fervent in his comments both online and in conversation, his father and people who knew him as a Civil War reenactor said in interviews with the Globe.
Martin declined multiple requests to tell his own story to the Globe.
Eisenhart said he didn’t know about Martin’s shifting outlook, that his employee had kept that side of his life a secret at work. But as images of Martin marching in Charlottesville quickly spread on social media, a public outcry engulfed Carryout Courier. Eisenhart was forced to search his own conscience for the correct response.
Should he — could he — fire Martin for participating in a demonstration, for expressing his political beliefs, no matter how repugnant?
Events of the summer would leave Eisenhart stung by the dizzying speed with which people across the country, strangers mobilizing on the Internet, attacked him and his 20-year-old local business.
The controversy altered the way he looks at politics, media coverage, and the relationships he has in a community where he grew up and which he thought he knew.
The broader community of York, too, grappled with the conflagration over Carryout Courier and with the idea that one of the Charlottesville marchers was living in their midst.
The torch-light demonstrations and chants were not just a distant scene beamed into their televisions from 200 miles away, but a scene featuring someone they knew: the guy delivering their pizza.
Long before his father and friends saw him become more extreme in his views on Facebook and elsewhere, before he picked up a makeshift club and shield and marched in Charlottesville, Bob Martin was just a kid growing up in suburban Maryland.
His family lived in an upper-middle-class area outside Baltimore, with a solid school system. He was the oldest of three, with a younger sister and brother. He wore glasses and short hair, and was known to classmates as Bobby.
But in his early teenage years, his parents separated and he bounced between two homes. There were behavioral problems and he went through a rebellious phase in which he shaved his head and painted his nails black, according to his father.
“He was a bit of trouble as a kid, as a teen,” said his father, William Martin. “He started hanging out with some skinhead buddies.”
One New Year’s Eve, he wanted to go out and his father wouldn’t let him. They had a tense standoff, but Bob finally relented — “He finally realized I was more stubborn than he was,” his father said — and they calmed their nerves over a home-cooked steak.
But the peace was only temporary.
“We had some pretty nasty fights. It got physical a couple times,” said his father, who has had a strained relationship with his son but remains in touch with him. “One time I had to call the police, and he spent the weekend in a juvenile detention, trying to teach him a lesson.”
Martin struggled at Towson High School, where he was two years ahead of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. He dropped out and a few years later got his GED, his father said.
Martin went to work in restaurants, doing menial jobs like cleaning the interior of coffee pots using salt and ice cubes, as he later recounted in an online forum. Friends noticed that he began posting pictures of himself on Facebook, posing in Civil War uniforms.
Martin had begun participating with the Chesapeake Volunteer Guard, a group of reenactors from the mid-Atlantic that plays both Union and Confederate soldiers. Martin worked hard at being authentic. He sported a new pair of “brogans,” a style of boot common during the war. He purchased an 1861 Springfield musket and accumulated a wardrobe of period clothing.
His former friends in the group say that when he first joined up about a decade ago, he was jolly and helpful. If they needed someone to cook the meals, he was the first to volunteer. If they needed a trench dug, he was ready to do it.
“He wasn’t racist, he wasn’t political. He wouldn’t talk politics around the campfire. He would talk history,” said Joshua Mason, a former friend who was shocked to learn that Martin took part in the Charlottesville march. “The person I knew then and the person he is now is completely different.”
He also seemed fun-loving in his early online activity.
“I just want to play soldier and run through the woods with a bunch of other guys with whom I mention the Rock of Chickamauga they don’t think I’m talking about crack!” he wrote on an online forum for Civil War reenactors.
Martin also developed a passion for World War II, going deep into naval battles and ships. Around the campfire, he could rattle off obscure facts about any ship you named.
His friends in the Civil War reenactment community recall that at some point he also dressed up as a German soldier during World War II reenactments. He developed a reputation, and a well-known nickname, which was confirmed by two sources.
