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Setauket Patriots

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Around 200 gathered at the 9/11 Memorial on TOB property in Port Jeff Sept 12. Photo by Steven Zaitz

On Sept. 12, the day after the 19th anniversary of 9/11, hundreds marched down Port Jeff’s Main Street to honor lives lost at the 9/11 memorial across from Village Hall.

Approximately 100 marchers started from the Port Jefferson Train Station where they sang the national anthem before coming down Main Street. Most walked but another group also came down the street on motorcycles. A large group Suffolk County Police were there to block traffic and lead the group down the road on motorcycles. Many of those marching were not wearing masks.

Most marched in good spirits and there were no reported confrontations between marchers and people on the sidelines.

After reaching the Brookhaven marina area, the crowd grew to about 200 before stopping in the small 9/11 memorial on Town of Brookhaven property. Once at the site, organizers, including former FDNY Lieutenant Daniel Dooley, who helped originally construct the 9/11 memorial, read off the names of those from Brookhaven town who died in the terror attacks 19 years ago. Other speakers included Vietnam Vet and PJSD alum David Mann.

Setauket Patriots, a local online right wing and pro-Trump group, organized the march through social media. While event organizer James Robitsek told TBR News Media before the event they wished it to be a-political, a small number of marchers bore flags, hats and other paraphernalia supporting President Donald Trump’s (R) reelection campaign. Others in the march sported thin blue line flags and other items that supported police.

The Village of Port Jefferson originally denied the organizers a permit to march at the end of August, citing a general moratorium on any new permits for marches and parades because of the ongoing pandemic. Village officials also said that the permit application the Setauket Patriots sent in was incomplete in the first place.

Organizers for the march previously told TBR News Media they felt the permit denial was a suppression of their constitutional right to assemble, and they announced they would be marching anyway.

All photos by Steven Zaitz

Though the Setauket Patriots said their Fourth of July parade held in Port Jeff was an a-political event, a few cars like this military-style Jeep rolled down Main Street bearing “Trump 2020” paraphernalia. Photo by David Luces

The Setauket Patriots, a sometimes-controversial online conservative group, announced they plan to hold a 9/11 parade in Port Jefferson, even though this time they lack the village’s approval. 

The planned march, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12, would take people from the train station all the way down to the 9/11 memorial across from Port Jefferson Village Hall, next to the marina parking lot. The village has not granted a permit for the march, but the group plans to go anyway. 

“This is about trying to follow the mandates.”

— Margot Garant

The Facebook page for the event states the event is planned because New York City, along with Suffolk and Nassau counties, have declined to hold public 9/11 ceremonies because of the pandemic. The patriots, a known pro-Trump group, said the event “is not a Trump rally but a 9/11 never-forget-our-first-responders event.” Organizers said they expect anywhere from 150 to 200 participants.

This is not the first event the group has decided to host in Port Jeff. When hundreds marched down Main Street in Port Jefferson for a Black Lives Matter march in June, the Setauket Patriots hosted a Fourth of July car parade in response. Both the protest march and Patriots parade received permits after discussions with village officials, which created changes of time and place for both events. This time, the conservative group filed for a permit but they claim their request was denied Friday, Aug. 28.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said an executive order signed July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopped the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests. The order was enabled by the village’s previous declaration of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time it was signed, Garant said the permits for such protests and parades had been “a mistake” because of the ongoing pandemic.

In regards to any further action taken by the village, Egan said nothing would be enforced by Port Jeff’s constables, and it would instead fall on the Suffolk County Police Department. In response to whether the village plans any further action against the group if it does host its parade, he again reiterated that Port Jeff’s clerk would no longer be issuing permits for any kind of march.

Garant said that beyond the moratorium on permits, the application the group filed had been incomplete and was rejected for that as well. She added the purpose of no longer allowing groups of more than 50 to gather is an attempt to comply with state orders trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“It has nothing to do with who they are and what they’re doing,” she said. “This is about trying to follow the mandates.”

