Right wing Facebook group Setauket Patriots rallied outside Village Hall in Port Jefferson Tuesday night to protest what they claim is a violation of their rights, though officials say they are following the law.
On Sept. 12, the patriots group marched from the Port Jefferson train station down Main Street to gather for a 9/11 memorial across from Village Hall, though they lacked a permit for the march. Earlier in the summer the group hosted a permitted car parade for the Fourth of July following a Black Lives Matter march down main street held in June.
Following the June and July events, the Village of Port Jefferson issued an executive order signed on July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopping the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garant had said it was in response to how many people the events were bringing, and not maintaining social distancing while doing so. The village has not granted a parade permit to any group since the moratorium was enacted.
Setauket Patriots organizer James Robitsek said he received a summons with a $1,400 constable fee and $2,800 fine 30 days after their 9/11 event.
“Because it was 9/11, it’s sacred to us,” Robitsek said. “I personally lost friends in 9/11.”
In previous events, the group that regularly supports President Donald Trump (R) on Facebook was relatively low-key in support of the president. Since then, the group has held multiple car parades down Main Street without a village permit which were explicitly pro-Trump. Such events did draw a few confrontations between counterprotesters and caravan-goers in Setauket. Some comments by leaders of these rallies have specifically mentioned Mayor Margot Garant. (To read about those mentions, click here. To read about the last Setauket Patriots caravan, click here.)
On Nov. 24, the night of their court date at village hall, members and supporters of the patriots protested with flags and music across the street from Village Hall, while in court, Robitsek asked for a full dismissal.
“It’s a violation of our civil rights,” he said. “They can’t just pick and choose who they give permits to, and that’s basically what they’ve done.”
Only 10 people were allowed in the court hearing, where Robitsek, represented by Lindenhurst-based attorney Vincent Grande III, rejected the offer of the fine and plead not guilty.
“The courts offer was to plead guilty with a conditional discharge, and to not hold any future events in Port Jeff village,” Robitsek said. “I’m looking for a dismal because I won’t be able to hold any more events in the village and I don’t want that.”
Deputy Village Attorney Rich Harris said that while Robitsek argued that other events were able to be held, like Black Lives Matter protests, the summons was simply for the one event hosted in September.
“It’s not about any about any other events,” he said. “It’s just about the Sept. 12 march.”
Robitsek said he plans on holding a 9/11 parade every year.
Grande will be filing motions by January, and Robitsek said the next court hearing should be sometime in February or March.
This article was amended to add links to previous caravans hosted by the Setauket Patriots.