“Bob was derisively called Nazi Bob,” said one of his former acquaintances, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern of retaliation from far-right activists. “He was really open about his anti-Semitic stuff.”
“This wasn’t a yearlong evolution,” the former acquaintance added of Martin. “It’s a really slow process, from what I saw. Maybe he held these beliefs all the time but didn’t want to put them out in the open. But it didn’t look like he woke up one day and said, ‘Bam, I idolize Hitler.’ ”
Given his emerging far right views, some friends were surprised when he supported Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2015. During the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore during April 2015, friends recall him going and delivering pizza to police officers for free.
“It was just so weird. Bob was right there feeling the Bern. If you talked to him, he was talking all about Bernie Sanders,” Mason said. “He even seemed to like and support the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“But then he did a complete 180,” he added. “It was like a switch flipped.”
Several of Martin’s former acquaintances — as well as his father — traced the rising tenor of Martin’s views to a decision to support Trump, who announced his presidential bid in June 2015. One former friend said Martin referred to the Republican nominee as “Father Trump.”
“The whole Trump campaign started, and all this started coming out of him,” said William Martin, his father.
“He’d always had the libertarian, conservative types of thoughts,” he added. “But when the Trump campaign came along, it did trigger something. It brought something out of him. And made him more vocal on things like race and immigration. He had these very nasty racial comments on Facebook, and on immigrants. I tried to talk to him about it. He just didn’t want to hear it.”
Many of Martin’s posts on social media are no longer available, apparently taken down because he violated website rules on offensive posts.
In January 2016, he took what appeared to be a selfie with his young daughter in pigtails. He was unable to share it, so his wife posted it instead.
“Bob can’t post because he’s finally been banned,” she wrote, adding that the 24-hour ban was “for posting stupid offensive stuff.”
Martin’s old Civil War reenactment friends said they turned away after reading his incendiary comments, with many blocking him on Facebook.
Martin took his Internet activity underground, posting under various pseudonyms until being banned and switching to another. One of the pseudonyms he went by was Ruprecht Martinus, according to two sources, including one who supplied a screengrab from that account when it had a photo of Martin.
In late July, a Facebook group called Preserve History banned Ruprecht Martinus for injecting racist comments into a debate over preserving Confederate monuments.
“Anyone who comes in here extolling the virtues or defects of one race over another will be dismissed from the site,” the group’s administrators wrote.
In the leadup to the Charlottesville protest, again using a pseudonym, Stannis the Mannis, he became active on a message board where planning for the rally was taking place.
He said that he would be armed (“I don’t go to the grocery store unarmed let alone this lol,” he wrote). He posted images of a shield he would bring, painted with a grinning skull that is the symbol of a comic-book character, The Punisher. He passed along advice for how to handle pepper spray in the eyes and advised participants to wear an athletic cup.
Videos and photographs posted on social media and other sites provide a snapshot of what happened once Martin and other white nationalist demonstrators arrived in Charlottesville.
He marched with a crowd, wearing a white golf shirt, brown slacks, black gloves around his hands, and a pair of workboots. Along with his Punisher shield, he carried a thick, 3-foot-long wooden club with an American flag affixed to the top. Attached to his waist: a red cap, emblazoned with “Make America Great Again.”
He wore ski goggles and, according to a co-worker, shaved his beard the day before.
Martin can be seen marching in loose formation as someone shouts, “Black lives do not matter!” Another video shows him joining a defensive perimeter around the statue of Robert E. Lee, which was the focal point of the white supremacist demonstration. A third clip shows him jostling with counterprotesters, with an anxious look on his face, as Charlottesville’s Market Street turned into a melee filled with tear gas and people beating one another with sticks.
None of the hours of video footage reviewed by the Globe show Martin joining in the violence. In fact, he often looks out of place, glancing around with uncertainty and his mouth often gaping open as he appears to gasp for air.
When he got home to York, he sent a text to his father and told him that he had gone simply to “guard the monuments” but then they were “attacked by communists.”