The mayor said the village has contacted Suffolk County police as well as state police about the planned march. They have also contacted the Town of Brookhaven, since the 9/11 memorial is technically on town-owned land. She advised that the group should try and communicate with the town instead to devise some kind of ceremony.

A spokesperson for the Setauket Patriots, who asked he not be named because of fear of being outed online, called the village’s decision to not allow any more parades unfair, considering the village has started hosting its Harborfront Park movie nights once again, though these are hosted by the village itself and therefore do not require permits.  

“We’re helping Mr. Dooley, and it’s the only reason we’re having it in Port Jeff.”

— Setauket Patriots

The Setauket Patriots leader reiterated that the planned march was planned to be apolitical. He said it was planned after conversations with Daniel Dooley, a New York City Fire Department lieutenant who helped construct the Port Jeff 9/11 memorial. Dooley normally hosts a vigil at the memorial site to commemorate 9/11. He was also described as a member of the group.

“We’re helping Mr. Dooley, and it’s the only reason we’re having it in Port Jeff,” the Setauket Patriots rep said.

Efforts to contact Dooley went unsuccessful as of press time.

A few other 9/11-based events usually happen within the village to commemorate that fateful day in 2001. The Port Jefferson Fire Department normally hosts its own ceremony, and last year the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America hosted a candlelight vigil in Harborfront Park. 

Tom Totten, the PJ fire district chairman of the fire commissioners, said they plan to host an in-house ceremony that’s not open to the public. Discussions are still ongoing whether the vigil will be recorded or livestreamed.

Other 9/11 events on the North Shore have been postponed or changed to meet the challenges of the pandemic. The usual Setauket Fire Department 9/11 event will not be open to the public and will instead be livestreamed. Other events, like the 9/11 memorial hosted in Shoreham by the Rocky Point Fire Department, are still up in the air.

Members of the Setauket Patriots group also took the lead in several controversial May protests in Commack calling for the end of the COVID-19 shutdowns. Their Facebook normally posts conservative and pro-president news, but their page also shares more posts that could well be described as inciting violence, such as videos of pro-Trump car paraders in Portland, Oregon, driving into and through counterprotesters and spraying them with pepper spray with captions like, “Bear spray is the new bug spray!” 

Attendees and marchers during the annual Port Jefferson Fourth of July parade in 2019. File photo by Kyle Barr

*Update* Officials confirmed Thursday, July 2 the Port Jefferson Village board was issuing a permit for a car parade this Saturday after the permit was deemed complete by Village Administrator Joe Palumbo. 

Original Story:

After the Port Jefferson Fire Department announced it was canceling this year’s Fourth of July parade due to the ongoing pandemic, a local conservative group announced it would host its own parade to mark the standout American holiday. However, this new community-run parade has made some waves within the village because of the event’s political undertones.

The Setauket Patriots, a local right-wing social media group, established the event they called Patriot Day Parade which was advertised on Facebook. They invited local fire departments, floats, classic cars or anyone else looking to participate. Because of concerns with distancing, Village of Port Jefferson officials requested the parade take place in vehicles. The Setauket Patriots also advertised for people to wear masks.

“All politics aside, this is not a political event, all people are invited,” said a representative of the Setauket Patriots who asked not to be named so as to not be attacked on social media. “We should come together for the birth of our nation.”

The parade is scheduled to meet up at 10 a.m. at Railroad Avenue then start marching at 11. The Facebook event said it has been in contact with Suffolk County Police who will escort the parade and close all streets along the route, though police did not respond to requests for confirmation. The route will take it down Main Street, take a left on West Broadway and stop in front of Village Hall where it will disburse, according to Village Administrator Joe Palumbo.

The parade has at least partially been in response to a recent protest march held in Port Jefferson. The Setauket Patriots description of their parade on Facebook incorrectly states that the Village of Port Jefferson canceled the regular July 4 parade, as that event is instead handled annually by the fire department. The post points to the recent Black Lives Matter march held in Port Jefferson June 18, which village officials granted a permit for, as why a 4th of July parade should be hosted as well. That June protest was created by students at Stony Brook University, who submitted the permit application which was unanimously approved by the village board at its June 15 meeting.

