Trump boat parade sails into Erie, met ashore by protesters

Matthew Rink
Participants in a boat parade in support of President Donald Trump enter Presque Isle Bay in Erie on Sunday. The parade started at the Presque Isle Lighthouse and ended at Dobbins Landing.

A few hundred boaters doubling as Donald Trump voters crossed the channel between Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay, honking horns, flying their blue “Keep America Great” flags and waving to the dozens of land-based MAGA backers who took in the spectacle from the South Pier.

Vessels of all sizes, including personal watercraft, took part in Sunday’s event, which was organized by 19-year-old Greene Township resident Austin Detzel as a way to show support for Trump’s reelection campaign amid a campaign season curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been happening all over the country and honestly I thought someone in Erie would have done this by now, but nobody did,” said Detzel, a Gannon University sophomore who rode a personal watercraft. “With COVID, there’s nothing to do anyway. This looked like fun.”

Trump’s supporters, who helped the president narrowly carry Erie County and the state of Pennsylvania in 2016, didn’t just come by sea. They came by land, too. From the vacant West Kmart Plaza in Millcreek Township, Trump backers rode motorcycles, cars and even a semi-tractors through the Erie area to Dobbins Landing.

Republican Brian Shank, a member of Erie County Council, said he was “proud” about the turnout.

“I put a little Facebook post up and now I've got tractor-trailers here and motorcycles,” he said. “I’ve never met these people before in my life.

“They're Americans and they're tired of our country and the direction it's going,” Shank continued. “And they're showing people we're not the silent majority. We are the majority and we're going to make some noise. We're going to get out and vote.”

Mark Schumacher, 67, of Erie, wore a shirt bearing Trump’s image underneath his denim button-down. A flag he held had the same image on it. Lorrie Schumacher, his wife, carried an American flag.

“This is the most important election in my lifetime,” Mark Schumacher said. "Everything is on the line. And fortunately, through the grace of God, we have a candidate who is trying to save this country and has it headed in the right direction. He is impervious to the attacks that they throw against him from the false impeachment, the Russian hoax and now this latest thing that they're coming up with, his disparagement of professional soldiers. It's a joke. And we don't believe a word.“

Roger Scarlett, a retired minister from Edinboro, stood along the South Pier waving an American flag in one hand and a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag in another as the boats raced past.

Scarlett called the showing of support a “celebration of what has happened in the last four years and the expectation of what lies ahead of us.”

He felt “optimistic and patriotic.”

“I think that the president has done some wonderful things for our nation and there's a whole lot to be done yet,” he said. “I think he's got the right sense of action to be able to make it happen.”

Two other grassroots events attempted to call out Trump for his divisive rhetoric. An anti-hate rally at Liberty Park drew a small crowd of people who heard from, among others, Democratic candidate for Congress Kristy Gnibus. Erie County Democratic Party members including chairman Jim Wertz registered people to vote. Wertz noted that the party was asked by the organizer to set up a table.

At Dobbins Landing, political activist Jasmine Flores and three dozen other demonstrators held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Trump/Pence. No KKK. No Fascist USA,” among other signs. A few others carried signs in support of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee.

“I personally decided that if they were going to come into our city and show their hate on the lake, they were going to have to pay,” Flores said. “I wanted Erie residents to use up our dock and our free parking on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.”

Flores said that by 11 a.m. most of the spaces on Dobbins Landing were filled with cars, forcing the Trump supporters to park farther away and have to walk to Dobbins Landing.

Once they arrived, a small group of Trump backers stood in the median as the protesters lined the sidewalk across from them. While one side chanted “Four more years,” the other countered with “No justice. No peace.”

“As a Hispanic woman, I am a minority and I have a lot of siblings,” Flores said. “And I feel as though they need a strong role model and all this hate in the world is not what I wanted the next generation to see. My generation didn't have to see it so in-your-face. Now it's here and we're not going to allow it to continue.”

Contact Matthew Rink at Follow him on Twitter at @ETNrink.

Jaron Johnson, 23, center, of Erie, joins protestors on Sunday at Dobbins landing in Erie.