“He claims he’s not a neo-Nazi,” William Martin said. “He said he was there and then the neo-Nazis got there and things got nasty.”
“I said I expected him to be there,’’ Willliam Martin added. “I wasn’t surprised.”
Bob also tried to compare it to his father going to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 to protest the Vietnam War.
“ ‘You were in Chicago in ’68 right? I’m doing the same thing,’ ” Martin said, according to his father. “I tried to explain to him it wasn’t really the same thing. . . . Whole different reasons, whole different causes.”
Martin did not respond to numerous messages sent by e-mail and text. The first time a Globe reporter went to his house, his wife said that he was at work. The second time, a few weeks later, she said that they were “estranged” and she was concerned about the safety of her children, given the unwanted attention.
“I don’t want any part of him,” she said.
Chad Eisenhart grew up in a church-going family, in a York rowhouse where his mother still resides. He played sports with neighborhood kids and said he wasn’t as motivated in school as he should have been. His dad was an electrician, his mom a homemaker.
About four months after graduating from college in late 1993, he capitalized on a growing trend in home delivery service. He partnered with about nine restaurants, picking up take-out food and bringing it to customers’ homes.
He expanded his service to nearby Lancaster and Harrisburg and now has a network of about 100 restaurants and 55 employees. He’s done well, taking vacations in Hawaii and Europe. He lives in a comfortable home with an expansive view.
As the 2016 election approached, he and his sister argued. She was an ardent Trump supporter.
“I thought, ‘He’s a joke. Who’s going to take him seriously?’ Then . . . I talked to my sister. She was taking him seriously. I said, ‘What are you thinking?’ ”
Their different perspectives on the campaign threw him off kilter. How could the people he grew up with, in the same household, in the same community, see things so very differently?
“It’s driven a wedge in our family,” he said. “It was hard for me to have a conversation with them.”
As the election grew closer, Eisenhart realized his sister was an indicator of Trump’s growing support, not an outlier. Some of the people he knew from high school were with Trump, too.
He took the opposite tack. One day he marched into the Clinton campaign office in York.
“I can give you two hours a day for the next three weekends,” he said. He canvassed York’s streets, trying to register people to vote. He noticed a problem for Clinton.
“You talk to people and they’re apathetic and don’t want to vote,” he said. “You’re talking to registered Democrats.”
Sometime during the election season, Eisenhart also reviewed the application of a new job candidate at Carryout Courier: Bob Martin.
In the immediate aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, activists around the country tried to identify those who were there. Many tagged the Twitter account @YesYoureRacist, in an attempt to spread images from the event far and wide in the hopes someone would recognize those white men in the streets.
The Twitter account had fewer than 10 followers, but the message was soon retweeted and amplified and got attention in York. The local response wasn’t the work of an Internet sleuth from far away: The Globe confirmed that @Darthballs, the person behind outing Martin, is the ex-husband of Martin’s current wife.
Word quickly spread, and Carryout Courier’s Facebook page began to light up.
“You all know you have a Nazi working for you right?” posted one user.
Eisenhart and his other employees certainly had no inkling. They thought of him as voluble and friendly.
“There was nothing remotely racist or anything scary like that,” said Corie Chipps, one of his co-workers. “When you look at Bob, he came to work, he knew everything about anything.’’
After learning Monday morning of Martin’s participation in the march, Eisenhart had to figure out quickly how to respond.
His decision came with surprising ease — before he’d even talked to Martin. Eisenhart realized that what he thought about Martin’s political views didn’t really matter.
“We are not in the business of righting the world and its beliefs,” he wrote to his social media manager, about 10 minutes after getting her first text about Bob. “If we evaluated what was in each employee and customers head and made business decisions from that, I would be my only customer.”
As much as he was repulsed by his driver’s beliefs, Eisenhart decided he would stick by Martin’s constitutional right to hold and express them. Once you start down the road of firing people for their beliefs, where does it stop?
