ITHACA, N.Y.—A rally in support of President Donald Trump in downtown Ithaca descended into chaos on Friday afternoon, as multiple fights broke out between Trump supporters and counter-protesters who assembled to rebuke the rally.
No arrests appear to have been made during or after the event, despite a litany of physical altercations involving people from both sides. At least two people were injured during the several scuffles that broke out in the 90 minutes the two sides squared off.
The scene was tense from the beginning. A small group of Trump supporters gathered outside the Tompkins County Republicans office starting at 4 p.m., primarily led by Rocco Lucente, who also helped organize the Trump march that took place earlier in October. From the start, they were met with a larger group of counterprotesters, organized by the local Democratic Socialists of America but attracting people of all stripes looking to oppose Trump, who were stationed directly across Meadow Street—reminiscent of the standoff that took place outside of City Hall during the aforementioned Trump event in Ithaca.
But while the two sides mostly kept their distance during that event, that was not the case on Friday. Soon after the start, one counterprotester, Dakota Ingraham, accosted the Trump supporters and stated he had felt threatened by one of their attendees: Ingraham claimed that during an argument a few minutes prior, he thought a man with Trump flags on his truck had reached into his vehicle’s cab for a gun, though he never actually saw a firearm. Inflamed by that, he argued with Trump supporters including both Lucentes and other rally-goers for several minutes. Police responded to the situation and briefly detained Ingraham after he tossed a Trump flag from the pick-up truck into the street, but he was released minutes later.
Promptly thereafter, counterprotesters began to move across the street, standing next to or in front of Trump supporters. The Trump ralliers began to fracture, some moving down the block, others staying in front of the building and exchanging words with counter-protesters. By 4:40 p.m., several of the ralliers had been backed into a corner by a group of counterprotesters who had ventured across the street, easily outnumbering the Trump supporters as both sides screamed at each other.
Things boiled over as those who showed up in opposition to Trump began taking signs and shaming the Trump supporters, as physical altercations broke out in several spots between the two sides, which included Max Lucente, Rocco’s brother and an attendee, throwing a single punch at a protester. Most Trump supporters, at this point, retreated inside the Republican office—though some were none too pleased about having to back down in the face of what they felt like was an “angry mob.”
“We can’t just sit here and take this shit,” said Angela Nash, a Trump supporter who had been hit in the ribs and had her flag grabbed several times during confrontations with counterprotesters. She also had her shoe taken during the altercations. “I would rather be out there bloody, no teeth, broken leg then let people like that push me around.”
Many of the Trump supporters stayed inside the Tompkins County Republicans office for an extended time before emerging again into the crowd that had gathered outside and down Meadow Street, full of counterprotesters now blaring music. The Ithaca Police Department and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office responded to the protest at one point as counterprotesters swarmed and blocked the road, but left after a short amount of time.
Police were on scene for a bit while pic.twitter.com/eVPvlhrGG4
— Anna (@alittlelamb8) October 17, 2020
Things were calm while the police were there, yet when they soon departed, the scene turned heated again. Lucente’s Make America Great Again hat was taken and ceremonially torched, a fate that several other items of Trump paraphernalia met during the day, and several other Trump flags and signs were taken and strewn into the street.
After a long while of relative peace, with both sides coalescing back to their sides of the street, the situation reached its fever pitch when counter-protesters, led by Messia Saunders and Ingraham, ripped signage down from the county Republican office. Separately, while most of the Trump supporters had either left or retreated into the office by that time, a few remained out front, and a shoving match broke out when counterprotesters began trying to yank the Trump flags away again, this time shouting “tug of war” before ripping the flag and sign from the hands of the Trump supporters.
Two people were injured in that melee, both women who were attending the Trump rally. Along with other Trump supporters, they retreated inside the Tompkins County Republicans office. Angela Nash thought that she had fractured something in her hand in the skirmish, while an ambulance was called for another who had dislocated her shoulder and was being tended to inside the office. Largely fearful at this point, the group remained inside until the march of counterprotesters moved from outside of the office, marching to the Commons in downtown Ithaca before dispersing after a short rally there.
Saunders and Ingraham justified their actions afterwards, saying that they felt the Trump supporters were displaying racism and hate via their support for the president, and that drastic actions like ripping and stealing signs were necessary to get that point across.
“Our voices haven’t been heard through the entire pandemic,” Saunders said. “Me initiating some grabbing flags or whatever I had to do to start people getting riled up, it happened. We moved people off the premises, the Trump supporters went inside. It helped us, I think that was progression. It was a way to show that this is our town, and we want peace and we want justice.”
Other counterprotesters agreed, saying they felt like forcing the Trump supporters down or off the street, even by forceful means, was exemplifying what they’ve been trying to show: that their hold on Ithaca, and society in general, is stronger and more powerful than that of Trump supporters and the white supremacy they say comes with that support.
Whether or not there will be more Trump rallies held in the future in Ithaca seems to be in flux. Jim Crawford, one of the Tompkins County Republicans members who helps operate its Meadow Street storefront, told 14850.com that in light of the chaos on Friday, he does not foresee any more events being held at that location. Crawford spent much of the event with his back pressed against the entrance to the county Republicans building, attempting to calm the situation outside between Trump supporters and counterprotesters.
“In light of the overt intolerance, antagonism toward free speech and menacing we experienced today, we have no plans to rally next Friday,” he said. Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, a Republican, joined in condemning the conduct of the counterprotesters.
“It seemed to me that certain people in Ithaca didn’t want them to be able to say they support certain things,” Sigler said. “From a group of people that are talking about authoritarianism, they were the ones being authoritarians and shutting down free speech, not the other way around. That’s disturbing to me.”
The aftermath of the rally left tattered Trump signs and flags in Meadow Street, highlighted by a fresh pile of embers where several of the signs were burned by counter-protesters. Undeterred by the violence, Lucente said he felt it emphasized why Trump supporters need to hold more events in Ithaca, to defend against the “violent mob” and to promote their visibility.
“Ithaca has always been liberal, but I remember when Republicans could rally here and everything would be just fine,” Lucente said, reminiscing about a rally supporting a Republican candidate. “[Today] just makes me want to do it more.”
Ithaca Voice Reporter Anna Lamb contributed reporting, photography and videography to this story.