Some 35 to 40 people stretched along State Road A1A in Flagler Beach this morning, between Old Moody Boulevard and South 2nd Street, waving Trump 2020 flags and signs in what proved primarily to be a rally for the president, with with signs calling for the reopening of the beach and businesses as an afterthought. The small rally looked like a version of regular such pro-Trump rallies held along State Road 100 for months, slightly adapted to the occasion.
“Hell all it turned to is a Trump rally over there, that’s all it is,” Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said later this morning.
“The message I got was not about the beach,” fellow-commissioner Eric Cooley said after observing the event. “What I attended today was a Trump rally. I saw maybe two signs about the beach, then I saw two signs about Trump and signs that were disparaging to Democrats, so I don’t know what the message of today was. If you only walk around with signs and get people to honk their horn and don’t do any follow up and go to meetings, the entire rally becomes moot.” (There were, in fact, a few more than two signs about reopening the economy.)
The demonstration was organized by Mila Logunstova, who works closely with County Commissioner Joe Mullins–who has been making far more aggressive calls for reopening businesses and society than his own county commission, undermining the county’s more cautious approach–while he has been encouraging people to attend, though he did not. Mark Phillips, who considers the coronavirus a conspiracy, also described himself on social media as an organizer.
In exchanges on Facebook after announcing the rally, Logunstova was asked if it was to be a politically partisan event. “Nope,” she had replied. Mullins was not there, though he was busy with insults on social media this morning: when former Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks told him to “open our beaches back up to full unlimited access,” he replied, “only if you promise not to come on the beach in a bathing suit.”
There was no permit for the event, and though it contradicts current state and local orders against gatherings of more than 10 people, the city went on the assumption–proven correct by today’s turnout–that it would be a minor affair best handled as a free-speech matter (“the police chief doesn’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as they think,” Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher said Friday).
“They have the right to assemble, they have the right to freedom of speech,” Police Chief Matt Doughney said this morning as the demonstrators gathered. He sat a distance away, on the Veterans Park platform, in civilian clothes. A Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy in full armor would later join him, but both remained well away from the demonstrators. “Just want to make sure everybody is safe. No issue at all.”
The demonstrators at first clustered in two groups at either ends of the park’s two corners along A1A, but then social-distanced appropriately along the block and across the road, which also enabled them to give the impression of having larger numbers than there really were. A boom box played Lynyrd Skynyrd or Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” ubiquitous in times of plagues, while demonstrators ambled along the block, waving flags and signs– “Trump 2020,” “Women for Trump,” “Trump Pence,” “Move the cones open beaches businesses land of the free,” “Time to open parks and beaches public spaces no restrictions,” and so on.
There were epithets too, starting with a Trump campaign truck adorned with “Demacraps suc,” “Cuomo Blows” (a reference to Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor whose daily news conferences have contrasted with Trump’s for their sharpness and empathy), a middle finger flicked at China, “no more bullshit” and others signs, with Sheriff Rick Staly’s name the only local one, appearing as a Staly campaign sign near the obscenities. The truck, with a commercial license plate, appeared to have parked illegally: it was in a handicapped spot. Further on, demonstrators yelled epithets at a reporter between poses for his camera. A demonstrator briefly humped, to the rhythm of the music, one of the an orange cones the city lines along the boardwalk to prevent parking, either as a protest against the parking restriction or as something else that couldn’t immediately be determined.
On the whole the demonstration was calm, the music and occasional beeps from passing cars the loudest sounds as bikers and walkers navigated the sidewalk to went their way between the placarded. One or two demonstrators wore face coverings.
“I’m not sure it’s necessary considering the beaches are open even with limited hours,” Provencher said, referring to the beaches reopening this week, with 7 to 10 a.m. hours and additional evening hours in the unincorporated part of the county. “I’m not quite sure why it’s in Veterans Park and not up in the county, because at the county all their parking is closed, so unless you live by the beach there’s no way to access it.” (In Flagler Beach, only the boardwalk is closed.)
While the county and Flagler Beach partially reopened beaches this week, the governor’s stay-home order, which includes restrictions on businesses, is set to expire on April 30. There is no local authority–or desire–to outlast the governor’s order, but opponents of business closures, including Mullins–who has accused local governments of treating residents like “children” and of turning their homes into “cells”–have blamed local officials for the state order. When the demonstration wasn’t rallying for Trump, its “Make Amerika work again” message today (as one sign had it) was similarly mis-directed at local officials, and likely inspired by Mullins’s near-daily calls on local governments on his Facebook page to reopen.
“He is undermining every single PSA that’s being put out from the county, from Palm Coast and from Flagler Beach,” Cooley said, referring to local governments’ stream of public service announcements stressing the importance of complying with the governor’s orders and public health directives. “Every single PSA including his own county, he’s undermining,” claiming local governments are not allowing local businesses to open. “He’s misinforming citizens.”