“When people start trying to tell you what you can say, that goes against our American values,” he said. “I was trying to take a stand on my principles. The guy can do what he wants on his own time.”
Eisenhart, explaining his response in one of several interviews, also said that Martin wasn’t espousing any of his views in the workplace. He never got complaints from co-workers or customers about racist comments.
“My stance is . . . he’s performing his job, what else am I supposed to say?” he said. “I went on about my day.”
Eisenhart underestimated the wave of outrage that would be brought to bear against his own business.
Those efforts were spearheaded by Carla Christopher, a social justice activist in York who named her Great Pyrenees puppy after Winnie Mandela, the South African activist and wife of Nelson Mandela.
Christopher has been York’s poet laureate, run for city council, and worked in the mayor’s office as a cultural liaison for artists. She founded a local gay pride festival. When York County School of Technology had a crisis of racial strife, Christopher was hired as the school’s equity coordinator.
The city felt to Christopher, a black woman, like it was a decade behind similarly sized cities on issues like gay rights and racial equality. Despite being close to Baltimore and Harrisburg, natives never seemed to leave, and outsiders rarely seemed to come.
“We are the Galapagos Islands,” Christopher says of York’s cultural isolation.
To liberal activists like Christopher, things took a turn for the worse with Trump’s election.
“It was just shock. Disbelief,” she said. “People were posting on Facebook or going to church saying, ‘We feel like someone died.’ ”
But from that shock a new sense of activism blossomed. After a group from York returned from the women’s march in Washington in January, they formed a local group called Nasty Women Unite (they’ve since changed their name to RiseUp York).
Activists were mobilized and ready for a cause. And then, one Sunday evening in August, word began to spread that someone from York had been marching in Charlottesville. The images would soon flash across Christopher’s Facebook feed, and she began to worry about the potential for violence, particularly directed at minorities.
“You’re a delivery service,” Christopher says. “You’re giving people the codes to the gated community, you’re giving them the address, the credit card information, the phone number, the full name.”
Christopher was riled up, and so were other liberal activists in town. While getting a pedicure at a local mall, she scrawled out a battle plan on the back of a receipt. They’d reach out to Eisenhart and also to Martin. If they didn’t respond, and if Martin wasn’t fired, they would mount a public campaign. Restaurants that do business with Carryout Courier would be targeted. Local newspapers would be alerted. Petitions would be delivered, with TV cameras invited.
Christopher said she was able to confirm, through an employee at Carryout Courier, that Martin was actually the person in the photo marching in Charlottesville. Eisenhart had confronted him, she was told, but had decided not to fire him.
“We got affirmation that, yes this was the guy, yes the business was aware of it, and no they weren’t going to do anything about it,” she said.
Some started “rate-bombing” Carryout Courier, going on websites that allow for reviews and giving it no stars and making references to Martin. The owner of a local pretzel company said he would no longer work with Carryout Courier until the issue was resolved.
Christopher began hearing criticism online for her actions. Taking someone’s job seems extreme, she was told. Why go that far?
“That to me is everything that’s wrong with activism in York County,” she said. “Like, we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to go further than having a conversation and trying to find a middle ground, happy resolution.”
“Some situations can’t be resolved. Some situations are not compromise-able.”
Christopher planned a more public campaign, preparing a petition for change.org, a website that makes it easy for the general public to launch petitions. Before she posted the petition, she wrote an e-mail to Eisenhart.
In a small-town twist, she had worked for Eisenhart at Carryout Courier about five years ago, and she had directed his daughter in a local theater production.
“I wanted to give you a heads up while there was still time,” she wrote. “Asking this guy to resign would be a really solid idea. Having a white supremacist, neo-Nazi on staff is very likely to be a PR disaster within the next several days.”
Multiple organizations were about to get involved, she told him. They were “gearing up for some larger scale actions both in person and through social media and press. Is this one guy worth it?”
