The demonstration at the outset of the event. (All photos: Author)
Oct. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg
On a day of national demonstrations in favor of the right of women to choose abortion, Naples, Fla., was treated to an unusually raucous and contentious rally by pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates.
There were no arrests, although individuals, particularly anti-abortionists, while staying non-violent, became aggressive at times. Demonstrators shouted dueling chants and anti-abortionists attempted to drown out scheduled pro-choice speakers.
The demonstration took place in front of the Collier County courthouse in the county government center at Airport Pulling Rd. and Route 41 and then moved to the sidewalk along Airport Pulling Rd.
At the scheduled start of the demonstration at 10 am, there were about 100 pro-choice demonstrators and 22 anti-abortion demonstrators present. Although the numbers swelled during the next two hours, the ratio of abortion opponents to supporters remained about the same. At its height perhaps a total of 300 to 400 people were in the crowd.
There was no separation between the demonstrators and police made no effort to keep them apart. According to one Collier County sheriff’s deputy, in the public space police were not authorized to keep the competing parties apart or intervene unless a crime was actively committed. Nor was a permit required for the “Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights” rally, so there was no need to enforce a permit’s requirements.
An in-depth look at dueling definitions of ‘sanctuary’ in America and Southwest Florida and what they mean for the future
July 7, 2021 by David Silverberg
Today the term “sanctuary” has taken on new meaning and is serving as a new cause of political controversy and contention.
This conflict is coming to a head in Southwest Florida—specifically in both Naples and Collier County—as movements to create sanctuary jurisdictions based on political criteria roil an otherwise placid region best known for its sunshine and beaches.
To understand the current conflict, it helps to go back into history and survey the evolution of the concept of sanctuary.
What are the origins of that concept? In the American political context, what were the sanctuaries of the past? What are the new concepts and how do they differ from previous concepts?
In a local context, how are these clashing concepts playing out in the American state of Florida—and especially in Southwest Florida?
And lastly, where is this heading and how is it likely to resolve itself?
The notion of a place of sanctuary is very ancient.
The ancient Greeks and Romans revered groves and temples where people could find refuge from the forces that threatened them. In ancient Rome even slaves could find sanctuary at statues of gods and owners who otherwise possessed them would respect the site.
But it was in the Middle Ages that what is commonly thought of today as sanctuary made its appearance. By the thirteenth century a person could take refuge from secular authorities or a mob in a church. The refugee was allowed 40 days of safety during which time he had to be fed and protected; meanwhile, the interlude afforded time for negotiations, clemency, confession or proof of innocence. If none of those things took place, the refugee left the church, forfeited his goods and went into exile—but stayed alive.
There have been other acts of sanctuary since then: French Huguenots were given refuge in England in 1681 in what may have been the first instance of a state offering sanctuary to another’s nationals. Today the concept of asylum has taken the place of the religious concept and been formalized between countries.
But in the United States the concept of sanctuary took different forms than in Europe—and for very different reasons.
The American context
From the day in 1620 that the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, the continent of America became a sanctuary for people fleeing religious persecution.
After the American revolution, President George Washington best expressed the American sense of tolerance and sanctuary in an August 17, 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, in which he said: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
The concept of sanctuary was deeply woven into the social fabric of the United States. It was next tested by the greatest moral challenge of the 19th century: slavery.
Beginning in the late 1700s anti-slavery activists using a variety of routes became known as the Underground Railroad, providing escaping slaves assistance and sanctuary on their way to ultimate sanctuary in non-slavery locations, chiefly Canada.
In the 1980s during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Cold War conflicts in Latin America led to a rise in political refugees fleeing to the United States from countries like Nicargua, where the US was supporting a “Contra” movement against the communist government and El Salvador where the US was advising a repressive government.
“Sanctuary widened from the idea of a church to sanctuary communities who confronted immigration policies and intolerance as manifested in immigration policies,” writes Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser in the 2017 paper The Sanctuary Movement: A Brief History. “These actions included legal help and provision of shelter in private homes and other settings. They provided shelter in churches and homes, and created a modern Underground Railroad for refugees.”
As with the Vietnam War sanctuary movement, periodically the federal government would crack down on the sanctuaries and their refugees. Federal authorities arrested refugees and the Immigration and Naturalization Service deported them.
In the 21st century the 2016 election of President Donald Trump gave rise to immediate fears of deportation of “Dreamers;” undocumented US residents who had come to the country as children and been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. During his campaign Trump said he would abolish DACA and deport the nearly 700,000 people, many of whom had known no other home.
Within days of Trump’s Nov. 3, 2016 election, his brutalist and threatening anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric led to a wave of “sanctuary campuses” at American colleges to protest his approach and provide refuge to migrants and Dreamers. From campuses the concept spread to cities.
The “sanctuary city” of the Trump era was one that refused to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. When a migrant was arrested, officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would issue a “detainer” requesting a 48 hour delay before the person was released so that his or her immigration status could be checked. If the detainee was found to be undocumented, the person would be subject to deportation. In “sanctuary cities,” officials refused to honor detainers.
Although there were no declared sanctuary cities in Florida, on June 14, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law outlawing sanctuary cities for migrants in the state.
