A canceled National Anthem singer, a lack of a stage and even counter-protesters did not stop a Back the Blue rally in East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park, held as part of a Law Enforcement Officers Weekend, on Saturday.
Rock musician Ted Nugent had been announced as the event’s National Anthem performer. An outspoken conservative and supporter of the Second Amendment, Nugent had previously drawn criticism for reposting content deemed anti-Semitic on his Facebook page that referred to “Jew York City Mayor Mikey Bloomberg,” among other politicians of Jewish faith. He has also come under fire for perceived sexist and racist remarks.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran had tweeted on July 23: “Extremely disappointed that Ted Nugent, a man with a history of hate-filled speech, is invited to attend Saturday’s rally in Nassau. Our Police Department is the finest in the Country and our officers deserve admiration in a setting that we can all be proud of.”
Democratic county legislators including Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) and Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) signed a statement issued the same day saying that Nugent had “consistently espoused racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic and xenophobic bile.”
“The vitriol he espouses is an affront to the promise of ‘liberty and justice for all’ that is central to our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance,” the statement. “He is the last person who should ever have the high honor of performing the National Anthem before any public gathering in Nassau County’s most prominent park.”
The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association noted in a statement issued the same day that neither it nor any other PBA had been involved in organizing the event, and said it would not participate in the event should Nugent attend.
“It has come to our attention that Ted Nugent, who was invited by the organizers of the event to sing the National Anthem, has a long history of making hurtful and hateful comments, and has beliefs that are not consistent with those held by our association and our members,” the PBA said in a statement. “We do not and will not condone his remarks and views, and have advised the event’s organizers that we will not participate in or support any rally that he attends. Mr. Nugent does not represent the sentiments held by countless Nassau County residents who support law enforcement while many sit idly – by or even act against us.”
The following day, Nugent and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana), who was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, were removed from the lineup via a statement on the group’s Facebook page, which appears to have since been deleted. The text of the statement was reported by Newsday.
“Ted Nugent will not be performing, speaking, or otherwise participating in the pro-law enforcement demonstration tomorrow at Eisenhower Park,” the group wrote. “The purpose of this demonstration is to bring people together in support of the men and women of law enforcement. While we wholeheartedly appreciate anyone who supports the men and women in blue, including Mr. Nugent, the controversy over his appearance is contrary to the objectives of the demonstration.”
Curran said in a statement that Nugent had decided against going “after being reminded of New York State’s quarantine orders and Nassau County’s protest protocols.”
“Nassau County will continue to protect our residents’ right to safe, peaceful protest as is guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution,” Curran tweeted. “However, we won’t tolerate blatant violations of the Governor’s quarantine order for travelers from high-risk states, which is designed to protect the health and safety of Long Islanders.”
The event’s Facebook page has since been removed. Law Enforcement Today, a publication for those involved in the industry that was involved in the event, said in an editorial that it had been removed by Facebook after it received over 4,300 RSVPs.
LEO said on Instagram that thousands had attended the event, adding that an additional 4,000 attendees had been turned away “due to parking and safety concerns.”
Suffolk County PBA Second Vice President Lou Civello later said in his remarks that a stage meant for the rally had been removed, leading to the podium being placed onto two pickup trucks.
“They told us, ‘you need a permit for a stage, take it down,'” Civello said.
Among the speakers, who included U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) was Republican congressional candidate George Santos, a financial professional of Queens, running against U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) in the 3rd Congressional District in November.
“Since when did defending the police become a Republican or Democrat issue?” Santos said. “Shouldn’t it be common sense to support those who keep us safe? Shouldn’t it be common sense to support the men and women in blue who leave their families behind every single day not knowing if they’re going to come back to them. Since when did this become the new normal?”
He added that a “Marxist, socialist regime” was “trying to take over our country,” but did not mention Suozzi by name.
“My opponent has been silent, and silence is complacency,” Santos said.
Nassau PBA President James McDermott later spoke on his experience as an officer with the NYPD and the Nassau County Police Department, leading those gathered in a moment of silence for the fallen.
“I agreed to speak here today for obvious reasons,” McDermott said. “You’re all out here to support what I do, and I want to thank each and every one of you for coming out, thank you very much from the bottom of my soul. My police officers, and all police officers, need a shot in the arm right about now, and this is the shot in that arm for the Nassau County Police Department.”
He added that some “leadership, in certain cases, have abandoned us.”
“I don’t know why our county executive and our police commissioner can’t say ‘our cops do a great job day in, day out, we don’t have these problems here in Nassau County,'” McDermott said. “We have tremendous relationships in all communities, including the minority communities, and they trust us, and we worked on that. We fostered these relationships, we nurture these relationships and we build on them every day. I don’t know why that’s so hard, because it’s the truth. It’s just standing up to the noise right now, the media-driven noise which is trying to divide us.”
Near the end of the rally, chanting could be heard outside the entrance. A group of 50 or more counter-protesters sporting Black Lives Matter signs was met by a group of the pro-police demonstrators, with a line of police officers separating the two.
The counter-protesters later made their way into Park Boulevard, blocking the road and forcing those driving to cross the grassy median, with two protesters seen filming the license plates of those leaving.