It’s easy to feel envious when you see Gov. Charlie Baker’s Swampscott home. It’s a beautiful house, in a gorgeous neighborhood, located right by a stunning stretch of shoreline.
On dozens of occasions over the past year, though, Baker’s home has become a target for political protest — and the scene there has been anything but idyllic.
In 2020, a Boston anti-addiction activist got hit with a restraining order after dumping used needles on the sidewalk by the governor’s house. A protest by the group Jews Against Fascism led to multiple arrests. And a Danvers man was arrested and charged after walking right inside.
Then there are the regular, ongoing visits from Dianna Ploss, a rabid supporter of President Donald Trump who refers to Black Lives Matter as “Burn Loot Murder” and diversity as “diver-shitty.” Since last spring, Ploss and her allies have been railing against COVID-19 restrictions, airing other hard-right grievances and clashing with counter protestors.
Those gatherings are a recurring political migraine for Baker and his neighbors, but they’re also taking a toll on Swampscott as a whole.
Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald cites traffic woes, significant police overtime costs and the sheer toxicity of the pro-Trump protests, which take place right next to an elementary school.
“The vitriol is just so offensive,” Fitzgerald said. “Seeing a confederate flag right on our Civil War monument really should cause everyone to pause and think, ‘What’s going on here?’”
But Fitzgerald also says that given the First Amendment, the town doesn’t have many options when it comes to containing the protests.
“We’ve been in constant conversation with Town Counsel, looking at, what are our legal remedies.” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to prevent speech … nor do I think any of us would want to.”
That lack of recourse is especially dismaying to Tamy-Feé Meneide, one of just a few Swampscott residents of color and the facilitator of an ongoing conversation about racism in the town.
Meneide has been targeted by Ploss, who’s told her supporters that Meneide is actually working for the Chinese Communist Party.
“She has mentioned me by name … called me out in terms of wondering why I moved from Roxbury to Swampscott,” Meneide said. “I thought to myself, maybe this will pass. But it didn’t.”
As a result, Meneide says, the simple act of leaving her home has become harrowing.
“It’s a little scary going out, particularly with my son,” she said. “I’m a very recognizable person — I have blue locks, and I’m a black female. I’m a unicorn, if you will, in Swampscott right now.”
What’s happening at Baker’s house isn’t unique. In recent months, politicians from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu have seen their homes become political targets. When Sununu moved his inauguration indoors, he cited the presence of armed men outside his house.
It’s an ominous trend, made even more foreboding by some Trump supporters’ embrace of political violence.
Still, Fitzgerald, the town administrator, is striking a guardedly upbeat note as he looks ahead to 2021.
“Sometimes, it takes conflict to open up a perspective that’s actually better,” he said. “I wish we could have avoided a lot of it. But there may be a silver lining in the fact that we’ve got a clear and present challenge, and I think we’ll rise to it.”
For her part, Meneide says she she hopes Ploss’s protests — and the participation of some locals — will help advance Swampscott’s ongoing reckoning with race and racism.
“I think what it has allowed folks to reckon with is that there is some common ground in the overall bare minimum of feeling safe — feeling safe in your home, feeling safe in your town, feeling safe at the grocery store,” Meneide said. “People understand what it feels like to feel ... living in terror and what it feels like to be safe. So in that way, it has sort of made those conversations a little bit easier to have.”