‘White power’ flare-up in retirement haven reveals tensions

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THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — There has all the time been a low-boil rigidity in The Villages retirement group between the Republican majority and the a lot smaller cohort of Democrats, however a veneer of excellent manners in “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown” largely prevailed on golf programs and at bridge tables.

Those tensions, although, flared two weeks in the past throughout a golf-cart parade for President Donald Trump’s birthday through which a person shouted, “White Power,” when confronted by anti-Trump protesters. A video clip of that confrontation in America’s largest retirement group was tweeted approvingly by Trump final weekend after which taken down.

Some residents say they’ve by no means seen something just like the politically impressed hostilities which have surfaced over the previous a number of months.

“It’s like a powder keg here,” stated resident Alan Stone. “And Trump is just stirring the pot.”

In the previous, when conflicting political opinions got here up in The Villages, residents stated it was finest to say, “I disagree,” and shortly change the subject. But the emphasis on good manners has been examined like by no means earlier than in current months with the unfold of the brand new coronavirus, the ensuing inventory market gyrations for a inhabitants that largely lives off retirement investments, the presidential race and the requires racial justice following the loss of life of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis police.

“This has been brewing. Most people kind of agree not to discuss politics … and it had been accepted that with things being so divisive, you don’t get into it,” stated Catherine Hardy, chair of the Sumter County Democratic Party.

The Villages’ inhabitants of greater than 120,000 residents — among the many quickest rising areas within the U.S. up to now decade — is about 98% white, based on the U.S. Census Bureau. There are greater than twice as many registered Republicans as registered Democrats in Sumter County, the place most of The Villages is situated.

The Trump parade occurred June 14 within the deliberate group instantly after a vigil was held by an African American philanthropic group to honor Floyd and the Black Lives Matter motion. Most of the attendees on the vigil had left by the beginning of the Trump parade, though a white girl sporting “Black Lives Matter” on her shirt shouted profanities on the Trump supporters as they drove by in golf carts. A person driving by in a golf automobile responded by shouting, “White Power,” a racist slogan related to white supremacists.

“Most people, up until now, even if people felt that way, it was socially unacceptable to voice it,” Hardy stated of the person’s comment. “The difference is under Trump, you can spew that hatred. What has changed is now it’s more acceptable.”

The political partisanship can now be seen in probably the most mundane locations, stated Ira Friedman, who along with his spouse, Ellen, have volunteered for Democratic presidential candidates throughout their 18 years in The Villages.

“Go to the postal station and see people picking up their mail. If they’re wearing a mask, they’re Democrats. If they’re not wearing a mask, talking to each other, bumping into each other, they’re Republicans,” Friedman stated.

The flare-up on the Trump parade doesn’t characterize the overwhelming majority of residents of The Villages, though with the election 12 months, there are some individuals, “who are exercised” and have gotten extra vocal in expressing their views, stated John Calandro, chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party.

Because of the coronavirus, extra residents than ordinary are staying at dwelling and watching the information, slightly than going to the retirement haven’s well-known comfortable hours and dances in its city squares, he stated.

Some residents fear that the tensions of the previous few months could make retirees assume twice about transferring to The Villages, whose founders have been longtime donors to Republicans and GOP presidential candidates. The Villages is usually a well-liked marketing campaign cease for GOP nationwide and statewide candidates.

“I don’t think The Villages wants this kind of publicity,” Stone stated. “People are saying, ‘What the hell is going on in The Villages?’”

But Calandro stated any dissension amongst residents is overblown.

Calandro stated when he performs golf along with his Democratic buddies, the largest fights they get into aren’t about politics — they’re about who will get to take an additional putt on the inexperienced with out being penalized.

“We aren’t having arguments on every street corner here,” Calandro stated. “The Villages is still The Villages. We worked all of our lives to live here, and it’s a great place to live.”

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP