Hurled insults, physical attacks and pleas for police protection: It sounds like the fallout of a gang turf war or the scene of an inner city riot.
But the adversaries locking horns at the otherwise idyllic Florida retirement community known as The Villages are mobilized pensioners, not bored young criminals, and the battle they are waging has a sharp political edge.
For a retirement town designed exclusively for residents aged 55 and over, the atmosphere has been anything but sedate, with senior citizens squaring off over the polarizing figure of President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
A few years ago, people at The Villages, a sprawling community of 100,000, had other things on their minds: The town made headlines for having one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States.
These days, the seniors seem more interested in the future of American democracy than in Viagra, and their omnipresent golf carts — the primary means of transportation around the vast compound with its dozens of golf courses and strip malls — are being lined up on both sides of the political divide.
The Villages came to national attention early this summer when a viral video — retweeted by Trump before he deleted it — showed one resident in a golf cart shouting “white power” as another senior, who was part of an anti-Trump protest, heckled him as racist.
One resident, a man named Ed McGinty, tweeted in June: “I got attacked today by a Trump Supporter. He was in a Support Blue Lives Police Golf Cart Parade. I got a good punch.”
And this in a place described in publicity brochures as “Florida’s friendliest hometown.”
“Tensions are high here,” said Chris Stanley, president of The Villages Democratic Club.
“They’re not new, but they’re so much worse under Trump,” said Stanley, wearing her white hair in a ponytail because she has been unable to visit a hairdresser during the coronavirus pandemic. “And every year that goes by, they’re that much worse.”
As she spoke, Stanley was supervising a pro-Biden parade of more than 200 golf carts, a slow-moving procession being closely watched by police.
While the event passed off peacefully, there have been clashes in recent months.
“The last time we did this they were lying in wait for us, and had threatened to throw things at us, roofing nails, things to damage our golf carts,” said Stanley.
“So we had to get the police involved again. As we do our pro-democracy thing, they’ll be doing their anti-democracy thing.”
The golf carts, many festooned with Biden posters, slowly skirted the main square, where in pre-pandemic days residents gathered for country dancing.
Meantime, a group of Republicans congregated at the corner bakery.
One of them, Henrietta Amey, displayed her enthusiasm for Donald Trump; her T-shirt bore battery-powered letters proclaiming “Keep America Great.”
“They’re a bunch of losers,” the 83-year-old said, motioning dismissively toward the procession.
Shrugging off accusations that her president might have sympathy for white supremacists or have handled the pandemic poorly, Amey insisted that “the economy is great” and that Trump had kept his election promises.
“He has taken care of illegal immigration,” she told AFP. “We like people to come here, but we like them to come legally. My parents came from the Netherlands and they came here legally and they learned English.”
She agrees that tensions have risen in The Villages but laid the blame squarely on the opposition camp.
“They will say bad words to me. And I don’t appreciate it. I just say to them, ‘Your Mama teach you to talk like that, hon?’” she said.
According to election rolls, 57 percent of those registered to vote in Sumter County, where The Villages is the largest population center, are Republicans.
For writer Andrew Blechman, author of a book about the community called “Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children,” The Villages is a “microcosm of what is happening in America.”
The atmosphere across the country “has gotten more heated and partisan,” he said. And in the Villages, “instead of crunching as much on Viagra, they’re as distracted as the rest of the country is by bipartisanship.”
Blechman said residents feel threatened in their “snow globe” world.
“They live in a fantasy. They live in a make-believe world of what America looked like in the 1950s and ’60s. With fake architecture, fake history — there’s fake historical markers all over the place,” he said.
Florida, one of the most populous US states with 14 million voters, is a key swing state, with vote counts settled by the narrowest of margins — so the battle for the soul of The Villages could make a difference in the November 3 election.
No one can believe this GOP senator’s embarrassing ad is real
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia is in a tough race to keep her seat, and at least so far, it seems she’s not sending her best.
Her latest ad baffled many observers, prompting some to genuinely question whether the clip was real. It’s production quality and corniness are so over the top and unprofessional, it’s hard to believe it’s from a sitting senator. And the messaging itself is so hamfisted and unsubtle that it’s hard to imagine it’s an appealing ad for voters, even in Republican-leaning Georgia.
The ad starts with a couple sitting on a sofa talking about how conservative Loeffler is. OK. But then it goes off the rails when it literally says that Loeffler is “more conservative than Attila the Hun.” Yes, really. And it only gets worse.
Republicans’ naked power grab will unwind the legal framework of the majority — and replace it with minority rule
The big story today is big indeed: how and when the seat on the Supreme Court, now open because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, will be filled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced within an hour of the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing that he would move to replace her immediately. Trump says he will announce his pick for the seat as early as Tuesday.
Democrats are crying foul. Their immediate complaint is that after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, McConnell refused even to meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, on the grounds that it was inappropriate to confirm a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He insisted voters should get to decide on who got to nominate the new justice. This “rule” was invented for the moment: in our history, at least 14 Supreme Court justices have been nominated and confirmed during an election year. (Three more were nominated in December, after an election.)
Democrats reveal huge fundraising hauls in Senate races after RBG’s death
Small donor contributions to Democratic Senate campaigns have skyrocketed after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"From Alaska to Maine to the Carolinas, Democratic strategists working on Senate campaigns described a spontaneous outpouring of donations the likes of which they had never seen, allowing Democrats the financial freedom to broaden the map of pickup opportunities, or press their financial advantage in top battlegrounds already saturated with advertising," The New York Times reported Monday.