It’s hard to imagine being more in need of a hobby than the members of a group called Friends of Marconi Plaza. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the local group has taken up the most noble of crusades—fighting to defend a statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus. And on Friday a judge who was once allegedly on the speaker’s list for a QAnon-linked event ruled that the plywood box covering the statue must be removed.
City officials covered the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza with plywood last year, the Inquirer reports, as protests for racial justice galvanized efforts to remove it. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration said the structure was a protective measure while officials decided the statue’s future.
It came after an increasingly unhinged battle over the monument. Vigilante Columbus supporters showed up with baseball bats and guns in June 2020, ready to fight anyone who tried to take the statue down. Some witnesses said the statue defenders assaulted people at the park, and a South Philly police captain was later reassigned due to his poor handling of the fracas.
This summer, however, conservative Judge Paula Patrick ruled that the statue must stay. “It is baffling to this Court as to how the City of Philadelphia wants to remove the Statue without any legal basis,” Patrick wrote in her seven-page decision this August, per ABC affiliate, 6 Action News. “The City’s entire argument and case is devoid of any legal foundation.”
The local news outlet noted at the time that Patrick’s decision overruled the City of Philadelphia Board of License and Inspection Review and, later, the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
Patrick, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the state Supreme Court earlier this year, has been embroiled in her own drama. In April, she denied that she ever planned to attend a QAnon-affiliated event, even though she did an interview with supporters of the conspiracy theory. She told the Inquirer she had no idea why she was listed as a speaker.
On Friday, Patrick ruled that the city may “erect a clear structure encompassing the statue for protective purposes” but must get rid of the plywood box. Kenney’s office has already appealed the decision and does not plan to remove the box in the meantime.
Meanwhile “supporters” of the statue, represented by attorney George Bochetto, are determined to have Columbus back on unobstructed display by the end of Sunday’s Columbus Day parade.
The Inquirer quoted Bochetto saying, “If the city doesn’t take it down, we’ll take it down for them.”
A representative for Kenney, Kevin Lessard, responded with a statement of his own: “The City has appealed and will not remove any box until that appeal is decided. Further, destruction of public property is a crime, and anyone—including George Bochetto—participating in such action will be held accountable for their actions.”
On Friday, President Joe Biden became the first president to recognize both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day, noting the explorer’s accomplishments but also the “devastation” western exploration had on Native Americans.