Over 70 Wheaton students protested a pro-Trump rally on Oct. 9 at the Norton Common across the street from Wheaton College. The majority of the pro-Trump participants were Norton residents and residents of the surrounding areas of Mansfield and Attleboro. They waved American flags and Trump campaign signs at passing drivers. Wheaton students waved trans and gay pride flags, as well as makeshift signs with slogans such as “Abolish ICE” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The pro-Trump rally was organized through Facebook by Earl Sholley, a Norfolk resident and former congressional candidate, who ran against Barney Frank in 2008. Sholley said that this was somewhere in the realm of his “65th event [for Trump].” Sholley claimed that the rally began at “a quarter to 4” with the students arriving “45 minutes after that,” the timeline of which was confirmed by Wheaton students.
The protest by Wheaton students was impromptu, with Izzy Eggleston ’21 and Hope Netolicky ’21 organizing the event through Wheameme on Facebook. Some Wheaton College theme houses contributed members to the event, with most members of TULIP showing up to help lead the event.
Eggleston said she believed it was important to organize against the rally to “show that [they could not] terrorize the campus,” and called their placement on the Norton Common, “telling.”
Sholley argued that the Wheaton students were not “maintaining social distancing [protocols]” in their organizing. Eggleston argued that this was not a problem due to frequent virus testing by the college, and pointed to various members of the pro-Trump crowd who were not wearing masks, including Sholley himself.
Sholley said that he planned “to write a letter to the college president” regarding the actions of the Wheaton students, who he claimed were “yelling obscenities” at his group.
Both groups seemed to be courting the oncoming cars by cheering as cars passed and honked at their signs in support. Sholley hinted at the recent Congressional Election in Massachusetts fourth District, which Norton is a part of, as a reason for organizing the rally and called the Democratic Candidate for Congress, Jake Auchincloss, a “close friend.” Eggleston noted her personal support for Jesse Mermell, who received the second-largest share of votes in the same race and who was “committ[ed] to protecting women’s reproductive rights.”
Around 6 p.m., the pro-Trump crowd dispersed, with Wheaton students taking their place on the Norton Common, controlling both sides of the street for a short while. Around 6:15 p.m., shortly following Assistant Chief of Public Safety, Katrina Thompson’s, arrival at the event, students began to leave, with everyone eventually clearing out by 6:30 p.m. Thompson was interested in keeping Wheaton students away from the street and noted her support of “freedom of speech” for those who attended the event.