WALLINGFORD — A Michigan-based warehouse manager and his pro-Trump border wall float rolled into town Monday.
Robert Cortis built the display to drum up support for Trump and his controversial policy to build a wall along the southern border. On Monday, the trailer was parked at Cariati Developers, 70 North Plains Industrial Road.
“I’ve known Robert for a long time,” said company President Don Cariati. “I think that the safety and security of our country and children is more important than any business. We welcomed him with open arms.”
With songs ranging from the National Anthem to “Macarena” blaring from speakers, volunteers and Cortis spoke with members of the media and sold flags and “Make America Great Again” hats for $20. Many passing motorists honked their approval, while others shouted opposition.
The Trump Unity Bridge float is an advertisement for Trump, and features a bridge and a large wooden sign stating “Build the Wall” and “Trump 2020.” Cortis arrived around 9:30 a.m. and planned to leave in time to be in Washington, D.C. by evening, he said.
Bob Besch of Wallingford stopped and bought a “Make American Great Again” hat.
“Immigration is a condition we have to address,” Besch said. “Just sweeping it under the carpet is not getting anything accomplished. I’d like to see this country moving forward. We don’t address these things.”
Scott E. Palmer of Wallingford was in the area shopping when he came across the float, he said. He stopped to buy a hat and flag and took a few pictures.
“I like it, very patriotic,” said Palmer, a former local VFW officer removed from his post last year after a Record-Journal report revealed he was a former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Cortis and his trailer just completed a stint in the Midwest where he made headlines for driving past a vigil honoring Muslims killed in Friday’s massacre at two mosques in New Zealand. According to news reports, mourners in Cleveland, Ohio, were left in disbelief as the trailer drove past them with the music so loud it drowned out the speakers, including the city’s mayor. The float then returned for a second pass, this time playing “God Bless America.”
Cortis defended his actions Monday. He said he had just left the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and was blasting loud rock music when he happened to drive by City Hall as the vigil was being held.
Cortis said he was touched by the peaceful assembly and wanted to honor them.
“I said ‘Wow a rally going on that’s peaceful, with positive messages that’s the same mission I’m on,’” Cortis said. “So I turned around and put on ‘God Bless America’ to salute them.”
He said he didn’t get much opposition.
But those who don’t support the border wall say Cortis’ float and its message do nothing to promote unity.
“Sure, let’s divide people in need who are seeking asylum between people who want to keep them out,” said Gina Morgenstein, a Democratic town councilor, adding that there are more advanced ways to improve border security than a wall.
Cortis’ float facilitates “the fear and the hate that unfortunately we have seen grow too much in recent times,” Morgenstein said. “I wish it were otherwise. I see this wall as dividing America further.”
Former Republican Town Councilor Stephen Knight agreed the float and the rhetoric and symbols do more to divide than unite.
“I don’t think it adds to the solution,” Knight said. “I think it further divides us. It appeals to people’s basest emotions and that’s not helpful.”
Knight sits on the board of directors of the Spanish Community of Wallingford or SCOW. He tries to separate the people he has come to know in the community with what is going on in Texas along the southern border. He says many of the nation’s immigration problems have been brought upon by inaction, loose borders and employers who hire illegal workers.
“We invited this,” Knight said. “Over the years, by not having border enforcement, we invited people to break these laws. Most of them are fine people...all they want to have is a better life. We do have a right to have a secure border, not necessarily a wall.”
Knight praised the members of the Latino community he has come to know and said “they have helped build this country and will continue to build this country.”
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