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UPDATED: Massive boat parade for Trump in Mystic

Mystic — More than 800 boats flying pro-Trump flags and carrying groups of cheering supporters of the president paraded up the Mystic River on Sunday afternoon.

Boats of every type — from dinghies and skiffs to massive sailboats and gaudy yachts — flew Trump flags of every stripe — from simply "Trump" and "Trump 2020" to "Trump/Pence Keep America Great" as well as cartoonish depictions of the president hugging an American flag or soaring through the sky on the back of an eagle. "Blue Lives Matter," "Don't Tread on Me" and "Socialism Sucks" flags also were popular.

Boaters gathered off Ram Island, eventually passing spectators who lined the banks of Noank and West Mystic. The procession was organized by a Facebook group Connecticut Boaters for Trump. A  large group of Trump’s supporters that grew to about 150 gathered along the dock behind the Noank Historical Society.

Ensign Collin Reichelt, who handles public affairs for the Coast Guard Long Island Sound area, said Monday there were more than 800 boats involved in the parade. Stonington and Groton police estimated there were approximately 390 boats in the parade. The reason for the discrepancy was not clear.

The majority of people on land behind the historical society, as well as those on the boats, were not wearing masks or social distancing.

Some boats carried more than 20 people, many of whom were drinking, dancing and waving to people on land. A number of participants blasted music, leading those on land in cheers such as “Four more years” and sing-along renditions of songs including “God Bless the USA.”

People on land also held Trump signs and wore a vast assortment of Trump clothing. Adults, teenagers, children and toddlers waved American flags and wore Trump hats. Many said they were ecstatic to be able to get out of their homes and proudly back the president in public.

“The other group is so vocal about trying to shut us down, and I’m not one to be quiet,” John D’Amico of Uncasville said as he watched the boats float by.

“The support [Trump] has is hidden from the public,” said Angela Lizasuain of Naugatuck, who attended with her husband, Rico Lizasuain.  “They try to censor it online, but I dig, and I look, and I know we are the silent majority.”

“I love to see that there’s other people in the area that have the same beliefs as I do because living in a blue area, it’s very difficult,” Diane Barber of Groton said. “I don’t post my political beliefs on Facebook because you get harassed. The intolerance is sickening. That’s why I’m out here with likeminded people.”

Barber defended Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying she feels he "did a fabulous job."

Her friend Carolann Quinn of Mystic contrasted the parade to recent protests against police brutality.

“This looks much different from looting and burning cities down,” Quinn said. “You’ve got a bunch of patriotic people out here. It’s a party. This is spontaneous. Trump didn’t even put this together. This is grassroots. Everybody’s having a great time. Nobody’s burning anything down; nobody’s looting stores. Look at the difference between us and them.”

One Trump supporter, Rob Zarn, had the president’s name emblazoned on his quarter-zip pullover. He said Sunday’s proceedings “showed the power of the silent majority.”

“It is a blue state, I don’t think that’ll ever change, but you know what, that doesn’t mean we can’t vote,” Zarn said.

Anti-Trump protestors attend as well 

Others attending the boat parade expressed sadness and disappointment that the president’s support seemed robust in a typically Democrat-leaning pocket of Connecticut.

“This is unsettling,”  said Katrina Fitzgerald of Mystic. “Maybe I’m naïve, but I just don’t expect this in Mystic. I was already worried about the election in November. We came to show that we’re here, too.”

Several of the protesters moved to the front of the dock and unfurled Biden flags for the raucous passing boaters to see, causing a bout of verbal sparring from nearby fans of the president.

One young child exclaimed, “Another Biden sign, booo!” Other people yelled obscenities about Biden. Some told the flag-holders to “just leave.”

Groton Town police officers stationed at the historical society site made their way over to calm the situation. When they turned to leave, Trump fans gave the officers an ovation and chanted, “Back the blue.”

A similar incident occurred at Mystic River Park merely an hour later during a progressive protest of the parade, when Stonington police approached Trump supporters on the boardwalk who were insulting a woman with a “Mystic loves Antifa” poster. One man had taken the woman’s American flag; police made him return it. As the officers walked away, a throng of Trump fans who had watched and chimed in during the interaction also clapped for police and chanted, “Back the blue.”

Marthee Thorndike of Mystic, who was wearing an Elizabeth Warren shirt, said she came to the impromptu gathering behind the historical society to see what it was like. She said she was not surprised by the hundreds of boats. 

“I think there are a lot of Trump supporters around where we live that don’t necessarily have signs on their windows or their yards, but they’re out there,” Thorndike said. “We need to be mindful of that. It’s your neighbors.”

Why a boat parade?

Both conservatives and liberals have grappled with the question of why Trump has inspired boat parades throughout the country.

“Maybe people have worked hard for their money, they buy something, they want to enjoy it, it’s just one of their ways that they can group together and show their support,” D’Amico said of the Trump-boat owner phenomenon. “I don’t know if it’s so much him, it’s just the position we’re in right now as a country. Everybody’s sick of politicians. He’s not a politician.”

Tom Zeimet of Waterford said he thinks Trump’s love of country resonates with voters.

“The guy loves this country,” Zarn said. “He doesn’t care how much money he makes. He wants to see this country the way it used to be. Trump truly cares. He’s not a politician. Biden could never pull this off. Biden could be on one of those boats, and he still wouldn’t get this kind of support.”

Thorndike had a different theory.

"The only thing I can think of is that when you’re on a boat, you have the flag, but there’s no face to the boat, so you’re sort of anonymous,” Thorndike said. “It’s a way to feel empowered to share that you’re a Trump supporter without broadcasting your name.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that boat parades “have helped buoy Mr. Trump’s spirits,” according to aides. He has praised such events publicly.

Protesting the parade

Meanwhile, at the same time in downtown Mystic, a protest of the boat parade  was rather subdued in comparison to the celebration of Trump from his supporters.

People with Biden/Harris or Black Lives Matter signs shared the Mystic River Park boardwalk with Trump advocates who thought the parade was going to make it to the Mystic River drawbridge. The procession only went as far north as the railroad bridge due to safety concerns in the narrow stretch of river near the drawbridge.   

In downtown Mystic, numerous cars with Trump flags hanging out the windows drove through busy streets calling out “Trump 2020!” A group of young white men walked from end to end on the boardwalk, at some points yelling phrases such as, “I’m white and I’m proud! So what?”

Bryan Flowers of New London said he came to the protest because he thinks “our country is imploding.”

“We’re watching people get murdered daily,” Flowers said. “We’ve watched the police take this unfortunate stance about black lives, we’re watching the president take a stance about touching women, and we need to be out here, and we need to be in support of a different America.”

“It was wild to see so many people showing their love of Trump so openly,” Flowers added. He and other protesters sought to show there is local opposition to Trump.

Protesters Zamir Velazquez and Iylee Cypriano of New London, both bearing signs with anti-Trump and pro-Black Lives Matter messages and standing on the boardwalk, said they were glad to hear passersby in cars honking in solidarity with their stance against Trump.

“There was definitely support out here for the people who are anti-Trump, anti-fascist, for the gay pride community and the Black Lives Matter community, but there was a lot of racism going on here today, too,” Velazquez said.

“You guys can go and do this stuff wherever you want,” Velazquez said of Trump supporters. “There’s still going to be people like us who are going to go against it because it’s not right.”

s.spinella@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version includes the Coast Guard's estimate of the number of boats involved in the parade.

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