Eisenhart took the note to be a direct threat, and a personal one.
What irritated him more was that his records showed that Christopher had used his service the night before sending him the e-mail.
If she felt so threatened, why was she ordering from him? (Christopher said she didn’t realize one of its employees was in Charlottesville when she placed the order.)
Eisenhart never responded to her e-mail. They still haven’t spoken.
A few days after she sent the e-mail to Eisenhart, Christopher posted her petition on line. Within a few hours, it had hundreds of signatures.
“It is time to start believing bigots when they tell us who they are,” the petition read. “We call on Carryout Courier to do the right thing. Show this man that hate has no home in York, not even in the shadows.”
The controversy made both of York’s daily newspapers, the York Dispatch and the York Daily Record.
In the cramped offices of Carryout Courier, filled with sodas and computers, dispatchers answered the phone to a barrage of complaints.
“You [expletive] racist.”
“I’m never going to order from you until you fire Bob Martin.”
“You work for a Nazi.”
Workers were taken aback. Bob? The guy who comes to pick up his paycheck with his daughter in tow? How did he end up in that parade of hate in Virginia?
“We still don’t know the truth,” Chipps said. “I don’t know what to believe. But just to know Bob, that’s out of character for him.”
But then Martin admitted to his co-workers that he was in Charlottesville. It was him.
He told co-workers, like he told his father, that he and his friend do Civil War reenactments. They were offended by the removal of monuments, he told them, go went to Charlottesville to protest.
The co-workers and Eisenhart found parts of Martin’s account hard to believe. Martin was clearly in the march, in what passed for a white nationalist uniform that day. They had video. Someone behind him in formation held a sign that had a sonnenrad, a sun-wheel image that the Nazis adopted as a symbol of their supposed Aryan heritage.
The criticism built. Eisenhart’s mother was even approached about the controversy at church.
“At some point, the public pressure became too great,” he said.
He again called Martin into his office and vented.
“I’m getting pushback and pressure on this. What do you think I should do?” he said he asked Martin.
“I think you should let me work here,” Martin replied, as Eisenhart recalled it. “I didn’t do anything against the job.”
“I agree with you, dude,” Eisenhart said. “You should be able to have your opinions.”
Eisenhart said that Martin expressed remorse about all the problems he brought on the company and on himself.
“He said if he had known, he wouldn’t have gone,” Eisenhart said. “But there’s only one person to blame for what he brought on himself. He’s a big boy.”
Martin resigned. Eisenhart would not say whether it was offered or forced. A few hours after Christopher had posted the change.org petition, Eisenhart put out a statement announcing that Martin no longer worked for Carryout Courier. But his statement also reinforced that “we also respect our employees right to their own choices and opinions — especially when they are off the clock.”
The incident did not have a harmful impact on the business, Eisenhart maintained. In fact, it may have helped.
“People never heard from us then all the sudden said, ‘Hey there’s a food delivery service,’ ” Eisenhart said.
The furor did have a troubling, if temporary, impact on Christopher. After getting several threatening messages, she left town and spent about a week living with friends in Maryland waiting for the controversy to blow over.
Eisenhart is still rattled months later. He used to relish nights watching Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers make fun of Trump. He has been a regular listener of the liberal podcast “Pod Save America,” hosted by a trio of former Obama aides.
But now he’s tuning those voices out.
“Somehow Trump rides everything out, and doesn’t let it bother him,” he said. “Why can’t I?”
Maybe Trump’s criticism of the media has a point, he now thinks. Perhaps things can get out of context and out of hand.
“I was attacked for something I didn’t believe in,” he said. “It felt like a lot of pressure against me and implying something I didn’t believe in.”
“When I look at all these other activists trying to drum up and get hoopla on policies — it’s hard for me to get behind them because I think, ‘Wait a minute I was targeted,’ ” he added. “Maybe these people are being unfairly targeted. Maybe I need to hear their side of the story more.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.