A planned Saratoga County Republican Party rally and voter registration drive featuring Scott Presler, a controversial far-right personality, has been canceled, but Presler is slated to speak at next week’s meeting of the Upstate Conservative Coalition in Wilton.
The Saratoga County GOP and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, promoted the rally originally planned for Wednesday, calling Presler an “American Patriot,” but Stefanik on Monday deleted her social media post championing the event.
The planned rally faced almost immediate backlash from Democrats and others who highlighted Presler’s history as an activist with a group that organized anti-Muslim rallies and his presence at the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, which Presler called a “civil rights protest.”
The 12 chairpersons of the Democratic county committees within Stefanik’s 21st Congressional District in a joint statement last week expressed “outrage that [Stefanik] has welcomed a leader of the insurrection that overwhelmed the United States Capitol” on Jan. 6.
“We call upon Elise Stefanik and the Saratoga County GOP … to acknowledge that this brand of extremist hate is not what American patriotism is about and is not welcome in NY-21,” the Democratic committee chairs said.
Saratoga County progressive activists quickly organized a vigil to counter the Republican event; the vigil is still scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs.
Carl Zeilman, chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Party, in a statement said a staffer with Rise PAC, which was helping organize the rally, tested positive for COVID-19 and that the group and Presler would not be coming to Saratoga County. Zeilman also said the backlash to the planned event “is really about the national Democrat Party imploding in front of our eyes.”
“The local Democrat outrage to our grassroots voter registration drive is really about the National Democrat party imploding in front of our eyes and local Democrats looking for any other distraction to talk about other than their own failed policies that have brought our country into a crisis,” Zeilman said. “They are threatened by Republicans’ historic support in upstate and all of America.”
Zeilman said local Republicans still planned to meet to knock doors and register voters on Wednesday.
Presler, though, is still scheduled to appear in Wilton this month. David Buchyn, of the Upstate Conservative Coalition, on Tuesday said Presler will speak at the organization’s monthly meeting on Tuesday at the Elks Lodge in Wilton.
Buchyn said people from Presler’s organization asked if he could speak at the organization’s meeting. He said the meeting, which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, was open to anyone interested in attending. He said people critical of Presler should attend to hear him speak and ask him questions.
“Listen, we will have anybody speak, we have never ever turned down anyone that wanted to speak in front of our group,” Buchyn said. “He is entitled to come to our meeting and talk, he’s the one doing the talking, not me.”
Joe Seeman, who helped organize the community vigil originally aimed at countering the Republican rally, on Tuesday said the event would still go forward. The planned vigil was described as a “peaceful gathering to send a strong message that racism and fascist attacks on our democracy have no place in Saratoga County.”
“Our message is that hatred and attempts to overthrow the will of the American public, that’s not welcome here in Saratoga,” Seeman said.
Seeman called on Republican elected officials and candidates for local office to join the vigil and call out the attempted insurrection in Washington.
“We are still calling upon every elected official, every candidate, every Republican to come out and join us and show they reject this hate monger, that they reject the idea of overturning elections and turning American democracy into a dictatorship,” Seeman said.