The Setauket Patriots’ post said that march shut down Main Street for four hours, but a TBR News Media reporter who was on the scene said it only lasted for two, and after holding speeches at Village Hall the crowd quickly disbursed.

The Setauket Patriots also wrote that despite comments from detractors that the parade would be a rally for President Donald Trump (R), the march “is a July 4th Parade PERIOD.”

“It’s not a Trump rally, but anyone who attends is free to wave whatever flag they want because that’s what this country  is built on,” the post continued.

As of Tuesday, June 30, village officials said they have worked through the application with a Setauket Patriots representative. The group paid the application and safety fees attached to the permit application, which has been sent for review. Because the next official village meeting is scheduled for July 6, Palumbo said the village trustees and mayor are to be polled on the application, but no decision has been made as of time of reporting. Because July 4 is a federal holiday, the decision on the application must be made before that date.

In mid-June, the Port Jefferson Fire Department announced it would not be hosting its annual parade, and in a letter, Todd Stumpf, Port Jefferson Fire Department chief, cited COVID-19 concerns as why it was being canceled.

In May and early June, the village considered hosting its annual fireworks show at a later date than July 4, but by June 15 had canceled the show it usually hosts at East Beach, with officials citing safety needs and an inability for people to socially distance considering the numbers of crowds who usually come down for the annual display.

This post was updated July 1 with a comment from a Setauket Patriots representative.

News12 reporter Kevin Vesey is confronted by protesters at a rally in Commack on May 14. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At a recent rally, protesters of the lockdown asked why a reporter’s job was deemed essential when theirs weren’t. The question is a fair one, even though the way it was posed at a May 14 rally in Commack had reporters fearing for their safety.

Dissatisfied with the way News 12 Long Island’s Kevin Vesey reported a previous rally that took place May 1, protesters began to approach him aggressively as he took video footage with his smartphone for Facebook Live, which quickly went viral over the internet. First, there were two women with megaphones and then a few others joined in the shouting match. Vesey’s response was to keep backing up as he answered them calmly and continued recording.

One of our editors was also reporting on the scene and was on hand for the confrontation, moving in closer to hear the protesters’ concerns. It was concerning the way the small crowd questioned “who was essential” with such anger. With distrust in the media growing for years, exacerbated by constant “fake news” remarks, there seems to be less and less places safe enough for local reporters to simply report the news. 

If our reporter could have answered the question posed by the angry protesters and interrupted Vesey’s replies, she would have told them that if the media wasn’t deemed essential during this time, elected officials would only communicate with the public if they felt like it. They could put out whatever information they wanted to without being challenged.

President Donald Trump (R) did not calm the situation when he took the viral video of Vesey being confronted and lauded the small band of protesters, giving them and others the green light to their anti-free press rhetoric and intimidation. What should happen if Trump’s words result in violence toward journalists? 

What if that violence was directed at one of our members at our local newspaper? 

If we weren’t deemed essential, there would be no one there to ask the questions that are on people’s minds. You see, journalists are not creative writers. We don’t decide what we want to write every day and then make it up as we go along. We attend press conferences, we conduct interviews, we research — and we ask the questions that we believe are on our readers’ minds.

And when those in our coverage area have something to say, we print their letters to the editors, and we cover their events and rallies as best as we can. We do everything in our power to get the facts straight and to represent both sides of an issue if people on each side are willing to talk.

The Setauket Patriots, one of the organizers of the protests, apologized to Vesey for his treatment, saying they hope the reporter will offer fair coverage of the group’s events.

That is what reporters set out to do. Though we are forced to recognize we are human, and sometimes we make mistakes, a rally in Commack, New York, is not a place for such tense conflict. No reporters on such a scene should be fearful for their safety. We are there to relate what is on protesters’ minds in their own words.

While it’s understandable that people are in distress about their livelihoods, Vesey should have been approached in a less aggressive manner and with respect to personal space, especially when he obviously tried to respect the health of the people around him by wearing a mask and trying to keep 6 feet away.

Americans ask that the media be fair; we ask the same of Americans.