Taking a leaf from the immigration sanctuary cities movement, conservative groups began using the “sanctuary” label for causes they regarded as threatened by the federal government.
To date, these causes have been protecting gun ownership, prohibiting abortion and nullifying federal laws.
“The push to impose ‘sanctuary’ and similar legislation is not the result of an organic, grassroots movement but rather a well-funded campaign marketed by the gun lobby and supported by antigovernment extremist groups such as Gun Owners of America, Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA),” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 six and seven-year old children, six adult staff and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. It was perhaps the most traumatic mass shooting in American history.
The shooting resulted in a wave of revulsion across the country and renewed calls for gun controls, some of which resulted in the passage of new laws governing gun ownership. This in turn led to a counter-effort.
On May 22, 2013, in response to the state of Maryland passing the Maryland State Firearms Act (MFSA) restricting the sale of different types of firearms, requiring their registration and limiting the size of magazines, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution calling the county a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”
The Carroll County resolution announced that the county would not “authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing any element of the MFSA that infringes on the right of people to keep and bear arms… .”
Since then, similar resolutions have been passed by states, counties and municipalities across the country. There was another wave of resolutions following the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre of Feb. 14, 2018. As of July 2021, about 1,200 local governments in 42 states had adopted such resolutions.
In Southwest Florida, Collier County passed a resolution declaring it would not “assist, support or condone” any infringement of the Second Amendment on Feb. 26, 2013 but did not use the word “sanctuary.” Lee County passed a resolution on March 25, 2013, DeSoto County declared itself a gun “haven” on Jan. 21, 2020, and Charlotte County declared itself a gun sanctuary county on May 11, 2021.
On June 22, 2019 anti-abortion activist and preacher Mark Lee Dickson convinced the town council of Waskom, Texas, population 2,189, to pass an ordinance creating a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”
Of these, 29 are in Texas, of which the largest is Lubbock, population 278,831; two are in Nebraska (tiny Hayes Center, population 288 and Blue Hill, population 941); and one is in Ohio (Lebanon, population 20,529). Eight Texas cities are counted as “denying” an ordinance and the movement calls the state capital of Austin a “city of death” for its adamant opposition. The movement is aiming at 39 potential new sanctuary cities in Texas and one in Florida—Naples.
The movement continues its efforts, proclaiming that it is “Protecting our cities by outlawing abortion, one city at a time.”
With the debate over pandemic masking and other health measures in 2020 and in the wake of President Donald Trump’s defeat and the failure of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, there was a new wave of “bill of rights sanctuary” efforts—essentially anti-federal sanctuaries—primarily in the southern United States.
These had their genesis in the gun sanctuary movement but went even further, back to the Posse Comitatus movement that began in the late 1960s. That movement held that local sheriffs were the highest ranking law enforcement officers in any county and no higher legal authority should be recognized. That, in turn, gave rise to a Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association founded in 2011 to get local sheriffs to uphold the Second Amendment by refusing to enforce any state or federal restrictions on gun ownership.
The premise of these ordinances is that the federal government, having fallen into hostile hands, is now going to try to violate rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights—mainly the Second Amendment. Under these ordinances, localities, primarily at the county level, refuse to cooperate with any federal actions they regard as unlawful.
Who would determine that the Bill of Rights was being violated, what exactly constitutes a violation and how it will be remedied is unclear.
By specifically calling on states and counties to “nullify” federal actions the movement harkens back to the pre-Civil War debate over “nullification,” when South Carolina politicians argued that they had the right to nullify federal laws with which they disagreed. In 1830 that idea was crushed by Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in the Senate (who concluded with the memorable line: “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and indivisible!”) and President Andrew Jackson, a southerner, who notably declared in a dinner toast: “Our federal union! It must be preserved!”
The current movement has a number of drivers. Organizations include Gun Owners of America, a non-profit lobby founded in 1976, which “sees firearms ownership as a freedom issue.” Another is Oath Keepers, the extremist organization of current and former military and law enforcement personnel whose members participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and are being prosecuted.
An activist and nullification evangelist based in northern Florida is KrisAnne Hall, who characterizes herself as a “constitutionalist.” She has associated with far right and white nationalist groups, providing legal justifications for extremist anti-government beliefs. In YouTube videos and speaking engagements Hall preaches a pre-Civil War interpretation of constitutional relations and actively promotes nullification.
Addressing people who would pass nullification ordinances, in an April 21, 2021 video Hall stated: “If [your] law does not state that ‘we will not enforce this law’ and ‘we will not allow the federal government to enforce these laws here;’ if your law does not contain that language, it is useless!” she argued.
“We’ve got states out there that are trying to walk the fence, trying to placate you with their ‘Second Amendment sanctuaries’ and they’re going to turn around and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to enforce these laws but the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] can come in and do it, the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] can come in and do it, DHS can come in and do it, whatever, the [Internal Revenue Service] can come in and do it. That’s not sanctuary, people, that’s setup. That’s enticement, that is entrapment, that is wrong.
“And so if your law does not include some kind of restriction and penalty for the federal government exercising those laws in your state, it is not a good law,” she insisted.
