Unity March in Luray meets up with Trump supporters

Page News and Courier

LURAY — An estimated crowd of 700,000 to 900,000 turned out for the inauguration of Donald Trump, America’s 45th President, Friday, Jan. 20. The next day, 600,000 marched through the streets of the nation’s capital to protest Trump’s election, with more than 1 million marching worldwide.

In Luray, the numbers were smaller, but the intent was just as large. A crowd of around 25 gathered at the East Main shopping plaza and marched the half of a mile to Ruffner Plaza, calling it a “Unity March,” to protest Trump. They held signs promoting peace, love, equal rights and protesting bigotry and hatred.

Once the protesters made their way to Ruffner Plaza, they were met with more supporters, bringing their numbers closer to 40. They were also met by a group of around 10 counter protesters, holding signs in support of Trump.

The Trump supporters in attendance were not lost on Luray Police Chief C.S. “Bow” Cook, who had been monitoring online chatter since first hearing about the march on Dec. 27.

“Once it got posted on social media and getting advertised, people started commenting back; opposition, or people opposed to what they’re doing,” Cook said. “We identified a few people who made a few intimidating comments; nothing that was breaking the law, but wanted to make sure we identified those people and were looking for them in the crowds.”

Cook did not say whether those people they had been monitoring were in attendance. He was prepared for anything to happen, noting that there were Luray and State police officers covering every aspect of the parade.

“There were approximately 30 officers who participated in this,” Cook said. “We had some undercover, on the perimeter, as well as some watching and identifying vehicles and people.”

For the most part, the protest was peaceful. The anti-Trump contingent spoke at Ruffner Plaza using a megaphone to spread their message. The Trump supporters stood on the bridge, holding signs urging motorists to honk their horns if they support the President.

Cook noted that he expected a little bit of verbal confrontation, but his officers were mostly worried about the handful of people with guns around their waist.

“We had some guys here with open-carry [permits], that had guns,” Cook said. “The problem sometime is differentiating between somebody exercising their Second Amendment right and someone who means violence.”

Sherry Ford began organizing the Unity March after Election Day.

“I’m not going to say it was a march just against Trump,” Ford said. “But, it was more about what is important to us - education, social security, medicare, protecting the environment. That, to me, was what it was about.”

Kai Degner, former mayor of Harrisonburg, spoke at Ruffner Plaza. Degner unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2016.

“On the surface, the theme is that we would like to have a congress who listens to us,” Degner said. “We are not the only people in this country who feels like congress is disconnected from the people. We can agree that our government is disconnected from the people - they don’t know how to work together.”

After being briefly interrupted by a Trump supporter, Degner concluded his remarks with a hope for unity.

“Not all Trump supporters are racist, not all of them are dumb, not all of them are these things that we stereotype,” Degner said. “We’ve got to be bigger than that.”

Terry Mayes was the Trump supporter who interrupted Degner’s speech, yelling at him while standing on the bridge. He asked the group why they were not protesting for other causes.

“I just called them out on a few things,” Mayes said. “I didn’t see them protesting when all of these police officers were being killed, or all of these veterans were unable to get the benefits they need. They weren’t anywhere to be found for what I thought were injustices.”

Randall Seekford, wearing a white “Make America Great Again Hat,” said that he supported the group’s right to march and protest, but that he did not see the point.

“I don’t understand the anti-Trump sentiment,” Seekford said. “At some point, everybody has to come together, and the sooner the better. It’s time to begin the healing process.”

Ford was happy that her event came together without any incident, and that those in attendance expressed themselves peacefully.

“I think that we accomplished what we wanted to,” Ford said. “People expressed themselves, and spoke about the issues that were important to them. I really wanted it to be peaceful, and I think overall it was. We care and we want people to work together.”

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