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Gaza War Draws Rival Protesters

Thu, 05/23/2024 - 11:40

Setauket Patriots meet East End Ceasefire

The music was lowered but it still led to complaints Sunday as it emanated from a caravan spearheaded by the Setauket Patriot and culminating at Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.
Christopher Gangemi

Competing protests over the Israel-Hamas war, held Sunday afternoon on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, were peaceful, if loud.

East End for Ceasefire, which has been holding vigils at the windmill there for 30 straight weeks, was met by demonstrators from Long Island MAGA Patriots and the Setauket Patriots. James Robitsek, who runs the Setauket Patriots Facebook group — which was said to have had 26,000 followers before the page was taken down after the Jan. 6 incursion — posted on Facebook that “These terrorist sympathizers are protesting every Sunday ruining Sag Harbor, our colleges and our country.”

A handful of cars made the drive out for the spectacle beneath the windmill. Mr. Robitsek’s car “cosplayed” as a Secret Service motorcade vehicle. He stepped out wearing a shirt reading “Police: Secret Service.” Another vehicle was adorned with over 10 flags, some hoisted 20 feet high, with an image of President Joe Biden, hog-tied, on its tailgate. Music blared from its sound system: an odd combination of pro-Trump rap and Israeli choral music, loud enough to be heard at the other end of the village.

A third S.U.V., replete with a large red MAGA cap, sirens, and an American flag paint job reading “Official Campaign Vehicle Trump 2024,” featured a life-size animatronic mannequin of Donald Trump. It waved.

The real police were there too. A state trooper watched from across Bay Street at Steinbeck Park. Sag Harbor Village police were on foot and bikes, keeping a very close eye on the activity.

“We made sure it was as civil as we could keep it, and both parties had the chance to voice their opinions,” said Village Mayor Tom Gardella in a phone call.

The East End for Ceasefire group lined the sidewalk in front of the windmill, holding signs in silence, as they have done in past weeks. One read, “Stop U.S. Military Aid to Israel.” Another: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Another: “Liberation from Genocide, Imperialism,

Settler Colonialism, Apartheid, Occupation, Mass Graves.” Someone read from a Palestinian poem.

“They’re glorifying terrorists, that’s what they’re doing,” said Mr. Robitsek.

A bystander in a pink Polo shirt, apparently unaffiliated with either group, stood on a stone wall under the windmill and shouted insults at the roughly 20 East End Ceasefire protesters. “Ask Hamas!” he yelled repeatedly, so loud he grew hoarse. A woman, also watching the proceedings, shouted back at him, “Ask them what?”

“All I know is that I believe in God, the one and only,” said the man, who said he was “from Latin America.”

“They’re going to hell,” he said of the Ceasefire group. “Maybe I’ll be next to them.”

A middle-aged woman standing atop the pickup truck, wearing a headband from which dangled stars, held a sign reading “Honk for Trump,” and danced. She handed the man in the pink shirt an American flag. He took it and walked up and down the protest line, closely watched by the police, his movements mirrored by Jonathan Wallace of Amagansett, a cease-fire protester.

“Our goal, honestly, we just want to be left alone,” said Mr. Wallace after the protest ended. “We want to have our vigil, and we have no problem with anyone demonstrating on the other side of the street.” He said he appreciated the police presence.

If the blaring music and unaffiliated people yelling at each other weren’t enough, a man smoking a cigar on a nearby bench shouted, “Give back the hostages, idiots!” in the direction of the Ceasefire protesters.

It was unclear, however, that any message was getting through. Long Wharf had temporarily become a magnet for discontent, coherent or not. In a strange juxtaposition, two young girls, weekend visitors, took turns putting themselves in the pillory below the windmill. Their father looked on, seemingly undisturbed. “To each their own,” he said of the protesters.

“This is different,” said Kathy Engel, a founder of East End for Ceasefire, of the UpIsland group. “We have other people who harass us regularly. It’s another moment, but it’s reminiscent of other moments.” She handed out a flier explaining the group’s commitment to non-engagement. “If you feel that it will be difficult for you not to engage when provoked, we understand, and it would be wise to walk away,” it read.

After police dispatchers received multiple noise complaints, an officer who had repeatedly asked that the music be turned down threatened the man in the pickup truck with a summons.

“They said it’s intolerable,” said Mr. Robitsek. “I said, ‘Your intolerable and my intolerable are two different levels.’ Who’s to say what’s the level? I said, ‘You need a sound meter,’ and they backed down.”

“We can’t ask them to leave,” said the officer. “The big thing is the noise. As long as they’re not standing in the street or impeding the flow of traffic, they’re free to be here. You don’t need a permit, it’s their First Amendment right.”

It began to rain. The man with the 20-foot flagpoles started lowering them. “I want to see their Amazon search,” a passer-by remarked. “Is it, like, ‘Retractable flagpole?’ “ The cease-fire protesters started to disperse.

“I am a Jew,” said one of them, Kathryn Levy, as she packed up. “I believe in tikkun olam, ‘to repair the world,’ and I am heartbroken at the children in particular who are dying in Gaza, and I am going to stand for cease-fire on this corner and everywhere else for as long as I can.”

The Trump train, four cars strong, drove off the wharf and south on 114. The car with the red MAGA hat gave one last blast of its sirens, in front of the Corner Bar. With that, the wharf went quiet again, except for a starling, whose song could finally be heard.

 

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