Hall came to Southwest Florida on April 24, 2021 to address the Republican Club of South Collier County, where she shared a stage with Dan Cook, a Naples-based far right activist, and Alfie Oakes, the grocer and owner of Seed to Table.
A nullification “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance was put on the agenda of the Collier County Commission on June 22. It is due to be considered next Tuesday, July 13.
Analysis: Insurrection by other means
The anti-federal, anti-abortion sanctuary movement has remained largely under the media radar, spreading in rural areas among small towns that rarely get national attention. To most Americans it no doubt seems fringe, odd and often absurd, so it has long been ignored.
But it bears attention because it is an effort to subvert and, indeed, overthrow the authority of the federal government and replace it with—what? Its advocates want to treat the nation’s laws, Constitution and Bill of Rights like a buffet whose offerings they can pick and choose or ignore if they wish. But law doesn’t work that way and the only alternative seems armed anarchy.
The anti-federal sanctuarists (and you read that word correctly, for the first time here) can make the argument that the left (or in the usual formulation, the radical Democratic left) started the sanctuary movement first.
They have a point. But there are important differences between what we’ll call “social” sanctuaries and “nullifying” sanctuaries.
In the American political definition, no matter who asserts it, “sanctuary” is an effort to carve out an exemption or exception from federal law—which should be uniformly applied and enforced across the country.
The social sanctuaries—the Underground Railroad, Vietnam resistance, Central American refuges, DACA and migrant sanctuaries—were all illegal and were acknowledged as such. They were acts of civil disobedience in which the participants were aware they were breaking the law and could face the penalties. They did it nonetheless because they felt they were serving a higher moral cause.
The nullifying sanctuaries—the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements—are attempts to cancel federal law, the Constitution and Bill of Rights through creation of what is essentially a counter-government where federal law does not apply.
When it comes to local governments the big difference between the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements and their gun sanctuary predecessor is that they are trying to impose ordinances on their jurisdictions—rules with the force of law and penalties for violations. Previously, towns and counties passed resolutions, which expressed an opinion or sentiment and did not carry penalties.
By denying the jurisdiction of federal law, the nullifying sanctuary movements are actually practicing insurrection by other means.
By passing these ordinances, states, counties and municipalities are starting down a slippery slope whose logical end is the creation of a separate polity subject to its own laws and sovereignty. This is also known as insurrection, rebellion or secession. The ordinances may pay lip service to the Bill of Rights but in fact they are rejecting the United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights, all the other amendments and protections of the rule of law.
Americans have fought and died to prevent that kind of insurrection. Just because this movement is legalistic and non-violent doesn’t make it any less dangerous to the cohesion and indivisibility of the United States.
The battlefield for America’s future has moved from the walls of the Capitol building to the small towns and rural counties of its heartland but the stakes are no less high.
America has been here before. It has faced and overcome rebellion, nullification, secession and most recently insurrection. It now needs to overcome the threats to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights cloaked in the language and the trappings of sanctuary. The choice is between constitutional democracy and anarchy.
Anyone looking for a sanctuary for freedom and the rights of the individual need look no further than the United States itself and its Constitution. It’s the greatest sanctuary in history.
Now it’s up to every truly patriotic American citizen to ensure that it remains that way.
The Collier County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.
A group agitating for the city of Naples, Fla., to declare itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn” could threaten the city’s tourism and hospitality-based economic recovery.
Naples experienced “an amazing April” in tourism recovery, Anne Wittine, the director of data analysis for Research Data Services, told Collier County’s Tourist Development Council on May 24, according to TheNaples Daily News. Visitors and spending in the city were up over 1,000 percent over the year before and room nights and hotel occupancy increased over 900 percent.
Clearly, Naples is roaring back from its pandemic shutdowns. But all that recovery is threatened if it becomes the focal point of an unneeded controversy centered around a fringe movement out of Texas, which is seeking to ban all abortions within the city limits.
The new sanctuary cities movement
The anti-abortion “sanctuary cities” movement is the brainchild of Mark Lee Dickson, an itinerant preacher and self-professed 35-year-old virgin from White Oak, a small town in east Texas that sits an hour’s drive from the Louisiana border.
Dickson began preaching against abortion outside a women’s clinic in Shreveport, La., in 2012 and made the anti-abortion cause his own. He traveled rural Texas towns to preach his message. In 2019 he broached the idea of a “sanctuary city for the unborn” in tiny Waskom, Texas, population 2,189. He told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that he wanted to forestall Waskom from having a clinic like nearby Shreveport’s across the state line.
“When I reached out to them it was all about protecting Waskom,” Dickson told The Guardian. “I didn’t have any other city in mind.”
The City Council of Waskom unanimously voted in a sanctuary city ordinance on June 11, 2019. The ordinance simply outlawed abortions within city limits.
From there, Dickson’s efforts led 23 other Texas towns and one town each in Nebraska and Ohio to pass anti-abortion ordinances.
The largest city to vote itself an anti-abortion sanctuary city is Lubbock, Texas, with a population of 278,831. Initially, the Lubbock City Council rejected the ordinance but it was then voted in by referendum on May 1.
