ITHACA, N.Y. — Seeing Trump flags and pro-Republican paraphernalia is always a strange juxtaposition in downtown Ithaca, a notorious liberal stronghold, but Saturday saw likely the largest show of public support for President Donald Trump in the city since he was elected in 2016.
Dozens of Trump supporters gathered in the parking lot of the Staples on Route 13, toting flags and T-shirts and led by a large, lifted pick-up truck equipped with a train horn that was frequently used to the delight of the march attendees — breaking into giddy applause every time the novelty horn sounded. They made the trek from the parking lot, through downtown Ithaca to Green Street outside of the Tompkins County Public Library and over to Ithaca Police Department headquarters before heading back to Staples and dispersing. The event lasted a bit over two hours; for those sure to ask, about 30 to 40 percent of attendees wore masks during the event, despite Trump’s diagnosis with coronavirus days earlier.
Organizer Rocco Lucente, a resident of Spencer in Tioga County, said that he chose to hold the rally in Ithaca because he thought that the rally would be most effective if it was held in a population center where more people might be attracted to attend—in the area, Lucente said that leaves Ithaca or Binghamton.
Lucente acknowledged that the majority of attendees to the rally were “probably from the surrounding towns,” which tend more conservative than Ithaca. Regardless, marchers were enthusiastic after making the trip to town, reacting loudly as they marched to alternating interactions from passing drivers: some with honks and words of support, others with mocking, anti-Trump music and traditional gestures of roadway disapproval.
As expected, there were tense moments. The original plan for the march was to head to City Hall and demonstrate outside, protesting against Ithaca’s liberal leadership, but protesters were met by a spirited group of counter-protesters made up of Black Lives Matter leaders, local Democratic Socialists of America members and others upset with Trump’s leadership over the last four years. The opposition kept Trump marchers on the other side of Green Street, resulting in a back-and-forth standoff, with Trump supporters outside of the public library and counter-protesters outside of City Hall. The two groups traded chants back and forth, with the occasional drop-in from a TCAT bus on their normal routes which would periodically block the other side from view.
During the stand-off, which lasted about 20 or 30 minutes, came the most vitriolic words between the two sides. Counter-protesters brought out their oft-used slogans about police and white supremacy, including “Cops and Klan go hand-in-hand,” while Trump supporters trotted out the standard “Four more years” chants. Meanwhile, newly notorious activist Zach Winn grabbed the megaphone and delivered a somewhat incoherent rant, as he did a number of times at the previous Back the Blue rally, ultimately calling the counter-protesters “stupid fucking Communist retards.” He was calmed by fellow marchers. Others continued to shout at the counter-protesters even as the Trump supporters relented and moved on to IPD headquarters on Clinton Street, mostly centered on taunts about Trump’s 2016 victory and the impact his presidency has had since and vaguely threatening statements referring to last week’s flag-burning at the weekly racial justice rally.
“Have fun with the Supreme Court for the rest of your lives,” one said over his shoulder from across the street. “No more abortions!”
One interesting moment came outside of the Tompkins County Public Library between a group of Trump supporters and two of the leaders of the Unbroken Promise Initiative, Jordan Clemons and Yasmin Rashid, just before the march went to Ithaca Police Department. Rashid and Clemons had an extended discussion with two Trump supporters, a middle-aged white couple, before embracing them and inviting them to appear on stage at the weekly Truth and Justice Rally on Sundays on the Commons. Clemons said he and Rashid had taken a risk by coming over to that side of the street, but that he felt like it’s one way to move forward.
“Nothing is going to get done without an honest conversation,” Rashid said.
They did not appear on stage at Sunday’s rally.
Once the group moved to outside IPD, Lucente delivered the only formal remarks of the day, echoing Trump’s rhetoric that if Democrat Joe Biden is elected then “mobs” like the one they had just encountered will become more common. Lucente described them as violent extremists, though there was no violence that had occurred.
“If you had any doubt about voting for Donald Trump in November, what you just saw shows exactly why,” Lucente said. “Are we going to be a country that surrenders to mobs of violent people? […] They don’t believe in the America that we believe in.”
In between Lucente and the marchers, the aforementioned lifted pick-up truck and another vehicle that had been leading the crowd both paused on Clinton Street to join the rally and listen to Lucente’s comments. This resulted in traffic backing up and having to go into the opposite lane in order to pass, eerily reminiscent of the very thing that has angered some members of the public about BLM marches over the last several weeks.
Lucente ended his comments by evoking a “USA” chant from the crowd, saying that chant captures what the group wants and believes in. Afterward, the crowd slowly made their way back to the Staples parking lot, encountering one verbal altercation with a passer-by who said the group had gotten too close to him and when he asked them to step away, citing the pandemic and the group’s lack of masks, said they made homophobic remarks. The argument did not turn physical.
Lucente said the group does not currently have concrete future plans for more events before the early November election, but that they likely will hold another rally at some point.