The story of the East Setauket Protestors

Protest for America:

On a windy Saturday morning in November, a group of protestors dressed in U.S. Army hats and god bless America sweatshirts, came to the corner of North Country Road and Route 25A in East Setauket, N.Y.

They held their posters with a firm grip as passers-by honked their horns. Some stopped to listen and collect a stack of articles, while others shouted profane language out their car windows. The group came in small numbers from different organizations, but they all share a common goal. They are dedicated to coming out to the corner every Saturday morning, rain or shine, in support of the fellow patriots and to inform the public they said is misinformed, according to the North Country Patriots and the Conservative Society for Action.

God Bless America blared through an iPad speaker loud enough for the North Country Peace Group to hear on the opposite corner.

Members of the North Country Patriots, the Conservative Society for Action, and the Long Island Tea Party said their goal is to educate other Americans on the current political system they said they believe is corrupt. Other protestors who are not affiliated with the groups, come each week to support the U.S. troops, said Howard Ross, Vietnam Veteran and organizer of the North Country Patriots.

Each week, a handful of middle-aged men and women, ranging from 10 to 15 protestors, come to each corner. In between a string of speeding cars and honking horns stands the North Country Patriots and conservative members on one side, and the North Country Peace Group on the other.

“It was the Fourth of July in 2003 when I drove past the North Country Peace Group. They didn’t have a single American flag. So I came back with my own American flag and stood on the opposite corner,” Ross said.

In the 10 years Ross has participated, he said he hasn’t missed more than a dozen Saturday mornings of demonstrating. He arrives at 9:30 a.m., earlier than the rest of the members, to stake dozens of miniature American flags in the grass along the side of Route 25A. Each week, he hangs one large American flag on the tree, and stakes one yellow and white “support the troops” banner in the grass.

“I have cars driving by holding up the finger at me and I just don’t understand it,” Ross said at the protest.

By 11 a.m., the rest of the members arrive at the corner outside the Glynn Mercep and Purcell LLP building. The grass is filled with political and patriotic banners. A handful of the group’s members came dressed in layers, prepared for the two-hour demonstration in the cold. They stand on the edge of the grass; close enough to the main road, so passers-by will acknowledge their signs. Some protestors wandered into the streets to flag-down drivers at stoplights and hand out their anti-government stack of articles.

Both groups face each other holding their handmade signs and banners with stark messages. They arrive around 11 a.m., despite the sometimes-harsh weather conditions, and leave by 1 p.m.

“There’s a lot of middle class business owners on the other side, they hate corporations, yet one guy works at Stony Brook University,” said Ross, as he pointed across the street to the North Country Peace Group.

Bill McNulty, a resident of East Setauket for 47 years, and member of the North Country Peace Group, said he helped organize the group 15 years ago, as a result of being an outcast in the local church. Today, he said, there are approximately 20 active members in the North Country Peace Group in the Setauket and Stony Brook areas.

“Our overreaching goal is to spread messages of nonviolence and alternatives to war,” McNulty said at the protest. “We want to see more spending on domestic needs as opposed to huge sums on military.”

McNulty said the means of improving the country’s needs wouldn’t be in the ballot box, but in the streets.

McNulty said in the early days of demonstrating, veterans began showing up on the far corner across the street. In recent years, McNulty said he has seen an overwhelming number of tea party members with political signs, “wake up America and smell the tyranny,” and fewer veterans spreading patriotism.

The North Country Peace Group stands in a cluster holding up a large banner with their group’s name. On the corner, they hang one black and white American flag upside-down from a large pole.

“We don’t consider those folks to be our enemy, we consider them to be angry with the system that’s not functioning,” McNulty said at the protest, referring to the conservative groups.

Rich Harbison, Veteran of the U.S. Navy and member of the North Country Patriots for more than three years, said he comes to the streets to support the troops, and will continue to do so until they come home.

“It’s all about the soldiers. Gold bless them for what they think. They have every right to do what they’re doing, but I believe they’re misguided,” Harbison said in regards to the North Country Peace Group.

James Soviero, member of the North Country Patriots and Conservative Society for Action, said he started protesting 10 years ago when he saw the North Country Peace Group demonstrating with mostly anti-war and anti-military signs.

He said it’s the duty of the group to be proactive and inform other Americans on their knowledge of the potentially detrimental state of the country. He believes the group has made a difference by coming to the corner every Saturday.

However, local employee at the Old Field Farm Horse and Home, and resident of East Setauket, Brittni Bartkus, said she doesn’t know what the groups stand for, but for as long as she can remember, the corner of Route 25A has been their picket spots.

“They only inconvenience us when they take our parking spots,” Bartkus said of the protestors. “We’re a small business and sometimes we don’t have enough spots for our customers.”

Several of the longstanding members of the North Country Patriots and Conservative Society for Action, said they believe fighting for the youth of America and actively demonstrating will create a more informed citizenry.

Curtis Fotiades, local employee at the CVS Pharmacy in East Setauket for seven years said for as long as he can remember both groups have been there every Saturday.

“It doesn’t seem like their doing anything harmful, it’s just a quiet protest.”

Fotiades also said his brother served in the military and respects the conservative group supporting the troops.

By the early afternoon, all the banners and flags were gone. There was not a protestor in sight or political poster staked in the grass. Another Saturday morning facing the bitter fall breeze was over. The cars dispersed from the parking lot of the lawyers building and the small shopping center across Route 25A.

“I don’t want my children and grandchildren to end up in a country that no longer can enjoy the freedom and liberty that I’ve had,” Walter Lahmann Jr., 72, and demonstrator for the last five years said in an e-mail. “Going backwards is not an option for me, but it is slowly, and more rapidly, recently happening to us.”

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