It was immediately challenged in court by Planned Parenthood, which had opened a clinic there last year, and the American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional. On Tuesday, June 1, a federal judge ruled that he did not have jurisdiction in the case and dismissed it, pointing out that because it would be enforced by private citizens through lawsuits rather than state or local authorities, he could not limit the right of private citizens to sue.
It was the same day the ordinance took effect. While the sanctuary cities movement counted it as a victory, the Planned Parenthood clinic continues to operate.
“We will continue to stand up for [our patients] with all of our resources,” Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, told The Texas Tribune.
Naples, a city of roughly 22,000 and known as politically very conservative, is a test case for this movement in Florida.
Dickson visited the North Naples Seed to Table market owned by extreme conservative Alfie Oakes, to preach in July 2020.
“I did not draw Naples, Florida out of a hat,” Dickson told WINK News at the time. “The people of Naples, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people reach out to me and others saying they want their city to outlaw abortion. They don’t want babies to be murdered in the city.”
On March 15 at the Naples City Council regular meeting, William Oppenheimer, a local lawyer and head of the anti-abortion organization Act for Life, proposed putting an anti-abortion ordinance on the Council agenda. Councilmembers rejected it by a vote of 4 to 3, with Paul Perry, Mike McCabe, Ray Christman, and Gary Price opposed and Mayor Theresa Heitman, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchinson and Ted Blankenship voting in favor.
At an April 19 working session, Mark Lee Dickson came to Naples and organized a demonstration of about 25 people favoring the ordinance but did not make comments to the Council. Five people spoke against the ordinance during the public comment period.
At the Council’s April 21 regular meeting abortion opponents held a demonstration and some spoke to the Council during the public comments period. At that time Oppenheimer vowed in an interview with WINK-TV that demonstrators would be back to protest at every city council meeting.
Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party, told WINK News at the time: “I don’t believe that that is appropriate for a local municipality to be ruling on. I think it is government overreach at this level.”
Any sensible person with even a passing knowledge of basic American civics can see that the proposal for a local ordinance of this nature is unconstitutional on its face. At the federal level, the issue of women’s choice is working its way up to the Supreme Court in a number of cases and will be decided there. That decision will apply to the entire country.
On a state level, declaring Naples—or any other Florida city—a “sanctuary city” may well be illegal, running afoul of the state’s anti-sanctuary city law. While that law may have been driven by an enmity against immigrants, it nonetheless may have banned the entire concept of sanctuary cities when the legislature passed it and the governor signed it.
And beyond the argument whether women have a right to make their own decisions regarding their health, from a local, municipal standpoint, the City Council of Naples would be doing itself and the city a deep disservice if it even considers this proposed ordinance.
This is a solution that Naples simply doesn’t need in search of a problem it simply doesn’t have. It’s not as though Naples is a hotbed of the kind of women’s health services that the sanctuary city people are trying to outlaw, nor is it something that vast numbers of actual city residents are demanding. Instead, a small group is trying to impose its will for no other purpose than to prove a point and meet its larger goals.
For a city that is attempting to emerge from the economic damage of a pandemic, a drop in tourism and hospitality business and which may be facing the additional blow of a red tide summer, a completely unnecessary, divisive controversy is the last thing it needs. As a Florida test case the ordinance debate would focus unfavorable national attention on the town, hurting its reputation as a welcoming and open vacation spot for everyone around the world.
Given its unconstitutionality, even considering whether to consider the ordinance is already consuming too much time that is much better spent on more pressing needs. If such an ordinance were to pass, it would impose expenses in litigation on a city that needs every penny it can get to meet its existing municipal responsibilities and obligations.
And from a purely parochial standpoint, this seems like another outlandish Texas idea that some extremist Texans are trying to foist on the rest of the country—like seceding from the union or creating an independent power grid that can’t withstand a winter storm.
So if the towns of Texas want to go their own way in this matter, they can certainly try. But for a Florida city that’s finally open for tourism and has a more welcoming and cosmopolitan view of the world, adhering to the US Constitution and following plain common sense seems like a much better bet.
To reach the members of the Naples City Council, contact:
A conservative fundraising dinner in Naples, Florida featuring Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor pardoned by former president Donald Trump, is moving to a “secret location” after being booted from Shula’s Steakhouse in the Naples Hilton, according to its organizer.
The dinner, scheduled for March 10, was organized by Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional candidate, Proud Boys supporter and conservative activist.
The dinner, promoted as a “constitutional gala,” was intended to raise money for McLaughlin’s Constitutional warriors Political Action Committee. McLaughlin announced creation of a group with that name at the time of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. The Flynn dinner marks its public debut as a political action committee.
McLaughlin insisted that despite the cancelation of its original venue, the event would go forward.
“The radical left—Antifa, BLM [Black Lives Matter], who knows? —has come after us in the form of cancel culture yet again,” McLaughlin said in a 90-second Facebook video posted on Thursday, Feb. 4. “They’ve even gone so far as to attack the venue of our event, the location of our event, personally going after the manager of Shula’s, the restaurant that we were going to hold the event at. The radical left can try to prevent this event from happening all they want but I want to tell you one thing and I want to be very, very clear: cancel culture will not cancel this event.”
