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Dozens rally for ‘blue lives’ at Seminole courthouse in event linked to hate-group supporter

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 9/12/2020 By Cristóbal Reyes and Grace Toohey, Orlando Sentinel
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Attendees are pictured during the Pledge of Allegiance during a "Back the Blue" rally at the Criminal Justice Center in Sanford on Saturday, September 12, 2020. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Attendees are pictured during the Pledge of Allegiance during a "Back the Blue" rally at the Criminal Justice Center in Sanford on Saturday, September 12, 2020.

More than 100 people gathered Saturday at the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford to support police officers at a “Back the Blue” rally — an event from which one elected official scheduled to speak dropped out after concerns were raised about an organizer’s connections with a designated hate group.

Participants carried American flags and Blue Lives Matter banners in front of the courthouse, with a lineup of speakers voicing support for law enforcement in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality.

“Police are on the front lines to protect the concept of law and order,” said Linda Trocine, chairwoman of the Seminole County Republican Executive Committee.

The event was hosted a day after the 19th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and attendees took a moment to mourn the 412 emergency workers killed that day, including 60 police officers and 343 firefighters.

Much of the rhetoric mirrored that of President Donald Trump, who often broadly refers to protesters as anarchists and looters setting fire to cities. Many in attendance also warned of a socialist takeover of the country should former Vice President Joe Biden win the presidency in November.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Bikers take pictures during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Bikers take pictures during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12.

“This radical left goal to defund the police is part of a larger goal to destabilize America, divide its people, make America’s neighbors unsafe,” said Brevard-Seminole Public Defender Blaise Trettis, who will serve another term as he ran in the 2020 election unopposed. “All in the pursuit of the far-left’s goal of ending our republican form of government and replace it with socialist authoritarianism.”

Others, like conservative radio host Carl Jackson, denied that police officers are racist against Black people, and said those shot and killed by police would still be alive had they complied with officers.

“If you’re dumb enough not to comply with a cop with a gun, then maybe — I won’t say it, but I know what you guys are thinking,” said Jackson, who is Black, implying people in those situations should be shot.

Many killed by police, however, were not disobeying orders, like Fort Worth, Texas, woman Atatiana Jefferson. She was killed last year by an officer who shot through her window after she looked outside to see why police were in her yard.

A report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project found that 93% of more than 2,400 protests around the U.S. were peaceful. In cities like Portland, Ore., in which there have been clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement, violence was relegated “to specific blocks, rather than dispersed throughout the city,” according to the report.

a woman sitting on a bench reading a book: A child holds a sign during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A child holds a sign during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12.

One elected official dropped out of the event after originally being listed in the rally’s lineup when he was informed that Alan Kornman, an organizer, has ties to United West, designated a far-right anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and CAIR Florida.

All four invited elected officials were sent a letter by CAIR Florida ahead of the rally urging them not to attend, saying their presence “lends legitimacy to such extreme organizations and their views.”

“Nothing’s more destructive for liberty ... than elected officials openly associating themselves with hate groups that wish to demonize an entire segment of Americans based on their religion 1/4 u201a” said Hassan Sibley, a civil-rights lawyer and CAIR Florida’s chief executive director. “That is the most un-American thing one person can do.”

Kornman — regional coordinator for that organization, according to his LinkedIn page — said in a phone conversation the Orlando Sentinel was “manufacturing controversy” by asking about his affiliation to the group. Its executive director, Tom Trento, described the organization as an educational counter-terrorism group that works to “defend the U.S. Constitution, defend Israel, defeat Mohammad and defeat Karl Marx.”

a man talking on a cell phone: Talk-show personality Carl Jackson speaks during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Talk-show personality Carl Jackson speaks during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

“It is ironic that that law enforcement and first responders were respected and treated with reverence, across this country, on this day, 9-11, 19 years ago," Kornman later wrote in an email. “Today, sadly, our law-enforcement community is under assault across the country and right here in Orlando.”

a group of people standing in front of a flag: Attendees applaud during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Attendees applaud during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

None of the officials had heard of Kornman or were aware of his affiliations when asked by the Orlando Sentinel, and only one said he declined to speak at the rally after being made aware of that.

a close up of a girl holding a phone: A child waves a flag during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A child waves a flag during a "Back the Blue" rally in Sanford on Saturday.

Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine said he originally planned to honor police officers and firefighters at the rally, especially because it was scheduled the day after the 9-11 anniversary, but he didn’t feel comfortable going after looking further into Kornman’s background.

“I’m not going to judge the organizers, and I’m not going to say they’re right or wrong because I don’t know them,” Constantine said on Friday. “But it just isn’t the right circumstance for me to be there. If I had known originally, I would have declined the offer.”

Rep. David Smith (R-Winter Springs) also declined to speak, but told the Sentinel in an email it was because of other events he had planned to attend earlier.

Two others reached by the Sentinel — Trettis and Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek — spoke at the event. Sladek, who made clear in her speech that she was only there to support law enforcement and not for any political objectives, said Kornman’s intentions with the rally were in line with what she was comfortable with, so she wasn’t concerned with his other affiliations.

“If anybody is doing something helpful for our law-enforcement officers, I am the type of person who will look for common ground,” said Sladek, adding she felt it important to make clear that “Black lives and blue lives also matter.”

During her speech, she lauded the work of law enforcement, but acknowledged more work needs to be done to “reimagine what our law enforcement looks like.”

“I just want to encourage all of you to humanize our officers and treat them with respect,” Sladek said.

creyes-rios@orlandosentinel.com

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