Chris Feeney is a Palm Coast resident and an ardent Trump fan who likes to wave Trump flags and go mega-MAGA in public. The Observer caught him in one of those street-side Trump eruptions back in January, where even his shirt was a kaleidoscope of Trump’s mug.
On Friday, Feeney caught the unhappy attention of Sheriff Rick Staly after Feeney called him “my buddy” in a Facebook video Feeney posted. The “buddy” comment was bracketed by Feeney’s recorded obscenities, provocations, calling Black Lives Matter “a terrorist organization,” all with a recurring fixation on demonstrators’ body parts.
The sheriff condemned the video in a call for calm this election season, and was soon joined by local Democratic, Republican and Trump Club leaders Friday who denounced the video in varying degrees. It was the first local expression of relatively joint concern about an especially brittle political climate in the country ahead of the Nov. 3 election–an election whose legitimacy the president has repeatedly refused to endorse, potentially adding fuel to kindling.
“I do not personally know this individual and I certainly do not condone his aggressive behavior. It is behavior like this that causes serious and sometimes deadly incidents,” Staly said in a release. “I have directed our Homeland Security Section to look into this troubling video.”
The video, which has drawn some 14,000 views and close to 450 comments as of this writing, is a little over five minutes long. Feeney took it as a Facebook Live clip on Sept. 19, when Democrats held what they termed a “Democratic Car Parade” in late morning. “Let’s show the Trump Club how to act like adults as we celebrate and support our candidates from Joe/Kamala to our local candidates,” Mike Cocchiola, who heads the local Democratic Party, wrote in an accompanying note to the announcement.
The video was rebuked not only by local officials but by numerous people commenting on Feeney’s Facebook page, many of them adopting the tone of a commenter who wrote: “I love Trump, but you are an embarrassment to our party.” Others called Feeney a “sad and angry man,” as “pretty idiotic and the only ‘triggered’ person” in the video, though he also got a share of support and commenters echoing his attacks on Democrats. “What’s with the language dude? Really?” one commenter asked. “Grow up.”
Cut to Feeney’s voice-over in his own video as he approaches the demonstration in his SUV. [Warning: Feeney’s foul language in the next few paragraphs is unredacted.]
Audio: Feeney’s Rant
“OK folks here we are, we’re going to see the Democrats. Town Center. Yup.” Feeney laughs to himself. “Oh, shit. I love it. They’re right up here, guys. Well, nobody’s watching me anyway, but, I wanna see, I’m going to drive really slow, I might even stop in the middle of the street.”
“No you’re not,” a woman riding with him says.
“Oh, shush, woman,” he says.
“Let’s see what we’ve got here. Look, it’s even got a Black Lives Matter flag. Oh, my god. Oh my god. Oh my–oh, they don’t have that many people. They got quite a few, but not that many. Are my Trump flags going? Yes they are, going beautiful. Look, look, look. Look. Hell no. Hell no. Hell no. I’m coming right in the middle of these mother-effers. Look at these mother-effers.” (He actually says “effers” in the video, though that soon becomes his only deference to discretion.)
“Touch my flag, I’ll fucking rip your fucking head off,” Feeney continues. He has purposely slowed his truck to a crawl. He rolls his window down and yells out: “[Get] the fuck out of here you piece of shit. Fucking touch my truck, I’ll fucking kill you.” There’s no hint of humor in his voice at that point. “Yeah, look at all these fucking idiots over here. Fucking idiots, get your brains out of your asses. Get your brain out of your ass. Sleepy Joe, baby, Sleepy Joe.” By then he’s stopped a few times. Some demonstrators are responding, but whatever they’re staying is inaudible over Feeney’s yelling about “Sleepy Joe,” 7-Eleven. At least one or two obscenities are heard hurled back at Feeney, which eggs him on. His voice rises in crescendo to joyful rage: “Aaaaaah, look at all the nut cases, look at them all, triggered liberals, yeah, Trump 2020,” and so on, his taunts seemingly fueled by his own bile. But he is not getting the attention he wants. “Yeah, ignore me, yeah, I’m coming back around again, haha, yes I am, I have to,” he yells.
“No you’re not, no you’re not,” the woman riding with him tells him. “Quit, quit, quit.” They go back and forth. “Yes I do.” “No you don’t.”
He U-turns and goes back through. The yelling starts again, a variation on the earlier theme. “And you guys support Black Lives Matter, yeah? Only if it’s a white cop, honey.” But he’s losing steam, repeating the same words over and over again until a man in a Stars and Stripes tie walks up to him and asks him if he wants the cops called on him. “Yeah, I know Staly, he’s my buddy, call him right now,” Feeney tells the man, who happens to be Clinton Curtis, an attorney running for the 6th Congressional District seat against Michael Waltz, the Republican. He eventually drives off. “I hope you guys enjoyed that video, it was amazing. They were going cuckoo.” He then tells his audience he’s going “to the real rally.” Feeney did not respond to a request for an interview messaged him on his Facebook account.