Because Shula’s had declined to provide the venue, McLaughlin said “we are now going to reassess the location and keep it a total secret.” Existing ticketholders could discover the location by getting in touch with her, she said, but “we are going to have it at a secret location where the radical left will not be able to protest or interfere with our meeting event with Gen. Michael Flynn.”
Also scheduled to speak was Kimberly Klacik, Republican candidate for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, who was defeated in the 2020 general election.
The Jan. 25 announcement of the dinner mobilized progressive activists in Naples to protest Flynn’s presence and contact Shula’s management, which responded.
On Dec. 3, 2020 McLaughlin organized a similar fundraising dinner for the Republican candidates in the Georgia Senate runoff elections at The Counter in the Mercato in Naples. Although John DiLemme, founder of the Conservative Business Journal, was the featured speaker, the group was addressed by Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys, a Trumpist, conservative group advocating violence and white supremacy that played a prominent role in the Capitol insurrection. Pre-event publicity for the gathering never mentioned that Tarrio or the Proud Boys would be present.
Although Flynn and Kacik were the featured speakers at the Shula’s event, McLaughlin stated that there would be “a few more special guests who might be attending as well. Any body want to guess who it is?”
Financial record of Trump campaign makes for questionable investment.
Oct. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg
In a last-ditch effort to sway voters in what has in the past been a reliably Republican area, the election campaign of President Donald Trump is deploying First Daughter Ivanka Trump to Southwest Florida to shore up support and raise money.
A “Make America Great Again” rally that is sure to be a COVID superspreader event has now been officially scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 1:00 pm at Top Rocker Field at Six Bends in Fort Myers.
Ivanka Trump is also reportedly going to speak at a private, invitation-only fundraising event in Naples, according to a number of local news outlets. The unconfirmed location is reported to be at the Old Collier Golf Club. The cost of attending is reportedly $15,000 per person and $100,000 per table. However, this event cannot be confirmed through official campaign websites or statements.
As exciting as having such a distinguished celebrity in Naples might be, those who are in the $15,000 per plate class might want to ask themselves before they fork over the cash: What am I donating to?
(And also: What can possibly be served for lunch that’s worth $15,000?)
From its outset the Trump campaign has been plagued by money woes. In a Sept. 7, 2020 New York Times article, “How Trump’s Billion-Dollar Campaign Lost Its Cash Advantage,” reporters Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman detailed a campaign of undisciplined spending that burned through hundreds of millions of dollars.
It also featured chaotic purchasing, erratic hiring and disorganized messaging all in the service of an unrestrained and volatile candidate.
Much of this can be laid at the feet of Brad Parscale, Trump’s initial campaign manager. It was Parscale who rode in a chauffeured car and flew on private planes, who decided to spend money on questionably effective advertising, including heavy investment in the Washington, DC media market primarily so that Trump could see his ads on local TV.
The article quotes Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who runs a small pro-Trump super political action committee, as saying: “If you spend $800 million and you’re 10 points behind, I think you’ve got to answer the question ‘What was the game plan?’” He accused Parscale of spending “like a drunken sailor,” and noted “I think a lot of money was spent when voters weren’t paying attention.”
Parscale has since been replaced by Bill Stepien, who has taken a lower profile and tightened spending. However, the campaign’s cash chaos has not ceased.
Another exposé of Trump campaign spending also appeared in September in The Atlantic, titled “Trump Is Running His Campaign Like He Ran His Businesses.” The article by David Graham noted, “The president is again profiting handsomely at the expense of those trusting enough to give him money.”
Graham wrote: “The Trump 2020 campaign seems to be running on the same principle as many of the president’s commercial endeavors: Trump gets richer, while other people’s money gets lit on fire. This was how some of the president’s real-estate ventures and casinos operated, and so it’s unsurprising that it’s how he’s chosen to run his campaign—and the country.”
Along those lines, in July the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to advance “democracy through law,” filed an 82-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the campaign violated campaign finance law by illegally spending $170 million in disguised spending by “laundering the funds” through a variety of companies.
Commentary: The Shark Tank for real
Making a donation to a political campaign is a lot like investing in a business. As a donor you’re essentially investing in an outcome. You may be driven by ideological urges rather than profit, but many of the principles of effective donating and investing are the same.
Any investor knows the drill for evaluating a business pitch (and the public can see a version of it on the TV program Shark Tank): You look at the company’s business plan, its leadership and products, past performance if the company’s established or the founders’ past record if it’s a startup. You check references and media coverage. You examine the market and the needs and you try to peer out to the future to determine its prospects. Then you go through the spreadsheets to find errors or erroneous assumptions. In the end you make a bet—or not.
If the Trump presidency and campaign was a business investment opportunity, what would a potential investor see?
The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is erratic, irascible, uncontrolled and uncontrollable but still overly controlling. He’s diseased and seemingly deranged. He’s been responsible for six previous bankruptcies and was cut off from established credit sources. He and his companies may be $1 billion in debt to unknown creditors. The company’s products are badly flawed and simply not working and demand for them has cratered. Its performance (the economy) has collapsed from bad management. An outside force (a pandemic) could have been mitigated or controlled early on but wasn’t because of poor assumptions and delusional reactions. The references are terrible, with former executives uniformly denouncing and exposing the CEO’s shortcomings and crimes. Other than the media controlled or co-opted by the CEO, coverage is uniformly and unrelentingly bad. The market is trending against the company with all market research indicating its competitor is going to dominate. The spreadsheets are unavailable or those provided are of very questionable reliability. The likely prospect is that a bankruptcy declaration will come Nov. 3.
