Activist charged with assault in Swampscott
By last Saturday, the weekly pro-Trump rallies in Swampscott’s Monument Square had become routine events, with backers of the outgoing president now railing against the results of the election he lost.
Ernst Jean-Jacques Jr., a 32-year-old Haverhill activist active in Massachusetts protest movements, was among the counter-protestors. In a moment captured on cellphone video, Jean-Jacques danced in front of the Trump demonstrators, and 80-year-old Swampscott resident Linda Greenberg, who was participating in the rally, picked up a bottle of water and threw its contents at his face.
What happened next depends on whom you ask. Cellphone video shows Jean-Jacques reach forward with his hand open toward where Greenberg was standing. He draws back, empty handed, pivots and walks away as Trump supporters shout at him.
Jean-Jacques and anti-Trump demonstrators maintain he attempted to grab the water bottle from Greenberg, but Swampscott police tell a different story.
Multiple Swampscott police officers described seeing Jean-Jacques strike Greenberg, with one officer, J. Cassidy Jr., claiming he saw Jean-Jacques clench and close his fist, then wind up and with an extreme amount of force throw a punch at Greenberg.
Yet in the cellphone footage provided by a bystander, Jean-Jacques moves his open hand from his side toward where Greenberg is standing, but does not appear to wind up or clench his fist.
“If he were trying to strike her, he needs to go back to Karate school,” said Murat Erkan, Jean-Jacques’ attorney.
Erkan says Jean-Jacques attempted to grab Greenberg’s water bottle after she splashed him with it but did not strike her. He’s asking that charges against his client be dismissed and that Greenberg instead be charged.
“What I’m expecting that she will be charged with is a hate crime — a violation of my client’s civil rights,” he said.
In a video recording from the Dec. 12 incident, Greenberg admits to splashing Jean-Jacques with her water.
“I was drinking my water and he was gyrating in front of me and I was getting mad and I did get water on him. I don’t want to lie,” she said.
But when asked whether she was the aggressor, she responded angrily, “Oh, why don’t you f— off … You are not America. You are not America.”
In a police report, Swampscott officer Brendan Reen said he was watching a social media livestream by Trump supporter Diana Ploss when he observed “water propel from where Greenberg was standing,” and that Jean-Jacques “responded by punching Greenberg with his right fist.”
Greenberg has not been charged. During the hearing, Essex County prosecutor Danielle Doherty-Wirwicz asked that the court accept at face value Greenberg’s claim that “water propelled” onto Jean-Jacques from her bottle due to “essential tremors disorder.”
A video Erkan showed during the hearing showed Greenberg turning around and picking up a water bottle before launching water in Jean-Jacques’ face.
Judge Matthew Nestor rejected Doherty-Wirwicz’s request that Jean-Jacques be banished from Swampscott and prohibited from contact with elderly persons. Jean-Jacques works at a senior center providing care for adults with intellectual disabilities.
A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 24.
The demonstrations in Swampscott have been happening since April. They began as anti-mask-mandate rallies and evolved into pro-Trump rallies, according to Lynn Daily Item reporter Guthrie Scrimgeour, who has covered the rallies.
The rallies have typically drawn crowds of 40-50 people.
“Usually less Trumpies than counter-protesters,” Scrimgeour said.
The weekly occurrences, which are planned and attended by people from outside Swampscott, have posed significant challenges for the town of 13,700 people.
“Some of the protestors who come to Swampscott have used the support of a particular candidate to get away with hateful speech,” said Swampscott Select Board Chair Peter Spellios. “There is a particular group that has brought rhetoric and behavior that is not normal protected speech and should not be tolerated.”
Many of the demonstrations in Swampscott have been led by Diana Ploss, the former host of a radio show who was fired in July from New Hampshire station WSMN after she recorded herself confronting a Spanish-speaking landscaping crew in Nashua and a Black man who defended them against her demands that they speak English.
One demonstrator appeared at Swampscott rallies wearing blackface on one occasion and a Ku Klux Klan robe on another. The open displays of racism prompted Swampscott officials to ask that the demonstrations be held away from a local elementary school. When the demonstrators refused, the school called off classes for the day.
“This type of behavior — the hate-filled rhetoric — has affected everyone in Swampscott,” Spellios said. “This isn’t normal political speech.”
In spite of the arrest of Jean-Jacques, Ploss expressed anger at the police during the Dec. 12 demonstration.
“The police are in bed with burn, loot and murder,” she was quoted saying on Lynn Item Live, while holding a sign reading “Stop The Coup.”
“I back the blue, but only the ones who support America,” she added.