APOLLO BEACH — Trump flags will wave alongside the Stars and Stripes on Sunday as boaters take to Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway for a dual celebration — the president’s birthday and Flag Day.
“When Trump can’t have his rallies, these people are taking to the water rallying for him,” said Sherri Gerland of Apollo Beach, who is organizing Tampa’s boat parade.
Billed as “Trump Flotillas” or “Trumptillas,” the parades are a way for voters to show their support for President Donald Trump while practicing social distancing to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Parades are planned in Pensacola, Miami, Jacksonville and other cities along the Intracoastal Waterway, the inshore boat path that wraps around the Florida peninsula and Panhandle.
The Tampa parade starts at 11 a.m. Sunday near Beer Can Island off Apollo Beach. Gerland, 60, said she’s not sure how many people will show up. More than 500 have responded to her Facebook event posting but she heard from Jacksonville that a boat parade there in March drew three times the turnout expected.
Boats will navigate north from Beer Can Island toward Davis Islands before making their way south around MacDill Air Force Base to American Legion Post 138, Gerland said. The parade is scheduled to break up around 2 p.m.
Campaign events, virtual and by phone, also are planned for Trump’s likely opponent in the Nov. 3 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden. TJ Ducklo, national spokesman for the Biden campaign, mocked the Trumptillas in a statement, saying, “this country is looking forward to pitching him overboard so they can get the leadership they deserve from Joe Biden.”
Gerland got the idea to organize a local boat parade when she heard the story of Carlos Gavidia of Jupiter, who was interviewed on Fox News in May after his property-owners association forced him to remove a Trump flag from his boat. To protest the rule, Gavidia paid $7,000 to have his boat wrapped in a decal showing an American eagle and the word “Trump," Politico reported.
Gavidia promoted a Trump boat parade on Facebook and at least 1,500 boats showed up.
"What a bold statement to make," Gerland said.
Trump has acknowledged some of the boat parades on Twitter.
Gerland said a 60-foot Marquis yacht will lead the Tampa parade. She’ll be riding on a 26-foot bay boat owned by her 50-year-old significant other, Pete Gardner.
People with land vessels are getting in on the act, too, Sunday. Trump Team 2020 Florida, a group with more than 20 chapters statewide, is helping organize at least 12 Trump parades for boats, trucks, motorcycles and golf carts. The golf cart parade is happening in the Villages, the largest retirement community in the U.S. At the golf cart parade and others organized by Trump Team 2020 Florida, participants will be able to register to vote.
In the months before the 2016 presidential election, Florida was the scene of a number of Trump campaign rallies, including a July 31 event at the Florida State Fairgrounds that drew an estimated 10,000 people. Trump had planned a rally in Tampa for March but canceled it as the coronavirus spread.
The rallies Sunday are designed to foster unity while honoring the American flag, paying respect to Trump and supporting police, service members, doctors and nurses, said Annie Marie Delgado, the Trump team president.
“We’re just taking a nice little ride and honoring the American flag, which is going to be flown on every single truck, every single boat, every single motorcycle along with president Trump’s flag,” said Delgado, 61.
The parades also are a chance to celebrate the positive, Delgado said, at a time when hundreds across the country are dying from coronavirus each day and demonstrations enter a third week in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.
“People are sick and tired. They’re fed up. They’ve had enough.”
Still, some don’t see this as a time for celebration.
Gerland said she’s had at least eight Facebook posts advertising the parade removed or censored because of the negative comments they attracted. One post on a Tampa Bay Facebook group attracted about 600 comments, she said, most of them negative. The post was later deleted.
One comment came from Melonie Gee, 44, who said it seems cowardly to be out on boats celebrating Trump while people are demonstrating for justice.
“I feel that they are going into the middle of the ocean because they don't want to hear the cries of their own community,” Gee said.
Gerland said she took screenshots of some comments, including one about throwing bricks at the parade, and reported them to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Pete Gardner said he hopes to have a police presence at the parade in case there are problems.
“The foul language and the harassment and name-calling — it’s really opened my mind to realize how different people in America are, especially politically thinking,” Gerland said.