This is the company that Ivanka Trump will be coming to Naples to sell on Wednesday.
People who can afford a $15,000 per plate meal did not qualify for sitting at that kind of table by being stupid.
Marchers in Saturday’s Women’s March fill Naples’ Fifth Avenue. (Photos: Author)
Jan. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg
Today, marchers in Naples and Fort Myers will commemorate the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This past Saturday, Jan. 18, activists marched in support of democratic values, liberal causes and to protest the Trump administration’s corruption and assault on women and their concerns.
Saturday’s Women’s March to Win in Naples and the march in Fort Myers were vigorous, enthusiastic and exuberant. The same spirit will likely pervade today’s marches.
But do such marches and demonstrations make a difference, especially in broadly conservative and predominantly Republican Southwest Florida?
The ultimate results won’t be known until the election in November. However, the robust turnouts for the women’s marches demonstrated that liberal political activism in Southwest Florida is alive, well and energetic—and poised to make a difference in both election results and people’s attitudes.
Organizers of the Naples march, formally titled Women March to Win, included Collier Freedom, the Collier County Democratic Party and its Environmental Caucus, SWFL Justice for All, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Collier Students for Change. The Fort Myers march was hosted by the Alliance and Women’s March Fort Myers, a 501c3 non-profit organization.
The Naples March was significant in that it was the first time since the marches began in 2017 that organizers received a permit to use the street rather than just the sidewalks. Marchers started and ended in Cambier Park.
Both local marches were part of demonstrations that took place around the country.
The historical context
Women’s March participants take the stage at Cambier Park to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage.
Marches and parades probably began when humans started walking upright. They’ve always been expressions of enthusiasm and triumph but in the current context they’re also important for marking critical historic occasions.
This year’s Women’s Marches commemorated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and in a more recent context, the outpouring of protest in 2017 against President Donald Trump’s racism, bigotry and misogyny.
The MLK parades celebrate MLK’s commitment to non-violence, peaceful resistance and his efforts to achieve equality, fairness and justice.
So such parades and demonstrations serve the purpose of passing on a legacy to the next generation, honoring the struggles that have gone before and remembering the values that powered the movements.
A show of strength
Some of the groups hosting the Women’s March in Naples.
Turnout at demonstrations is always a measure of the strength of a movement and the broadness of its appeal.
In 2017, an estimated half million people turned out in Washington, DC for the first Women’s March, vastly eclipsing Trump’s paltry inauguration crowds. In Naples, 2017 turnout was unexpectedly large, with several thousand people filling Cambier Park and surrounding streets. It was especially surprising in light of Naples’ seeming somnolence, its apparent conservatism and its reputed indifference to politics. Organizers had expected a crowd of around 500 people; ultimate participation was orders of magnitude larger.
This year, an estimated 3.000 people participated in Naples based on a count of wrist bands provided by March organizers in an effort to get an accurate tally. The count may actually be higher, according to Cynthia Morino-Clark, a March organizer, since not all volunteers attending the march received wristbands. In Fort Myers, WINK News estimated that over 2,000 people marched from the Alliance for the Arts to Centennial Park.
Turnout should be good in this year’s more traditional, more officially organized MLK parades.
In addition to their other purposes, demonstrations of this type also forge solidarity among demonstrators. Particularly in Southwest Florida where liberal activists may often feel that they’re struggling in isolation, demonstrations are an expression of common purpose and wider support.
Democratic congressional candidate David Holden and supporters.
Parades, marches and demonstrations are always an opportunity for electoral candidates to show support for the cause and greet people.
Democratic candidates for office appeared at both Women’s Marches this year: congressional candidates David Holden in Naples and Cindy Banyai in Fort Myers; Sara McFadden and Maureen Porras for state legislature in Naples and John Jenkins, a candidate for Collier County Commission.
Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai (center) and supporters demonstrate in the Fort Myers Women’s March. (Photo: Cindy Banyai campaign)
Voter turnout was a major theme of the Women’s Marches, which featured exhortations to vote and voter registration opportunities during the rallies.
Conversely, the Women’s Marches were also an opportunity to protest against Trump administration policies and prejudice.
That sentiment wasn’t universally shared. A Trump provocateur inserted himself at the head of the Naples parade, although he was later separated by police from the main body of the march. He then posted himself outside Cambier Park. He has appeared to disrupt other events in the past, like gatherings of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors. Asked his name, he replied “Donald Trump Jr.”
Spreading the word
Spectators at the Naples Women’s March show their support.
Demonstrations, marches and parades help spread a message. Though spectators were sparse at the Women’s March in Naples, the march did elicit spontaneous support from observers.
Coverage of the march by local traditional media was erratic. WINK-TV reported both marches with extended coverage. The Naples Daily News covered it with photos on page three the following day. NBC-2 television news did not mention a single word about the march in its 6:00 pm broadcast that night and only posted a short story prior to the march on its website.
