Conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, nobody seems to be a fan of the proposed permit for protests in Glens Falls.
Many — on all sides — cited the First Amendment.
The mayor and police chief began talking about creating a permit last week, after some people complained of physical intimidation and noise harassment. They were surrounded by pro-Trump protesters who blocked their path, shouted at them and used a bullhorn to drown them out.
But even those who complained said that a permit isn’t the answer.
“I see the reason behind the police department wanting to make the roundabout safe. But I also understand that some issues arise out of the blue, and it’s important for us citizens to be able to take to the streets as soon as possible,” said liberal protester Jane Eddy. “When an atrocity is being committed, we don’t have time for permits.”
Some added that a permit probably wouldn’t help, anyway.
“Even if we get a permit, the other side could go out and do the same thing” as before, said liberal protester Catherine Atherden, a member of the Queensbury Town Board. “I don’t see how it solves the problem. It really is a question of sitting down and talking this through. Both sides want to continue demonstrating.”
Several groups supporting President Donald Trump met at Mike Kibling’s house Tuesday night to discuss the permit and the concerns that led to the proposal. He founded North Country Deplorables.
They agreed to double down on the message of peaceful protesting.
“No derogatory statements. Making sure our people stay non-violent,” Kibling said.
Bill Bombard, of Friends of President Trump, said that allegations of threats and intimidation play into the opposition’s hands.
“We need to keep our groups in check,” he said.
But both added that they utterly reject any allegations that their members have harassed, intimidated or instigated any aggressive action.
“We haven’t done anything except that stupid whistle,” Bombard said, referring to the siren on Kibling’s bullhorn. Kibling used it repeatedly to drown out the opposing side in recent protests, and even some of his own people are sick of that level of noise.
“We aren’t going to use that anymore,” Bombard said.
Kibling has defended the use of his bullhorn siren.
“They were using their megaphones and chanting, so we were just being louder,” he said Tuesday. “If there was anything illegal, we had eight police officers standing there and not one of them said anything. If they had, it would have been turned off immediately.”
He acknowledged that he wants to counter what he sees as lies on the other side, but added, “I don’t want a Trump rally to be a nuisance.”
Dave Van Scoy, of American Patriot Express, emphasized that nothing has happened beyond a few shouting matches.
“I think The Post-Star should tone down its rhetoric as there have been zero incidents of violence at any rally or protest in recent memory,” he said.
Still, Bombard said that the newer groups are responding to the threat of a permit by trying to get control of their events.
“They don’t want to get to the point where people are afraid to come to rallies or they get their wings clipped with the permit process,” he said.
None of the groups liked the idea of a permit.
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“It’s an attempt to limit or eliminate the people’s right to peacefully assemble in Glens Falls. We already have a permit to assemble; it’s called the First Amendment,” Van Scoy said.
The city of Saratoga Springs requires a demonstration permit for all groups of 25 or more. Sirens are prohibited, but bullhorns are allowed for amplifying voices as long as it does not violate the noise ordinance.
Other municipalities have similar permit requirements, as does the National Mall in Washington.
Protester Christopher Schmidt started a Facebook group called No Permit For Protests in Glens Falls. He plans to circulate a petition opposing the permit.
Schmidt, who says he’s not on either side, said he wants everyone to unite on this issue.
“I think it’s a basic American right, or ideal at least, to have freedom of speech in group form,” he said.
He’s afraid a permit would discourage some groups from protesting.
He doesn’t like the idea of separating the groups either.
“That divides people,” he said. “People should be able to discuss freely, even if it’s obnoxious speech.”
Any action that violates existing laws — including playing sirens that distract drivers, menacing or harassment — should be enforced by police, he added.
But he is not dissuaded by the passionate nature of the arguments during recent protests.
“There’s a lot of tension, and people are arguing and yelling in each other’s faces,” he said. “That comes with freedom of speech. We should protect that, on the left and right.”
The fact that some individuals are deliberately drowning out the speech of others is also not a reason to control it with a permit, he said.
“Drowning people out, I think that does nothing more than show their own ignorance,” he said. “It just shows you have no argument.”
But drowning each other out seems to be what is causing the most aggression and concern.
“If they just stopped using that bullhorn for that purpose, that would go a long way,” Atherden said.
She wants Glens Falls leaders to hold a meeting at which the opposing sides could work out an agreement on how to protest peacefully.
“I think the rules of engagement have to be established,” she said. “People should be allowed to give their speeches without being drowned out. They have a right to demonstrate, just as we do, but not drown out.”
Bombard wants the police to step in more.
“That’s what you’ve got the police there for,” he said. “They can tell people to go across the street and shout back and forth.”
Glens Falls Police Chief Anthony Lydon has said he wants his police to get training in how to handle large crowd protests.
Bombard said that training needs to happen soon.
“If they’re not familiar with these crowds, they’d best get familiar, because as it gets closer to the election it won’t get better, it’ll get worse,” he said.