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Protests Against Mass. Governor Take A Toll On Swampscott Community

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some American elected officials have lately discovered angry people outside their homes. New Hampshire's Republican Governor Chris Sununu had armed protesters outside his House, and then there's the targeting of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in the seaside community of Swampscott. GBH Radio's Adam Reilly has more.

ADAM REILLY, BYLINE: It's easy to feel envious when you see Charlie Baker's home. It's a handsome Victorian in a gorgeous neighborhood, right by a stunning stretch of coastline. But on dozens of occasions over the past year, the scene here has been anything but idyllic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOMINGOS DAROSA: We were exercising our First Amendment rights.

REILLY: Last year, Boston anti-addiction activist Domingos Darosa got hit with a restraining order after dumping used needles on the sidewalk. A man from Danvers, a nearby suburb, was charged after walking right inside. And then there are the regular visits from Dianna Ploss, a supporter of Donald Trump who refers to the governor as Char-lie (ph) Baker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANNA PLOSS: I'm in front of the home of Governor Char-lie Baker, who's in bed with the Chinese Communist Party and the Muslim Brotherhood.

REILLY: For months, Ploss and her allies have been setting up in the vicinity of Baker's home, airing a host of far-right grievances and unfounded conspiracy theories like these and clashing with counterprotesters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

REILLY: Ploss' protests are a political migraine for Baker and his neighbors, but they're also taking a toll on Swampscott. Town administrator Sean Fitzgerald cites traffic woes, police overtime and the sheer toxicity of the gatherings, which can be seen and heard from a nearby elementary school.

SEAN FITZGERALD: The vitriol is just so offensive. You know, seeing a Confederate flag right on our Civil War monument really should cause everyone to really pause and think, you know, what's going on here?

REILLY: In New Hampshire, the town where Governor Chris Sununu lives banned picketing at private residences. But Fitzgerald says that given the First Amendment, Swampscott doesn't have many options. That troubles Tamy-Fee Meneide, one of just a few Swampscott residents of color and the leader of an ongoing town discussion about racism. She has also been publicly targeted by Dianna Ploss, who's falsely accused Meneide of being a Chinese operative.

TAMY-FEE MENEIDE: She has mentioned me by name, has called me out in terms of wondering why I moved from Roxbury to Swampscott. I thought to myself, you know, maybe this will pass. But it didn't.

REILLY: And now, Meneide says, the simple act of leaving her home has become harrowing.

MENEIDE: It's scary going out, particularly with my son. I'm a very recognizable person. I have blue locks, and I'm a Black female.

REILLY: As a result, Meneide is working with the Swampscott PD to ensure her safety. Fitzgerald says, as he looks ahead to 2021, he's guardedly optimistic.

FITZGERALD: Sometimes it takes conflict to actually open up a perspective that's better. I wish we could have avoided a lot of it, but there may be a silver lining.

REILLY: At a time when darker alternatives are all too easy to imagine.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Reilly in Swampscott, Mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOSSK'S "THE REVERIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.