Greenport didn’t ask to be the focal point of a massive caravan of supporters of President Donald Trump that made its way down the North Fork Sunday afternoon.
After all, this would have been Maritime Festival Weekend, an essential fixture of this diverse seaside village’s tourist economy. The festival had been cancelled due to the pandemic, and a nascent street dining scene here just has a short weather window left to recoup some of the financial losses of the past several months.
Pickup trucks, motorcycles and cars decked out in flags supporting the president crawled through pumpkin season traffic down the North Fork Sunday afternoon, where they were greeted along the way by cheering groups of supporters, along with a smattering of quiet huddles supporting Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, as they made their way down Route 25.
But things were a little different in Greenport. The North Fork is known from afar for its racial homogeny, but Route 25, the Main Road, concludes in this seaside town that, like many ports, is known to welcome strangers from around the world, with a well-entrenched black community of families who have lived here for centuries, and an influx of diverse newcomers from New York City and its environs.
While MAGA-Gras II, as the Trump caravan was called, took its name from the New Orleans carnival of Mardi Gras, it was Greenport that finally gave the carnival the gravitas that no amount of flag waving could deliver.
At about 1 p.m., word came down to a krewe of about 100 Biden supporters gathered by the Mr. Roberts gas station and convenience store at the corner of Front and Third streets that the caravan was just leaving Riverhead, and it was huge.
As they waited, a mostly older and whiter representation of North Fork residents, holding signs with slogans like “Drain Trump’s Swamp,” and “Rally at Riker’s Island 2023,” “No Hate on the NoFo” and “Nazis Go Home,” they were cheered on by honking carloads of local folks heading into town.
Some began to confront a smattering of President Trump’s supporters who were making their way to Mitchell Park.
“We wear masks in our village!” one woman shouted out to a group of men in leather jackets and red, white and blue do rags making their way toward Mitchell Park.
“Not if you’re six feet apart!” one of the men yelled back, to a smattering of heckles. Greenport does require that people wear face masks on its village streets.
A woman with a megaphone tried to calm down the irate Bidenites. They weren’t there for confrontation, she said, but to quietly make a stand.
A young man in a Prius slowed down at the light at Third Street and turned up his stereo, raising his fist in a show of black solidarity and bopping his head to YG and Nipsey Hussle’s 2016 anthem “FDT,” aka “F%*& Donald Trump.”
At the time that song was released, Donald Trump was not yet president.
Two lost bikers approached the Bidenites looking for a brewery. The Bidenites looked stumped and pointed them up the road toward Peconic. They had been expecting bikers looking for a political argument, but not bikers looking for beer.
Then word came down that the caravan was winding through Cutchogue. In Einstein Square in Southold, a sleepy young man in his pajamas, awakened by the loud tailpipes, walked to the center of the nearly empty stone pavilion, near a marble bust of the famed physicist, who had summered in Cutchogue.
“What are we going to do about this?” he said as he watched the caravan go by.
“Vote,” said the only other man in the square.
This caravan, and one earlier in September from Copiague to Shirley, was organized by Sean Farash, a West Babylon podcaster who goes by the handle “Dr. Deplorable,” a nod to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s reference to Mr. Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”
This caravan left Northport Sunday morning with about 1,500 cars in line, according to media reports earlier in the day. They were to regroup at the old Walmart parking lot in Riverhead mid-day, but that parking lot there was full of vehicles looking to join the parade for the last leg out to Greenport, which began departing Riverhead just before 1 p.m.
Headed by a group of motorcyclists followed by pickup trucks filled with cheering Trump supporters, there was a display of flags like no other — Trump flags, American flags and thin blue line flags, some draped over cars, some held out windows by passengers, some on tailgate hookups or bolted onto racks in truck beds. There were military Humvees with emergency lights and sirens, and a few sound systems blaring patriotic songs. The revving engines and loud tailpipes could be heard across the harbor.
The Biden krewe silently watched them approach. Most raised their hands in a V, for peace or for victory, they weren’t saying. Some raised both hands in Vs, Nixon-style. A woman at the west end of the group silently held out her middle finger.