The MLK Parade, since it is scheduled annually and is a more formally organized event, should receive at least some coverage in all Southwest Florida’s media outlets.
The usefulness of events
A very determined marcher.
The United States Constitution guarantees its citizens the right to peacefully assemble and petition government for a redress of grievances. As long as those rights remain inviolate, demonstrations, marches and protests will occur.
Demonstrations can make a difference—and in a place like Southwest Florida, where a single party dominates all government, they are particularly important as an expression of popular sentiment and peaceful dissent.
Organizers of tomorrow’s Women March to Win in Naples, Fla., have received a permit to march down Fifth Avenue, Naples’ main street, in contrast to past marches, according to an organizer of the event.
In past years, marchers have gathered at Broad and Third streets in Naples and were only permitted to march on the sidewalk to reach Cambier Park.
This year the march will be shorter in distance, beginning and ending in Cambier Park. Participants will gather at 9:00 am in the park and step off at 10:00 am. Following the march, speakers will address the crowd in Cambier until 2:00 pm.
In Fort Myers, marchers will gather at The Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd, at 10:00 am and rally until 1:00 pm.
Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe exhorts Collier County Democrats to get out the vote during a visit to Naples on Oct. 25, 2018. (Photo by the author)
March 14, 2019 by David Silverberg
It seems like a stampede, an avalanche, a tsunami; Trevor Noah calls it “World War D”—it’s the constantly growing number of Democratic candidates who believe they can beat Donald Trump and become the next president of the United States.
As of this writing, 16 Democrats have formally announced their candidacy but as many as 30 or more may enter the race or are potential candidates.
This Sunday, March 17, will mark one year until Florida’s Democratic primary, when Southwest Florida Democrats will be able to make their preferred candidate known.
Of the vast array of candidates—and under normal circumstances this number qualifies as “vast”—one declared candidate and two potential candidates have some connection, however tenuous, to Southwest Florida.
Familiarity can be an important thing, especially if the candidate wins. Just knowing that the Paradise Coast is here and that it has special needs, particularly of an environmental nature, can be an important asset to a region, whether during the campaign or when the party platform is formulated. And if a candidate with that familiarity becomes president, the rewards can be substantial.
Possible candidate Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden is not an announced candidate—yet. He keeps teasing at a run and he rates high in the polls at the moment.
Biden’s connection to Southwest Florida is through his brother, James Biden Jr., who bought a vacation home on Keewaydin Island for $2.5 million in 2013. He then sold it for $1.35 million in February 2018.
Joe Biden spent Christmas 2013 on Keewaydin with the family. But that’s as far as his connection goes. He never mingled with the locals or got involved in state or local politics. Indeed, when he was down here he seems never to have left the island for the mainland. But at least he knows there’s a Southwest Florida and that it has nice beaches.
Possible candidate Terry McAuliffe
A former governor of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, visited Naples on Oct. 25 of last year to boost Democratic candidates and make connections to the Collier County Democratic Party.
McAuliffe is a longtime Democratic activist. He was co-chair of President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign in 1996 and subsequently chaired Clinton’s inauguration. He chaired the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and then chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
He was defeated in his first run for Virginia governor in 2009 but tried again in 2013 and won election. He served as governor from 2014 to 2018 where he attempted healthcare reform and Medicaid expansion (blocked by a Republican legislature), restored voting rights to felons, boosted the economy and ended veteran homelessness. He was elected chair of the National Governors Association in 2016.
As of this writing, McAuliffe has not yet announced his intentions for 2020 but his candidacy remains a possibility. However, he has gotten little to no media attention and despite his record he remains relatively unknown to the public and Democratic voters.
Candidate Elizabeth Warren
Firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced her candidacy on Feb. 9 of this year, but she was laying the groundwork much earlier. During the 2018 congressional campaign Warren oversaw an energetic outreach effort to local campaigns.
In Southwest Florida, Warren endorsed Democratic congressional candidate David Holden in his run for the 19th Congressional District stretching along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island.
While exciting to Holden’s campaign workers, Warren’s endorsement was made only days before her Oct. 15 announcement that DNA testing showed her with Native American ancestry. The announcement backfired. She was mocked by Trump and widely condemned, including by the Cherokee Nation. Fearing that the Warren endorsement would prove more of a liability than an asset, the Holden campaign did not extensively publicize it.
Nonetheless, Warren’s involvement in the local congressional campaign provided her with at least a passing familiarity with Southwest Florida and a few contacts.
How Southwest Florida is likely to vote
Will Southwest Florida Democrats favor these candidates or others when the primary arrives next year?
Ironically, a good indicator of local sentiment can be seen in the results of the Democratic gubernatorial primary last year.
While Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the surprise winner of the Democratic nod for governor statewide, he didn’t play well in Lee and Collier counties.
In Lee County it was former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine who led the pack with 39 percent of the Democratic vote, followed by former Representative Gwen Graham with 25 percent. Gillum came in third, with only 21 percent.
Collier County posted nearly identical results, with Levine leading (35 percent), followed by Graham (30 percent) and only then Gillum (19 percent).
