Wheaton students and supporters of President Trump once again hosted opposing rallies on the Norton Common today, Oct 24. The two groups held their rallies on opposite sides of the street once more, with the Trump supporters protesting on the Norton Common, and Wheaton students on Wheaton’s campus on the other side of the street. The Pro-Trump crowd arrived at 9 a.m., with the first Wheaton students, a group of 4, arriving at the event at 9:40 a.m.
This event happened following a similar clash last weekend. The pro-Trump rally was organized through the Norton for Trump Facebook group, and was allegedly spread to other similar groups in nearby towns. The Wheaton event was a little more decentralized in its planning, though Eliza Browning ’22 did make a post on the Wheameme Facebook group on Oct. 20 notifying the students of the event.
Browning expected around 100-200 students to show up, which was an accurate number, with around 130 students showing up at the height of the event. The pro-Trump crowd dwindled throughout the day, but began with substantial numbers, with the crowd numbering around 60 at their height. Mark Sweeney, a Norton resident who was present at the last rally was in charge of the pro-Trump rally, as former organizer Earl Sholley did not make an appearance at the event this week.
Sweeney mentioned that he hoped his side would “not engage [with the students],” referring to the previous week’s event in which hurtful things were said. Sweeney also mentioned that he didn’t believe that his side should be “covering up highway signs” with their flags, which was put up by fellow pro-Trump event attendee, Mike Andrews. Andrews, a Norton electrician noted his support for Trump’s “different approach [compared to] other politicians.”
The pro-Trump side was mostly Norton residents, though it also included members from nearby towns, such as Raynham, Taunton, and Foxborough. Members of the Wheaton crowd were mostly community members who “came with their own prerogatives,” according to Rosie Hankes ’21, who also mentioned that Wheaton’s theme houses such as “Emerson, TWAP, and Art House” brought many members to the event and many of the other theme houses were also represented by a few members. Emerson House Co-President, Kate Constantine, mentioned the houses’ recent efforts in “creating a more intersectional [space]” and called it “hypocritical” to not show up to the event while claiming to “support [Emerson] housemates of color.”
Taunton resident and member of the pro-Trump crowd, Mark Lowney stated that he “doesn’t hate [the Wheaton students]” and “simply disagrees with them,” as well as noting his support for the two events being “separated to [prevent conflcits].” Despite this sentiment, conflict did occur, with Wheaton College President, Dennis Hanno claiming that he was punched by a pro-Trump crowd member, and also when a person in a green alien suit ran through the pro-Trump crowd and gave them the middle finger. Sweeney attempted to grab the green alien’s leg on the second time through following the alien running into a woman who Sweeney claims was deaf. The alien described their tactics as “throwing the [Trump crowd] off guard” due to them not “expecting someone [dressed like] me.”
Sweeney also mentioned that pro-Trump “Rolling Rally” would arrive from Mansfield around 11:30 a.m. and make their way through Norton and continue along to Taunton. The rally arrived pretty much on time, with the pro-Trump crowd cheering and waving their signs at the cars, and the cars honking back in support. The “Rolling Rally” lasted around 5 minutes.
The Wheaton Administration expressed some degree of support for the students, with President Dennis Hanno in attendance. Also there was Jillian Riveros from the Intercultural Board hosting a “recharging station,” which contained sharpies and cardboard to make signs, as well as food and water. Hanno mentioned he was “thrilled to see Wheaton students expressing their free speech rights.”
Hanno mentioned that he believed it was important to have “conversations with people on either side” which was seen when he crossed the street and spoke with Andrews. Hanno also showed a letter he received from an organizer of the pro-Trump rally who was not in attendence, which described students “engaging in disrespectful behavior.” There seemed to be a bit more civility between the two sides this time, but there were still some negative words traded back and forth by both sides during the event.
Wheaton students displayed their signs once again, with slogans such as “BLM” and other signs condemning “White supremacists and Donald Trump.” Wheaton students were not all on the same side of the street, with Hudson Ingoldsby ’21 joining the pro-Trump crowd and stating that he came out to “support the person [he] voted for.” Ingoldsby noted that if “there was a [Jo] Jorgsen rally,” he would be “attending that [instead].”
Wheaton Student, Ben Bingham ’21 claimed that there were two additional instances of assault during the event. According to Bingham, one incident involved a lady and a flag, and the other involved a man on a motorcycle.
The Vice President of the Norton Town Democrats, Michael Toole, was also in attendance at the rally, holding a pro-Biden sign on the side of Wheaton College. People from the pro-Trump crowd began to filter out around 11:45 a.m., with most Wheaton students holding their ground. Both crowds eventually dissipated by 4 p.m.