As the parade headed toward Mitchell Park, they were met by the most enthusiastic knot of supporters yet. This group was wearing the flag, a sea of stars and stripes and cheers.
One woman danced in the roadway outside the post office wearing a MAGA tights and a sweatshirt, a Trump flag wrapped around her shoulders.
Next to her stood a woman with a large sign detailing every one of the Ten Commandments that Donald Trump had broken. When photographed, she hid behind the sign.
A woman from across the street yelled “Read the Bible! That’s not what the 10 Commandments says!”
A shopkeeper came out from a nearby store and approached the small throng of counter-protesters in front of the post office.
“Thank you for representing during this festival of ignorance here today,” he said, as the noise crescendoed as the caravan made its chaotic turnaround in the middle of town, some heading up First Street to the North Road, some heading through the Adams Street parking lot and back up the one-way end of Front Street. Very few seemed to stay.
Rabbi Gadi Capela of Congregation Tifereth Israel on Fourth Street had just finished the final service of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, around the corner, on the harbor. In the service, called Tashlich, members of the synagogue throw bread crumbs into the harbor, in the hopes that fishes will carry away their sins in the new year. The congregants heard the commotion and he came down and had a look.
“At least this is peaceful,” he said as he watched the spectacle unfold.
About an hour later, the caravan was still making its way through downtown Greenport.
A diverse group of young women entrenched themselves behind the railroad ties delineating an outdoor dining space in a parking stall the brick plaza across from Mitchell Park, next to a curbside display of beach bags emblazoned with red, white and blue stripes.
They were wearing Black Lives Matter facemasks and one young woman with a megaphone had a lot to say. She held a hand-lettered sign in Spanish between her knees as she talked about the importance of access to health care. She talked about the people who had died from the coronavirus. She talked about the president’s lies and she talked about America’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia. She talked about how she was unimpressed by Joe Biden. She talked about prejudices that different racial groups have against each other.
Members of the caravan leaned on their horns extra hard, drowning her out. A white man draped in a flag across the street began to mix it up with her. A women grabbed his hand and said they were going home. Police began to hover.
The woman with the megaphone dug in her heels and said she had a right to speak her mind. The Trump supporters started telling her to go home.
“My grandfather fought in World War II. My father is a Westhampton Beach fireman,” she said. “I am home.”
She trembled and looked terrified when asked to give her name to the press. She declined.
Three boys on bicycles stood next to the women, gawking, until a woman in an SUV driving by rolled down the window and yelled at them: “Get out of town, right now or I’m calling your mom. Go to Third Street and play basketball.”
A black man in a white t-shirt walked down the sidewalk behind the woman with the megaphone, his hands held up high.
“Is this what makes America great? Is this what makes America great? Is this what makes America great?” he hollered, over and and over and over, his voice rising and then pinching off the word ‘great’ each time.
Up and down Front Street, the front-of-the-house staff at restaurants stood in doorways, arms folded, looking exasperated. Their tables were mostly empty on a perfect outdoor dining day.
Outside of Kate’s Cheese Shop, guitarist David Berson, a boat captain who you’d often see singing sea chanteys at Maritime Festival Weekend, was singing Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans” as the caravan finished its rounds, horns blaring.
A small krewe of Black Lives Matter protesters marched up and down the sidewalks shouting the familiar refrain of the movement, as the occupants of a smattering of vehicles embedded within the caravan cranked up the bass and joined in the refrain of “FDT.”
For one quick moment, Mr. Berson’s voice could be heard through the chaos… “Good Morning America, how are ya? Don’t you know me? I’m your native son….”
As the knot of BLM activists walked passed a couple sitting at an outdoor table outside a restaurant, the man of the couple, wearing a fire department jacket, shouted back that “all lives matter.”
A member of the group pivoted on his heel and knelt down in front of the couple.
“When black lives matter,” he pleaded. “All lives will matter when black lives matter.”
Up at the corner of Third and Front streets, a caravan of five state police cruisers was making its way out of town. The party was over.
The Biden krewe had left long ago.
A black Southold police officer wearing a safety vest was waving cars through the intersection when a woman on the corner called out to him.
“You be safe, Greg,” she said.
“All right,” he said,”all right,” as he waved the rest of the caravan through.