Cocchiola, who’s frequently appeared before the County Commission in appeals for civility got hold of the video and distributed it, eventually catching the sheriff’s eye. Cocchiola’s appeals have been driven in part by the frequent bilious outbursts of Joe Mullins, two of whose colleagues on the commission refused to censure him after he disrupted a commission meeting and a deescalation of a delicate situation by Staly and insulted his two other colleagues. Cocchiola has also met with the Trump Club and Jearlyn Dennie, who heads the Republican Executive Committee, to discuss reining in the more extreme tempers on either side.
Cocchiola knows Feeney from previous encounters at demonstrations, where Feeney, according to Cocchiola, gets in the middle of Democratic lines to disrupt them and wave his flag. There’s no rule, no law, against it, but contemporary conventions–in large part the result of law enforcement’s routine separation of different camps at demonstrations into distinct “free speech” zones–give the impression that only demonstrators of one stripe should be in any given group. From law enforcement’s perspective, it also helps reduce the chance of conflict, violence and arrests.
To Cocchiola, last Saturday’s incident with Feeney was dangerous (he did not witness it personally: he was elsewhere at the rally when it happened.) “It was physical intimidation with that truck, in other words he was driving through people, coming close to people in the street,” Cocchiola said, “coming right up to their back ends, that is borderline assault, and he was frightening people.” (There’s no evidence from the video that Feeney rode up intimidatingly to cars in front of him. Feeney’s focus is on the people on either side of his own SUV, and on keeping his own verbal assaults going.)
“I would ask, in fact demand that the Republican Party in Flagler County deal with this person and deal with anybody who would do that again,” Cocchiola said. “We have conducted classes on deescalation of confrontation, we have trained our people to deescalate situations, and certainly the Republican Club and the Republican Party here can put on a similar program.”
Dennie said Feeney is not in any way connected to the REC. “I don’t tolerate any of that,” she said in an interview this afternoon. She’d been told of the video but said she hadn’t yet seen it. “I do know the individual that’s involved is not part of my group, but I don’t know him. Those are the types of things I’m really hoping and wishing to avoid.” Addressing Cocchiola’s comment, she said: “We don’t have issues, what he’s talking about has nothing to do with the party, my group.” She then spoke of innumerable Trump signs being vandalized and sprayed with obscenities, accusing the Democrats of not keeping their own people in line, and saying those instances of vandalism are reported to police. (The claim could not yet be verified with the sheriff’s office before this article initially published.)
After getting a link to the video from a reporter and watching it, Dennie issued a more restrained statement in writing: “The Flagler County Republican Executive Committee has no authority over Chris Fenney just like have we no authority over those who have vandalized Trump signs on the personal property of great American citizens in Flagler County. We appreciate his enthusiasm and support of President Trump, however, we do not endorse the use of inappropriate language or disruptive behavior. We are looking forward to unity in our nation following the re-election of Donald J. Trump.”
Speaking for the Trump Club, Ed Danko, a candidate for city council who’s also in charge of the club’s public relations, was more blunt: “The Trump Club highly condemns this type of rude and offensive behavior.” “It’s something we all want to rein in,” Danko said. The club, the latest iteration of the county’s tea party faction, has both Democratic and Republican members. “We constantly tell our people not to be rude, not to swear at people, not to give them the one finger salute even if they’ve been given that. We tell our people to say something like, God Bless, have a nice day.” Danko later confirmed that while Feeney had been at a couple of Trump Club meetings, he was not a Trump Club member.
Cocchiola said disavowals of Feeney-type behavior must be public, immediate and uncompromising. “I don’t expect the sheriff to arrest anybody but I do want the sheriff to issue a stern warning that this will not be tolerated,” he said. “We’re looking for an example the sheriff can use to scare the crap out of them so they don’t do this anymore, because we are filming, we are filming everything anymore, because we are tired of the abuse. And we are going to take legal action. It goes on routinely.” Cocchiola said that as far as Democrats are concerned, “There’s never been an incident of us disrupting anything. Never.”
A local Republican, however, cited the case of a 13-year-old demonstrator with a Trump sign recently being verbally abused by a a woman who was part of a passing Democratic group. But the Republican acknowledged that it was only that one woman who’d been abusive, and said it was the sort of lone “bad apple” that happen on either side of the fence.
Flagler County has its ardent supporters of candidates on both sides of the year’s election divide, but the county and Palm Coast have on the whole not experienced incidents more significant than the sort that happen at every election, like sign vandalism or the occasional flock of dueling birds. The feeney incident stands out precisely because it has been unusual, at least in documented form. The sheriff’s almost Solomonic message, carrying particular weight because of his status and the broad respect he commands from both sides, appeared directed at keeping it that way.
“Emotions are high this election season,” he was quoted as saying in a release that refrained from citing either Trump or Joe Biden supporters by their candidate’s names. “If you choose to support a political candidate, please do so peacefully and respect the rights of others who may not agree with your views. We will protect everyone’s First Amendment rights. If there is a peaceful assembly taking place and you do not agree with their stance, don’t go to their gathering, don’t drive through it and don’t antagonize people. This kind of behavior only hurts your cause and can be extremely dangerous for everyone. You don’t have to agree with someone to be kind to them.”
The release ended with this: If you encounter suspicious activity, please report it to the Sheriff’s Office by calling 386-313-4911. For emergencies, dial 911.