Over the last few weeks, protesters against President Donald Trump have been showing up at local Republican rallies in Northeast Florida.
In Jacksonville, the Duval County GOP held a “Spirit of America” rally supporting Trump at the Jacksonville Landing. Two hundred Trump supporters appeared along with a handful of protesters who held up “Impeach Trump” signs. Talking with Sunshine State News, several of them identified themselves as being fans of former presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Duval County GOP Chair Karyn Morton says she wasn’t fazed by the protesters. “We expected them to show up, but it didn’t stop our message,” Morton said.
While the Trump protest in Jacksonville was small, just down the road in St. Johns County, traditionally a strong Republican area, their numbers were much larger.
Recently, the St. Johns County GOP held a pro-Trump rally in downtown St. Augustine. While there were around 300 Trump supporters, there were also some 50 protesters.
Indivisible America, the group organizing some of the protests on the First Coast, claims to be non-partisan, but its website hosts a guide to “resist the Trump agenda.”
Some of the protesters told Sunshine State News they hit Trump on a number of fronts, including accusing him of wanting to dismantle Planned Parenthood. They also took shots at Florida Gov. Rick Scott, blaming him for all the environmental problems in Florida.
Trump supporters have been quick to dismiss groups like Indivisible America as “fake protesters” who are being bused in from outside the area to cause problems. But Nell Toensmann, the chairwoman of the St. Johns Democratic Party says that’s not the case.
“No one is bused in from another county for any of these meetings or events and none of them are paid to organize these organizations," she told SSN. “They are all doing this voluntarily. Nor is anyone in the local Democratic Party in a paid position. We are all volunteers.”
Toensmann said all of the protesters were locals residing in St. Johns County and the surrounding area. When asked who organized the protest at the local Trump rallies, Toensmann said the St. Johns Democratic Party did not organize the protest, nor did Indivisible America, but she noted both organizations publicized and advertised the upcoming Trump meetings.
St. Johns County GOP Chairman Bill Korach doesn’t buy it. He doesn't believe the Trump protesters were just “plain volunteers.”
Korach told SSN a couple of people he knew attended two meetings of Indivisible America and the group planned the protest in advance of the Trump rally.
Korach also says there were around 500 people attending the local Indivisible America meetings.
“In a county that has a heavy Republican turnout, to see this many people turn out to organize a protest begs the question if they are really local or from outside the area,” Korach said.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., held town hall forums in his district. On several occasions, he was heckled by members of Indivisible America.
Marti Miller, president of the Republican Club of Greater St. Augustine, and other local Republicans who attended the town hall events told SSN that at times the protesters and supporters were yelling at each other at the meetings.
“Having a peaceful protest is one thing, but these people (Indivisible America) were here to heckle, disrupt and cause problems,” Miller said.
Korach insisted local Republicans were ready for protesters.
“We have a better message and a better grassroots,” he told Sunshine State News. “If they want to continue to protest, we’re ready.”
Reach Ed Dean, senior editor at Sunshine State News, at firstname.lastname@example.org.