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Political turf war erupts at Gazebo – which is the Trump side of the street?



The gang “Rumble” scene from the 1957 ‘West Side Story’ Broadway play. The play and 1961 movie were musical updates of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ theme of ill-fated love among rival families. – Public Domain Photo found on Wikipedia, by Fred Fehl originally published with no copyright notice

It was kind of like a gang turf war scene from “West Side Story” where the white Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks battle over New York City playground b-ball court space – except Front Royal’s crack law enforcement apparatus intervened before blood was shed at the Front Royal Town Gazebo late Wednesday afternoon, July 25.

Of course unlike the movie, there NEVER was any threat of blood being shed here – other than maybe this reporter’s for playfully making the gang turf war analogy in the first place.  But hey, if you can’t laugh about the disparate realities of pro and anti-Trump contingents occupying the same planet but news sources in galaxies far, far apart, what can you laugh about these days (even with the political fate of the Republic at stake)?

At issue Wednesday, July 25, was the space in and around the Town Gazebo at 5 p.m.  Since March 8, 2017, local activist Len Sherp has gathered at the gazebo with supporters of his Vigil for Democracy to protest Trump and his Administration policies and practices.

As Sherp told Royal Examiner 16 months ago, the impetus for the vigils is his concern that the then newly-elected president, his administration, Congressional and appointed-judicial majorities were threatening to undermine ideals upon which the American Republic was founded, and upon which it has evolved over two-plus centuries.

Len Sherp with Kathleen Roush and Hannah Bement at the inaugural Vigil for Democracy on March 8, 2017 – affordable health care and Trump tax returns were among expressed concerns – it seems some things haven’t changed. Photos/Roger Bianchini

“The government still works for us – “of the people, for the people” – and just because one party has achieved a majority doesn’t mean they shouldn’t show the same reverence for the democratic principals and values of honesty, openness and fairness which have made us a beacon for two centuries,” Sherp told Royal Examiner at the outset of his weekly political vigils.

Within a month a small pro-Trump counter-demonstration appeared across Chester Street in the person of Front Royal Pawn Shop owner Ralph Waller and nephew Michael, who sat quietly on a bench under the town clock with a Trump-Pence campaign sign in front to their pawn shop. Waller told us then that his counter-demonstration was driven by not only his support of the president, but also a feeling that anti-Trump themes of the vigil signage were “divisive”.

Ralph and Michael Waller, seated, joined by early supporter John Lambert on the Trump side of street.

Told the demonstrators across the street were concerned that it was the president himself who was encouraging divisiveness with his political rhetoric, as Royal Examiner reported at the time eventually a friendly dialogue between the Wallers and vigil participants began seeking common ground.  A mutual concern for preservation of the environment became that initial common ground.  Over the past year that dialogue has had its up and downs, but the fact it has ups is a hopeful sign in an increasingly divisive American political landscape.

Mutual concerns about the environment created dialogue across political lines and Chester Street – Ralph Waller, left, talks with Michelle House and Bob Hill as Rusty the dog and Charles House observe on May 3, 2017.

Gradually over the spring and summer months of 2017 other Trump supporters joined the Wallers on the public right of way in front of the pawn shop.  Judging from their rosary praying, pro-life signage and images of Mary, the mother of Jesus, those newer Trump supporters were largely from the conservative Catholic community.

And since late April-May 2017 the opposing sides have sparred with their political signage and sometimes voices across the Chester Street political divide.

On May 24, 2017 the Wallers were joined by a faith-based contingent of Trump supporters.

A new wrinkle

With the crucial 2018 mid-term Congressional elections about three-and-a-half months away, on July 18, 2018 a new player joined the scene, the Warren County Republican Committee.  While individual committee members may join the Waller-led pro-Trump contingent from time to time, to our knowledge the Republican Committee had never previously engaged under its party banner.

According to participants on both sides that initial, July 18, county Republican Committee presence appeared on the Waller pawn shop side of Chester Street.

