The First Amendment to the United States Constitution contains what our founders believed to be our most important personal freedoms. There are five, among them freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble — which makes the Salida student-led protest a week ago Friday afternoon in support of “Black Lives Matter” a constitutionally-protected activity. Which makes what happened next all the more concerning.
The students followed a familiar path down F Street from around Alpine Park, down to East Sackett Avenue by Riverside Park and back up F Street. Nothing unusual there: over the years many student protests and celebrations have followed this path. What was unusual on Sept. 18 was the harassment of those students by a group of adults identified as members of the newly-formed Chaffee Patriot group, including Trump rally supporters in trucks and on foot.
The students, together with a few of their parent chaperones, and a local pastor had passed by Alpine Park where dozens of community leaders were gathered for what has become a rare Salida Chamber event during the pandemic. Shortly after, some large (and noisy) trucks flying Trump banners began to circle the park. While annoyingly loud, this certainly is not without precedent. When the trucks disappeared for several minutes, then reappeared multiple times, none of the Alpine Park event attendees knew where they had gone.
Ahead of the student event Ark Valley Voice has learned that the Chair of the Chaffee County Republicans, Dave Williams, placed a visual of the Salida student protest poster on the Chaffee Patriots page, questioning whether any taxpayer money was going to the protest and suggesting that members address the protest. “On the thread, all these people said thing like ‘I’m calling the school, and all these teachers are indoctrinating our children,” said a source familiar with the site. “Dave [Williams] was egging people on.”
Ark Valley Voice has obtained reliable confirmation of what happened next. The harassers, including one person identifying themselves as a pastor, approached the children, photographing them and calling them names. Other adults, not just the chaperones of the students, told those harassing the students to back off.
According to witnesses, before the children had arrived at F Street and Sackett Avenue, a Salida Police car positioned itself on the east side of the bridge by the caboose, watching what was happening. At one point, as the exchanges became more pointed, several witnesses to the event placed themselves between the students and those harassing them. At that point, say two sources, a Salida police car drove between the two groups.
One parent chaperone of the students described the situation further down F St. this way:
“The [Chaffee] patriots were waiting on the corner of Sackett and F Street at Alpine Park for the students to show up. I was in the back holding up the line with a few other adults that were there to make sure the students were safe. I’m not sure if the patriots said anything to the students, but you could tell things got tense when they had to walk by them.
When they continued back up F Street after holding their signs in the park for a while there was a brief confrontation between a patriot who said he was a local pastor, and one of the adults in the march. He was filming and taking photos of the students. One of the adults with the students cornered him and told him to delete them off his phone or she was going to get parents involved. She said she was also a local pastor and “this is no way for a pastor to be behaving.”
The patriot went on to spout a bunch of nonsense that ‘BLM is racist when you add a color to the phrase All lives matter and the students were being indoctrinated by ‘Marxists.’ He spouted off some other stupid stuff and then another woman there to protect the kids walked up and loudly said “no, you’re done. walk away. you’re done talking.”
This interaction happened in the middle of Sackett in front of the Vic, and a cop drove through the arguing group to break it up. The man turned around and went back to the corner.
The students then continued back up F Street and stood on the 4 corners of F and 1st for over an hour, and received lots of honks in support.
About halfway through the students standing on the four corners, I saw [Dept. Sheriff] Jesse Cortese pull up on his motorcycle and park in the small area across from the Monarch Ski ticket office. He was in plain clothes. He walked up the sidewalk and stood against a wall for a very long time, just watching the students. I thought this was strange behavior for an off-duty deputy.”
Here another witnesses’ account takes over:
“The students reached the park and stood in the park by the bridge, for about 30 minutes and held their signs. The adults were yelling some things to the kids I won’t repeat. I and my friends formed a line between the kids and the Chaffee Patriot adults to protect the students. I didn’t know the students or parents; I just thought — who does this to kids? What about constitutional rights?
There were these guys driving around with their trucks flying flags and these older people, some in their sixties — who were harassing the kids; maybe 10-15 of them. One was an older man who said he was a pastor and he was calling the kids names. We heard a woman with the kids said she is a pastor too and the two pastors got into a confrontation. The older man pastor started taking pictures of the kids and we asked him to stop. When he didn’t I went over and said ‘you’re done. You need to leave these kids alone.’ Those kids faced them down — those kids were so brave. ”
Asked to comment on the incident, Chaffee Sheriff John Spezze said it was a city issue. City of Salida Police Chief Russ Johnson did not respond to Ark Valley Voice, but City Administrator Drew Nelson said that his officers had received no reports of any sort of confrontation, that nothing had happened, and that the city had no further comment.
Asked about the Salida police presence, a witness said, ” That’s a lie that nothing happened and no police were there. That’s not true. I don’t know who they were there for, but I do know that right on the Chaffee Patriots site they said they notified law enforcement. They are living in this world where they believe BLM and Antifa are going to come and burn down BV and Salida…that’s why they notified the police. It’s ridiculous.”
The county commissioners weighed in, with Commissioner Rusty Granzella saying he had no comment on the incident because he wasn’t there.
“The First Amendment is about protecting people’s rights to free speech and being able to express themselves, so it’s inappropriate to interfere with somebody trying to do that,” said Chaffee Commissioner Greg Felt. “If you have a message you want to share that contrasts with the message somebody else is sharing, create time and space for yourself to do that. But you don’t interfere or obstruct them from sharing their message.”
“Regarding the harassment of people, regardless of their age, peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights, no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on — there are certain social contracts that we have to conduct political discourse in this country. When those norms are broken down, when someone behaves inappropriately in public, then society starts breaking down,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “People [here] all seem to say they want to maintain our sense of community and our sense of civil society. I’ve said several times, one of our major jobs [as commissioners] is to instill citizen confidence in local government. We can’t control what is happening in the nation, but we can do what we can at the local level to instill confidence in local government.”
First Amendment protections
The fact that the harassment was directed at students is disturbing. The students were within their First Amendment rights, and adults harassing kids would appear to be — well — not adult. The Chaffee Patriots should be aware that there is a caveat to free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment. It specifically excludes two things: hate speech and threat speech.
I went to the Trump party at the corner of the highway and Main Street in BV this weekend. I was primarily interested in taking pictures of anyone carrying a weapon, because it seems prudent to have a record of the people who are so broken that that they think they need to bring a gun to a street rally in BV.
While I was there, I was also able to ask several Trump supporters what they thought about this event in Salida with the school kids. The most common replies were that it never happened, there was no confrontation, or that the AVV is a liberal rag because it dares to report on things that reflect poorly on Trump supporters.
Further discussion revealed that most of the people with strong opinions hadn’t even read the article, which, coming from Trump supporters, does not surprise me at all. One woman, who claimed to be the organizer of the event, lied to my face about how the pathetic counter-protest came to be, which, again, does not surprise me. Some of these Trump folks live on a diet of lies and are probably deathly allergic to actual facts. Even so, it is still sad to see how easily some of these Trump supporters slip into the same habit of lying that their god emperor has made his way of life.
All of that is beside the point. The real point is that the fact that the CCP felt the need to show up at all, regardless of what happened later, just shows you how small, insecure, and petty these Trump people can be. They could have just let those kids have their empty and ultimately meaningless parade, and that would have been the end of it. It would be completely forgotten about at this point. Instead, we are still talking about it. Great move there, CCP people. I’m sure it really helped your brand.
Somehow, these badass Patriot heroes felt threatened by some kids walking around a park. The fact that the CCP showed up at all says a lot about how scared these people are of any opinion that doesn’t echo their own paranoid thoughts. The fact that they thought it was ok to bother school kids for expressing an opinion says all you need to know about these so-called patriots, who I’ll just call bullies.
Finally, it is only fair for me to say that I had a good time at the Trump Street Party, and that most everyone was very pleasant, even if most of them couldn’t make a point to save their lives. I got into a couple discussions that weren’t exactly friendly, but I still had a good time and never felt threatened, even when some Beergut Chickenlegs dude wearing a pistol got in my face like I was supposed to be afraid of him. The highlight of my day was laughing in his face about how mad he was. Beergut Chickenlegs, whoever you are, I thank you for the laugh.
Wow, that is a lot of false allegations and misleading information wrapped up in an opinion, wouldn’t it be easier to just say I Hate Trump and I Hate Trump Supporters!
You know Dennis, every time you don’t like the facts reported — not as opinion but as news coverage — you claim AVV hates Trump. Hate has nothing to do with news coverage. Covering what happened, who it happened to when it happened, where it happened — and why it appears to have happened — that is news, not opinion.
This witness-based article covered a student-led protest in support of a social justice issue. The protest itself had nothing to do with Trump. It was the group calling itself ‘Chaffee Patriots’ who decided to mix their own personal bias into a situation in which high school students chose to exercise their First Amendment rights to assemble and their First Amendment right to free speech. They weren’t in your face — why are you in theirs?
Let me provide an example of witness-based reporting. Say a driver leaves a car on an incline without the parking brake on, and it rolls downhill and hits another car. The driver happens to be a supporter of Bernie Saunders. At least two people who don’t know each other witness it happening. They proceed to tell what they saw. Both recount basically the same facts of what occurs.
But authorities decide to discount their accounts of what happened because someone says that at least one of them hates Bernie Saunders and therefore, they must have something against the man who left his parking brake off. Really?
You see how irrational your argument becomes?
Jan, I do like facts, but facts have names – what were the names of the patriots and witnesses. Without facts it’s just an opinion!
Anonymous sources are credible witnesses and protecting those sources is a standard journalistic practice Dennis. You and I both know the Chaffee Patriot group would never give out their names anyway (they didn’t when asked at their rally in BV on Labor Day weekend), and releasing the names of the witnesses would only get them bullied the way the students were bullied.
It occurs to me that Chaffee County Patriots are continuing the county’s dark history of Klu Klux Klan with its racism, white supremacy and threats of violence. What I find so disturbing is government officials’ reluctance to take a stand and law officers complicit involvement.
Jan and Ark Valley staff, keep up the incredible work you are doing in informing your readers. Mountain Mail, why aren’t you covering this? Time for state and national media to take notice?
I find this hard to believe. Someone must have videos to prove all this, right? That said, the reports were it was HIGH SCHOOL students who were supposed to be marching. These are grade school students, so obviously they have been indoctrinated. Why not have a march of students carrying American flags? I don’t expect this will be published, as it doesn’t fit your narrative, so I’ll publish it on CC Patriots, of which I am one.
Ester, If you read the caption of the photo, you would know that this photo is clearly identified as taken in 2018 — an example of the many student-led protest marches which have occurred on F St., which is referenced in this news story. So do not spread a false narrative, please.
No one is indoctrinated anyone Maam — except possibly, you. It surely appears that the Chaffee Patriots, gathering on street corners in Buena Vista on Saturdays recentyl, are being allowed to exercise their First Amendment right to assemble. So tell us why supporting students to exercise their constitutional rights of freedom of assembly isn’t just as much a right for them?
It sounds like both sides of this encounter were captured on video. Is that video available anywhere, so that we can see for ourselves what happened?
Anyone who was there and recorded video should upload that video to youtube and share the link here.
Really? Well, that would surely be interesting.