COTUIT — On Saturday afternoon Jade Kelley stood on a quiet street in the town where he grew up, holding a large sign that read “Make Fascists Afraid Again” and wearing a shirt featuring former president Donald Trump doing something not printable here. He had expected that would make him look more out of place.
“I thought it’d just be my and my truck, alone with this sign, protesting in front of this driveway,” Kelley said.
But thanks to a TikTok video he posted Wednesday that gained over 200,000 views, around 100 people followed his lead, and Kelley became just another face in a large crowd on Putnam Avenue on Saturday.
From right next door and from around the state, they all showed up because Republican Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis stopped there for a fundraiser Saturday afternoon. DeSantis, whose campaign has hit a pothole this week, made it his first stop in the state, and protesters were determined to show their disapproval of his presence on the Cape.
“How incredibly egregious that he would even come here after what happened,” Kelly said.
Last September, DeSantis chartered a flight containing 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, in a political move that local politicians denounced at the time and that he has recently repeated with Sacramento. On Friday, Cape and Islands District Attorney Rob Galibois said he would investigate the move and joined others in calling on the Department of Justice to do the same.
Impromptu demonstration criticizes myriad DeSantis policies
Around 1:30 p.m., after assailing every car pulling into the driveway with boos and some middle fingers for a half hour, the crowd moved down the road to Ropes Beach, where the property’s backyard was partially visible from one vantage point. Two security guards blocked access points to the property, and the crowd chanted fiercely, some wading ankle-deep in the water, for around 30 more minutes.
Protesters feared DeSantis had taken an alternate route into the property.
Some protesters on Saturday brought signs alluding to the controversial flights. One read “Send us more,” held by Cotuit resident Drew Frayre, who said he bought the posterboard just yesterday and struggled to carry it there on his e-bike.
“Everyone in Cotuit knows everyone else,” Frayre said of how the word got out about the event. “So when something like this goes down, you know someone who knows about it.”
“We need to make them realize what a terrible decision this was, this choice of location,” he added.
Other signs slammed DeSantis’ recent curriculum guidelines that schools should teach that slavery had “personal benefits” for enslaved people, as well as his “Don’t Say Gay” policies and more. One, held by Centerville resident Meaghan Didato, read “I didn’t vote for you in Florida. I’m not voting for you now!”
Didato said she and her family moved from Panama City, Florida to Centerville three years ago, in part because of the increasingly conservative policies DeSantis was driving in the state.
“I don’t want them to grow up around so much hate,” Didato said of her children. “It’s nice to feel a sense of community with these values, that comes out to something like this.”
Susan Wasser of Hyannis said she dropped everything to come to the protest: she had plans with her grandchildren but said she called their mother and said she needed to be here, instead. She started a “go home Ron” chant around 11 a.m.
DeSantis comes to the Cape at an uncertain time in his campaign, having just laid off around a third of his staff amid financial issues. The fundraiser is being organized by a host committee of 14 Republican donors, including Joseph Popolo, who owns the house 51 Putnam Ave., where the fundraiser was held, according to the Town Assessor’s database.
Popolo, according to Federal Election Commission data, donated $6,600 to the DeSantis campaign in May. The ticket price for Saturday’s fundraiser is $3,300 per person, according to an invite reviewed by the Cape Cod Times. The event was scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Popolo and others on the host committee did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email as of Saturday morning. Members of the DeSantis campaign also did not respond to multiple requests for comment by email. Geoff Rehnert, previously noted as a member of the host committee based on an invite reviewed by the Cape Cod Times, has withdrawn his name since that invite was published and is not attending, according to Julie Rudnick, a representative of a public affairs agency.
Amy Carnevale, the chair of Mass GOP, said Friday that she planned to attend the event, as she does all Republican presidential campaign events in the state when she’s invited.
“My philosophy as chair is to welcome any Republican candidate,” Carnevale said. “I’m definitely looking forward to the event.”
Carnevale said she hopes to hear DeSantis’ plans for issues like inflation, housing and infrastructure.
“I’d like to hear him talk to the needs of Massachusetts residents and how he can bring us to a place of greater prosperity than we’ve had under Democrat Joe Biden,” she said.
Other guests arrived at the home during the late morning, but turned into a private driveway and were not available to be interviewed. Cars were greeted with boos from the crowd every time they entered the driveway. Four police officers as well as a private security guard were on hand to keep the driveway clear.
Though DeSantis was originally scheduled to meet with the host committee at noon, and the rest of the attendees by 12:30 p.m., he had not arrived by 1 p.m. DeSantis’ plane from a Republican event in Iowa landed just before 1 p.m. at Cape Cod Gateway Airport.
Calls for DOJ probe on migrant flights renewed
When the migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard last fall, many volunteer scrambled to help them find shelter. Eventually many of the migrants stayed temporarily at Joint Base Cape Cod. State lawmakers called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether DeSantis’ team deceived the migrants, which they said would constitute human trafficking.
After California politicians said the same about the flights to Sacramento, Galibois issued a statement Friday echoing calls for a DOJ probe and saying his office would investigate the flights.
“l am aware that immigrants were tricked and fooled into boarding planes that ultimately landed in Martha’s Vineyard, a part of my jurisdiction,” he said.
“Given that much of the information that I seek to review as part of my investigation falls outside of my jurisdiction, I stand behind California and believe in order for a full and proper investigation to occur, the Department of Justice must be involved. I stand ready to cooperate with the Department of Justice.“
Protester Kelley said that he was glad to see the passion with which Massachusetts residents came out to rebuke DeSantis on Saturday, and the energy they brought.
“He was playing politics with human beings, with their lives. I can’t think of anything lower than that,” Kelley said. “The majority of people here, we don’t support that.”
Kelley also livestreamed the protest on his TikTok page before he was banned from the platform, for what he said were unknown reasons, around 11:50 a.m.
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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Protesters crowd outside Cotuit DeSantis fundraiser Saturday