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Philadelphia Gas Works has launched an internal investigation after stickers featuring symbols of an anti-government extremist group and the “Blue Lives Matter” movement were identified on a city-owned utility truck.
A tipster spotted the decals on the PGW truck as it drove past the Pennsylvania Convention Center last week. Adhered below the license plate was the logo for the “Three Percenters,” a gun-toting militia group founded in 2008 that’s been active on the fringes of white supremist circles.
Next to the logo on the truck was another sticker that appeared to show the banner used by the pro-police countermovement that emerged in 2014 in response to Black Lives Matter — a black-and-white American flag with a blue line through the center, better known as the “thin blue line.”
PGW, the nation’s largest municipally owned natural gas utility, has a policy barring political materials from appearing on any equipment or facilities. Richard Barnes, the utility’s spokesperson, said trucks receive routine inspections for policy compliance. Both stickers, however, appeared well-worn.
After Billy Penn raised questions, Barnes said the stickers were removed and the agency is launching a probe into the matter.
“PGW is conducting an internal investigation to determine if the sticker was affixed by anyone employed by PGW and take the proper steps to resolve the matter,” Barnes said.
Whether the stickers were slapped on the truck by a city employee or someone outside the natural gas utility remains unclear. It’s also unknown how long the stickers remained on the truck in violation of PGW policy.
The internal investigation will include an audit of all PGW vehicles to “reinforce our policy to our employees” and “ensure all vehicles meet PGW standards.”
“Three Percenters” take their name from the percentage of the American colonists they believe fought the British, though that figure is widely disputed.
The right-wing group — a diffuse network of anti-government, pro-gun militias across the U.S. — rose to prominence during the Trump years, along with other fractured militias like the Oath Keepers. Members of both armed groups have acted as a private security force for white supramicist groups, and have sometimes been tied to local Republican party chapters, according to Politico.
Today, the Three Percenters consist mainly of independent local factions. The self-described “National Council” for the group announced its dissolution in the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, stating that the breach “has hurt the patriot movement drastically and as a result brought an end to our organization.”
Right-wing and extremist messaging has fliered Philly neighborhoods and popped up on utility poles across the city — but it’s less common on city-managed property. Across the country, citizens have clashed with police departments over the appearance of Blue Lives Matter decals on taxpayer-funded fleet vehicles.
It’s unclear if this was an isolated incident for PGW. Barnes declined to provide more details on the investigation.
“PGW regularly inspects our vehicles,” Barnes said. “If issues are found it is addressed immediately, either internally or relinquished to external authorities if the issue is not related to PGW.”
Philly’s Office of Fleet Management, which manages over 6,000 city-owned vehicles, from police cruisers to trash trucks, also said it has not experienced any problems with political messaging in recent years.
“Fleet inspects them on average four times a year — or more, for maintenance,” said city spokesperson Irene Contreras Reyes. “If any vehicle has accident damage, graffiti, or missing graphics, the issue is addressed and corrected during these shop visits.”