Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” blares through the speakers of a Bayliner as air horns sound left and right. On land, hundreds cheer and wave Trump flags. A short, confused chop rocks smaller boats like bath toys as they meander through a crowd of nearly 100 boats. The atmosphere is a combination of a hectic Fourth of July weekend and a Toby Keith concert.
Following in the wake of Trump boat parades across the country and building off an unexpectedly large turnout two weeks prior in Narragansett Bay, the Warwick, Rhode Island, rally–officially named Trumpapalooza 2020–organized by RI Warriors for Trump was, by all accounts, a toned-down affair.
Gallery: Inside a Trump Boat Rally
The prior rally–the first in support of the president for the longtime blue state–had surpassed many expectations, even those of organizer Laurie Larrivee. “I honestly thought I’d have 75 boats there total,” says Larrivee. “When I created that event my husband laughed at me. He thought we’d have 10 boats tops. The last thing I told the Coast Guard was that we’d have 100 boats—we ended up with around 800.”
The first event began at 11 a.m. under Newport’s Pell Bridge and ran up to Bristol where they waved flags and blew air horns before turning west to Warwick and heading back down the bay.
Larrivee said the wakes caused by the influx of boats–the biggest form of criticism Trump boat rallies have engendered–did put some smaller boats in harm’s way. “It was really rough, and it’s hard for the bigger vessels to go that slow. The drivers of the boats, I give them credit. I’ve been in some large storms; it was like navigating a storm. One guy broke down in the middle of the thing. I felt bad for him, but other than that nothing negative happened.”
When asked what her inspiration was to organize the flotilla, she said, “I think this whole boating thing took off because of the one guy [Carlos Gavidia] who lives in Florida. He had a big beautiful boat. The neighborhood where he lived said he couldn’t fly a Trump flag, so he had the whole boat wrapped in Trump lettering. It made people angry because they couldn’t do anything about that. I think that’s what started it. People are so sick of being told we can’t support the president.”
Along the docks of Warwick prior to the second rally, as boaters packed their boats and raised their flags, a common theme was echoed: Many rallygoers thought they were alone in their support of the president, and these events brought many of them together. “We’re such a blue state, I just never thought it would be like this,” says Larrivee. “I think it’s really energized our party. From a boating perspective, it was fun.”
For Warwick boater Bob Neirinckx, who attended both the August 23rd parade and September 7th rally, the latter was a family affair complete with his grandson aboard. “I’m looking to just cruise around for a couple hours, anchor in front of the cove and watch the boats go by.”
Neirinckx was also quick to acknowledge that the prior event brought with it at-times chaotic conditions. “There were a lot of new boaters out there, and a lot are inexperienced. Wakes are the biggest problem for them.”
When asked what she was hoping for out of the day’s rally, Lilly Halstead, who went out on her parent’s boat, echoed a popular sentiment: “A lot of boats. And a lot of noise.”
As unifying as these events have been for many, they’re not without opposition. During the initial boat parade, “We did have someone get on the marine radio and give out the wrong coordinates to get people off course,” says Larrivee. “There was also one jerk who had to battle axe through us. That was dangerous.”
The same weekend as the flotilla meetup in Warwick, larger parades left some boats on the wrong side of the water. One boat tied to a dock on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin capsized after large wakes drove the boat under its floating dock. A rally on Lake Travis in Texas received international attention when five boats sunk because of the large confused seas caused by the mass amount of high-speed boat traffic.
At the Warwick rally, at least on the water side of event, boaters seemed considerate of each other’s space and kept their speed in check. It didn’t hurt that law enforcement from no fewer than five agencies–including the Coast Guard–were constantly weaving through the gathering. At least a dozen boaters appeared to offer assistance to a boater on the hook who had the cowling off his outboard, seemingly in need of repair.
The preponderance of these events and the national phenomena Trump rallies have become begs the question: What happens to these gatherings after the election? “It’s funny, I was thinking about that. If he wins, does it continue next summer? Maybe the rally becomes a tool to use for other things," says Larrivee. "Maybe they become rallies for other causes like backing the blue. We’ve gotten a bad rap, but this is a way for people to come together and feel safe. It’s unifying. That’s what I hear from a lot of people. We’re doing it for us.”