Even allowing for differences in personality and race, the results indicate that Southwest Florida Democrats tend to be temperamentally conservative. That is likely to prove the case when the presidential primary comes around. So expect the most conservative Democratic candidates to get Southwest Florida voters’ ballots in 2020.
Some good campaigning might change that equation but the presidential candidates have barely made a dent so far in Florida, according to the Politico article, “For Democrats, 2020 race for Florida cash and talent is ‘wide open,’” by Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout. They write that only Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have active finance operations in Florida.
Yet all of this may not be terribly significant given the lateness of Florida’s primary on the electoral calendar.
Late to the game
For a populous state that can hold the key to a presidential election, Florida is a latecomer to the presidential primary game.
The first Democratic caucus will take place on Feb. 3, in Iowa. The first primary will be in New Hampshire on Feb. 11. After that will come a caucus in Nevada on Feb. 22 and a primary in South Carolina on Feb. 29.
The first Super Tuesday arrives on March 3 when Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia hold primaries.
At this point the number of potential nominees should be considerably narrowed down—but even then Florida doesn’t get a say.
No, the Florida primary comes after Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio also hold their primaries.
On March 17, Florida will finally weigh in on the same day as Arizona and Illinois. (Colorado has yet to determine its primary date.)
Is it possible that a contest could be so close by the time of the Florida primary that the Sunshine State could play kingmaker—and that the Paradise Coast could cast the deciding ballot? Yes, but it’s doubtful.
So if any Democrat in Southwest Florida is confused or alarmed by the huge number of Democrats who have declared their candidacies right now, have no fear: by the time you vote you may have only one or two choices and the nominee may already be known.
Let’s hope it’s someone who knows that there’s a Southwest Florida.
Changing the calendar
Iowa and New Hampshire lead the Democratic caucus and primary and calendar and get a disproportionate say in the selection process. Critics have pointed out that these two rural, white states hardly reflect the nation as a whole or the Democratic Party in particular. Indeed, Florida, a must-win state in the general election, will have barely any input in the nomination process given its place in the calendar.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, women sent a strong message at the Women Leading the Way March in Naples’ Cambier Park, organized by Collier Freedom.
While controversy around the national Women’s March may have impacted turnout, which was less than in previous years, the spirit and enthusiasm was obvious—and the message was unmistakable.
Longtime resident 93-year-old Myra Daniels, as well as 16-year-old youth activist Anna Barry, declared the need for women to continue breaking gender barriers. Mirlande Desir, of the Naples Haitian community, called for comprehensive immigration reform and protection for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) recipients. Pam Keith, the first African America female to run for U.S. Senate from Florida, encouraged engagement with fellow citizens, even Trump supporters, about issues such as Medicare, Social Security, and healthcare.
Pink T-shirts of Planned Parenthood supporters dotted the crowd, as well as red T-shirts from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Susan Cone, president of the local Moms Demand Action chapter, reminded everyone that gun violence is a non-partisan issue. Public pressure after the Parkland shooting caused Florida to pass small, but meaningful landmark gun safety legislation in 2018.
Annisa Karim, Collier County Democratic Chair, voiced the need for better representation and engagement with local government. David Holden, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, encouraged male allies to listen and avoid mansplaining—drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Penny Taylor, Collier County commissioner, gave a history of females in government in Collier County.
Several speakers (including myself) called for attendees to get involved and elect more women at all levels of government. We also celebrated a record 118 females elected to the US Congress in 2018, including people of color, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQ community.
The US Coast Guard Auxiliary facility at the Cocohatchee River Marina in North Naples, Fla., seen from the water. (Photo: USCG Auxiliary)
Today is the 28th day of the Trump government shutdown.
Jan. 18, 2019, by David Silverberg
The Trump government shutdown has hit Southwest Florida’s US Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 96, based on the Cocohatchee River and Wiggins Pass in North Naples.
The Auxiliary is a volunteer arm of the Coast Guard that assists it in meeting its many missions. Typical Auxiliary activities include boating safety training, patrolling, classroom instruction, community outreach and search and rescue. Nationally, it has 26,000 members who serve in 835 local units.
In the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, all Auxiliary activities were suspended and members were not allowed to take any actions that required members to leave home or expend any Coast Guard funds, according to Hatchcover, the official publication of Flotilla 96.
Normal Auxiliary activities like vessel examinations, partner visitations, safe boating classes and community relations appearances were put on hold.
However, on Jan. 11 Vice Admiral Daniel Abel, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations, authorized Auxiliary volunteer activities such as meetings at the flotilla, district or division levels, recreational boating safety outreach, and public education, to “proceed in accordance with the Auxiliary Manual as long as there is no obligation of Coast Guard funds.”
As a result, Auxiliary members are working to make up for lost time and preparing for full operations once the shutdown ends and meetings and classes can resume, according to George Lehner, the Flotilla’s public affairs officer.
“Unfortunately, discretionary operational activities are not yet permitted, as they require funding from the Coast Guard,” Commander John Tyson, the flotilla staff officer for operations, told members on Jan. 13. “It looks like we will be off the water (unless the Station [at Fort Myers Beach] calls us out) until a continuing resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security has been approved.”