Trump supporters who blocked Parkway could face charges
Drivers involved in a Sunday traffic jam along the Garden State Parkway — with supporters of President Trump blocking lanes of the highway — still might face citations.
State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan called blocking traffic on the Parkway “incredibly irresponsible and dangerous,” during a state briefing Monday held on Facebook Live. The routine briefings are primarily scheduled for Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officials to discuss the state's novel coronavirus response, but the officials frequently take on other topics.
Vehicles seen blocking traffic and causing gridlock Sunday on social media — the same day as multi-state "MAGA Drag the Interstate" events were scheduled across the United States — sported Trump campaign flags. But a MAGA Drag the Interstate rally organizer told New Jersey 101.5 any traffic blockage wouldn't have been part of planned activities.
“We don’t want to get in anybody’s way — we don’t want to stop people from getting where they need to go,” Diane Klein said to New Jersey 101.5 by phone on Monday.
Police have said the blockage caused a five-mile backup.
Klein is a northeast regional leader of the series of grassroots caravan events. She said she was in Clark herself and not on the Parkway at the time that traffic built up on the highway.
Callahan said he was “glad to see troopers on the ground took quick action and cleaned up the situation as quickly as possible.”
State Police previously had declined to comment on the Sunday situation when contacted by New Jersey 101.5.
The traffic had sparked social media speculation that the only reason cars stopped was because of police response. But in at least one video clip of the caravan, a participant is heard shouting repeatedly "We did it — we shut it down, baby!"
“We never had an incident like this,” Klein said. She said of the MAGA Drag road rallies, the “mission is to get a lot of cars out in a caravan, in one single lane.”
Asked Monday about whether citations had been issued on site, Callahan said the troopers’ primary objective Sunday was “to get traffic moving again,” so to hand out citations at the time, he said, probably would have hindered that objective.
Callahan said maybe it would be "those first three cars in the three lanes across that get citations," adding “I would let that investigation play out.”
Klein said drivers in the MAGA caravans do go “slightly below the normal speed limit,” and they do sometimes get a “few people who pull ahead.”
The MAGA Drag the Interstate rally had 11 locations listed as meeting spots on its website ahead of Sunday. According to Klein, another location “not on the flyer” was FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, where she said supporters from the surrounding community were planning to leave from and “meet up in Monmouth.”
On the rally website, which dubbed this past Saturday and Sunday “NATIONWIDE MAGA Weekend,” gatherings had been listed at 10:30 a.m. at Monmouth Rest Area on the Garden State Parkway and 11:30 a.m. at Cheesequake Rest Area on the Garden State Parkway.
During the Monday state briefing, Murphy noted he had already called the traffic situation "silly and dangerous" in television interviews.
Murphy said there was no problem with peacefully demonstrating “for your guy or your cause,” when it does not infringe on others who are not participating.
When later asked again about the Parkway traffic, the governor said that Sunday's issue wasn’t about potential voter intimidation, but that the "potential public health aspect" of such a road hazard is what caused him concern.
Nearly every U.S. state was listed on the MAGA Drag the Interstate rally website, with multiple gathering points in states including Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, California, Connecticut and New York.
Those sites had been taken down by Monday afternoon, replaced with the line "More events coming soon."
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