Like the rest of the last 15 months, Gasparilla 2021 was canceled due to coronavirus. Whatever. Unsurprisingly, Trump supporters hosted their own version of Tampa’s pirate parade and flotilla on April 17. No big deal.
Folks have a right to support a grifter that lost to the sleepy guy, who also earned more votes than any candidate in U.S. history, and they’re entitled to express that support by mindlessly wasting gas while driving boats, flags and all, in circles. This is ‘merica, land of the free and home of Tucker Carlson, after all.
Those people—some self-proclaimed deplorables, others “patriots"—even have the liberty to arrange a “Trumparilla” bar crawl in historic Ybor City afterwards. It’s a free country.
But what happens when that bar crawl turns into a platform for one of the event organizers to start shouting a white supremacist slogan that’s alarmingly familiar in post-Trump Florida?
Mother Jones shared video showing one organizer—Dion Cini, a right wing troll from New York known for waving Trump flags at Disney World—screaming “white power” while fellow Trumparilla organizer Cliff Gephart, who owns a Largo-based MAGA-themed coffee shop called Conservative Grounds, speaks to a crowd at a VIP event at Ybor City bar Bad Monkey.
“He has struggled with venue after venue,” Gephart says in the clip. Cini responds by raising his hands and yelling “white power,” while also doing the “OK” hand gesture that’s been co-opted to mean white power in far-right circles. Meanwhile, Roger Stone—a felon convicted of impeding a congressional inquiry that threatened his conman buddy—can be seen standing a few feet away.
Community members warned that Trumparilla might bring white supremacist attitudes to a historic district built on the backs of immigrants. Other business owners wondered what might happen if potentially-armed insurrection apologists were let into local pubs. Thankfully there was no violence. In a glimmer of hope, the bar Stone was originally set to appear at canceled, saying it had no idea, and told the group it wasn’t welcome.
Still, Cini—who says he likes to yell “white power” at events as a “troll”—and Gephart found a stage at Bad Monkey. The bar’s owner, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Dave Scott, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay he had no idea Cini was yelling white power inside his business. Scott claims that his bar is dedicated to those who protect personal freedom and free speech.
“We don't discriminate or take sides. We're just an open forum,” Scott said while also insisting Cini would’ve been kicked out had anyone seen or known. Too bad Cini’s known affection for shouting “white power”—and the Trump GOP’s tendency to be safe harbor for these attitudes—wasn’t enough to keep him out in the first place.
There sure was police presence and a few boarded up windows when Black Lives Matter marched through the district. But BLM marches disrupted your day to bring attention to the unequal treatment of Black and brown Americans still recovering after this country’s founders benefited from the forced labor of slaves. MAGA folks rally around unfounded grievances, lies perpetuated by right wing mouthpieces and a president who cries about big tech and cancel culture.
I asked a friend who’s a local politico what I should do with the feeling of helplessness and sadness—and frankly, fear—that comes with watching your neighbors and business owners in city you love knowingly stand by as someone literally shouts “white power.” They suggested hearing what people had to say on the record.
Gen. Scott, a decorated military vet, apparently had no clue it happened. When reached by phone, Gephart played dumb, too; a follow-up email to him went unreturned. The Ybor City Development Corporation returned CL’s voicemail only to pass the buck to the mayor’s office. CL twice reached out to a spokesperson for Mayor Castor to see if there was more to do or say besides some hollow slogan like, “hate has no home here.” Crickets.
I don’t know what the answer is; you can’t find it in a half-page column. Punching white supremacists and nazis seems fun in memeworld, but that’s not an appropriate course of action in real life. But neither is inaction. Brushing off someone yelling “white power” as a troll move quite honestly feels like you’re OK with it happening. At what point does ignoring the troll become tolerating the white supremacist in the room. Is there any point when that’s acceptable? I hope not. Because weaponizing white supremacy—and the trolling in the name of a grift, grievance, or owning the libs—just feels wrong.
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