On April 25, 2020, the Saint Augustine Tea Party conducted a protest at the intersection of US-1 South and SR-312. Participants included people ranging in age from their 20’s to their 80’s, according to Tea Party Chairman, Lance Thate. The Saint Augustine Tea Party has been active in St Johns County for over 10-years.
This was not the first rodeo for Thate, who turned 83-years-old in March. As the founder of a group of Tea Party members known locally as the “Town Crier Committee”, Thate took to the streets in downtown St Augustine, as he has done regularly for years before the pandemic. The committee provides visitors with a pocket-sized copy of the United States Constitution while soliciting opinions on various topics of interest. The Saint Augustine Tea Party has been active in St Johns County for over 10 years.
“This location was selected because it is one of the heaviest traffic points in St Johns County, Florida,” Thate said in an interview with Historic City News editor in chief, Michael Gold. “First, we needed to test the public’s dissatisfaction with the shutdown of America and the associated infringements on our basic inalienable rights and our liberty, and second, to test the reaction to our effort by law enforcement.”
As for the question of the shutdown, we asked people to blow their horns if they agreed with an immediate opening of the country. Thate reported for Historic City News that the intersection was the noisiest place in the county for the three hours, or so, that the survey was conducted.
“I call it a survey because it has been the policy of our Town Criers to conduct polls on St. George Street. But with the shutdown, a poll is impossible since you can’t ask an empty Street for its opinion,” Thate explained. “As for law enforcement, I am sure the enemies of Liberty called the law to report our activity and made demands of them to end our endeavor. I am happy to report that while several St Johns County Sheriff’s patrol cars were observed, they paid no particular attention to what we were doing and continued on with their other business.”
Thate and others participating in the protest were energized and excited by the response of the public who were eager to engage in the Tea Party’s next street side activity. Of a projected 50 to 60 people engaged over the 3-hour period, there were around 30 to 40 people involved who are connected to the Tea Party, Thate estimated.
Members of the Tea Party organization would park their cars, hastily prepare their own signs or use signs that were available and joined in the protest. It is difficult to estimate how many people were involved because they were located on all four corners of the intersection and protestors came and went at different times during the protest. Television reporters from Action News Jax, Channels 47 and Fox 30 in Jacksonville, covered the event.
“A nearby restaurant offered water to those who were standing in the full sun. The afternoon temperature was 90 degrees,” Thate reported. “Waitresses left the restaurant, took up signs and flags and joined the protest.”
Thate, a fiscal and Constitutional conservative, lays blame for the local economic disaster at the feet of St Augustine City Manager, John Regan, who was granted extraordinary, unilateral authority by the five elected members of the City Commission.
Long before the federal and state government ordered businesses to cease operation and citizens to confine themselves to their homes, Regan and commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline had begun a temperance movement in downtown St Augustine. The power-hungry duo had attempted to curtail the sale of alcohol at night in all licensed bars and restaurants.
“Regan single-handedly shut down the tourist industry and all of the local restaurants. Since Tea Party meetings are normally held in local restaurants, we call on him to give up his salary while the citizens suffer the consequences of his decisions. Since we cannot meet in restaurants now, perhaps a good location for our next protest would be in front of John Regan’s house on the public right-of-way. We are determined to resume our meetings.”