However, according to an e-mail circulated Wednesday morning, July 25 by Warren County Republican Committee Chairman Steve Kurtz the committee was promoting a second weekly Republican candidates and Donald Trump Rally “at the Front Royal Gazebo.”  The scheduled time listed in Kurtz’s e-mail subject field was 4:30 p.m., a half hour prior to the scheduled start of the town-permitted Vigil for Democracy.

At 4:30 p.m. the only demonstration at the Gazebo appeared to be in support of C&C Frozen Treats, from which ice cream was being eaten under the protective roof of the gazebo.

However, at 4: 30 p.m. there were no Republicans on hand at the gazebo, only two teenage girls eating their ice cream from C&C Frozen Treats under the shelter provided by the gazebo from the sporadic rains of the day.  At 4:40 p.m. this reporter left the rainy, ice-cream-eating demonstration.

But when he returned at 5:05 p.m. it was a different story.  Anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy organizer Len Sherp and eight supporters were gathered near the gazebo IN the rain, while Kurtz and four Republican companions had the high ground of the gazebo OUT of the now light rain.

However, shortly after 5 p.m. the Republicans had the high ground of the gazebo while the Vigil for Democracy was out in the rain.

Following a phone call from the Vigil side of the street, first FRPD Officer Dave Fogle and then Captain Jason Ryman joined the scene.  A few conversations later the result was that the Republicans began un-taping their Trump-Pence, Corey Stewart and Ben Cline campaign signs from the gazebo posts, descended the steps and crossed Chester Street to what over the past 16 months has become the traditional and permitted Wednesday afternoon pro-Trump side of the street.

After a brief conversation with FRPD’s Dave Fogle and Jason Ryman, Steve Kurtz and his friends began the move out of the gazebo and to the traditional Trump side of the street.

However, neither the Wallers nor the conservative Catholics were present to greet the reinforcements.  The Wallers are reportedly on a fishing vacation, possibly in the wilds of Canada if I correctly recall stories of their past summer fishing ventures. – HEY Ralph, that’s not illegal immigration or a trade-war foray against the Canadian fishing industry, is it?

After Officer Fogle crossed Chester Street to talk with the relocated Republicans and Ryman spoke briefly with Sherp and his group, we queried the FRPD captain on exactly what had transpired.  Or to paraphrase Sgt. Joe Friday from the early police drama “Dragnet” of this reporter’s youth – “Just the facts, Captain Ryman, just the facts.”

Facts one and two are that the Vigil for Democracy has been permitted by the town government to gather for an hour at a specified time weekly “in the gazebo area” which according to Ryman includes the gazebo itself; and that permitted or not permitted you are not allowed to adhere signs to public property like the gazebo support posts.

As FRPD Captain Jason Ryman watches, Vigil organizer Len Sherp may be gesturing that the normal order of the universe, at least one small portion of it along Chester Street, has been restored.

So it appears that our defacto “Sharks” (self-described “Vigilites” here, Puerto Ricans in the movie) won this round of our own “West Side Story” turf war saga, while the “Jets” (conservative whites both here and in the movie) were banished out of the playground, I mean to the other side of Chester Street where as noted above, they are permitted to be.

And that order has the weekly pro-Trump support on the west side of Chester St. and the anti-Trump contingent on the east side.

I don’t know – is there anything to make out of the fact that in this instance the rule of law sided with those locals concerned that President Trump and the sitting Republican Congressional majority are engaged in a systematic assault on the rule of law regarding a Trump Justice Department-commissioned and lifelong Republican-administered investigation into the past and current behavior of a sitting president?

Or that the rule of law came down against a local political committee whose chairman wrote in soliciting participants for the July 25 Republican candidate and pro-Trump rally that it would be “countering the Un-American DemocRATic Anti Trump Protest”?

Nah, probably just a meaningless coincidence … But don’t forget, in “West Side Story” the Jets and Sharks kept revisiting their playground turf war – stay tuned for updates as the mid-terms 2018 approach. See Related Story

A Vigil for Democracy sign citing patriotism as support of ‘America, not a fake president’ appears to have made its way toward the Republican Committee high ground earlier in the political turf war of July 25.

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