Adorned in red, white and blue and waving American flags, a crowd of about 200 people attended a "Save America Rally" across the street from the Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

They celebrated their patriotism, criticized government mandates to wear masks, and blasted those trying to take down statues and rename streets. 

The rally was organized by Woody Jenkins, chairman of the executive committee for the Republican Party in East Baton Rouge Parish, and political commentator Jeff Crouere as a way to celebrate America on the Fourth of July.

“People are afraid to come out, but we didn’t want to lose the tradition,” Jenkins said.

The rally was one of the few public Fourth of July celebrations in Baton Rouge. Most, including the annual fireworks display on the Mississippi River, were canceled due to the recent uptick of coronavirus cases throughout the area.

Jenkins pointed out that crowds had gathered in past weeks to protest police brutality and support the Black Lives Matter movement, and said he believed patriots should also gather to celebrate Independence Day.

Several prominent figures spoke at the event, including Rev. Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church — who drew international attention for continuing to hold church services in defiance of a stay-at-home order — former East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman Darrell Glasper and state Rep. Valarie Hodges. They touched on issues like abortion, freedom, racial tensions, government control, the removal of Confederate monuments, mask-wearing, the liberal media and more.

Almost nobody in the crowd wore masks, and many applauded when speakers said politicians and the media are overhyping of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

“America is falling between our fingers like a handful of sand at the beach,” former state Sen. Elbert Guillory told the crowd through a prerecorded message.

Jenkins said Guillory was sick and couldn’t make the celebration in person; he did not say whether Guillory has the coronavirus.

Referencing the removal of Confederate monuments and the renaming of many buildings and streets across the country in recent weeks, Guillory said "We will not permit the culture killers to destroy America’s history, because our children must learn the good and the bad to not repeat the errors of history” 

Hodges also referenced monuments and renaming buildings in her address to the crowd, calling for fewer liberal professors who “hate America” in universities — including LSU — and a stronger emphasis on American history and civics in schools.

Crouere, speaking from the bed of a pickup truck lined with American flags and balloons in the shape of the letters U, S and A, said he had received harassment for organizing the event.

Attendees stood close together in groups huddled under the shade of a tree to avoid the heat, and hugged and shook hands when they saw friends among the crowd.

Some had signs bearing phrases like “Sorry, did my civil rights get in the way of your virus?” and “We will never stop going to church.”

Spell, the last speaker of the event, was flanked by about a dozen supporters as he spoke, many of which were holding signs in support of him.

He said he hasn’t stopped church during the pandemic, despite multiple arrests for doing so. He said he’s shaken hands and held baptisms.

“Where are all the coffins in my church? Not one death,” he said to a round of applause, before going on to say “it’s never been about a virus, it’s about destroying America.”

Spell said America is not a racist, bigoted or homophobic nation and everyone has the same freedoms as anyone else — but he takes issue when others’ freedoms encroach upon his own.

“What we have represented here today are God-fearing, red-blooded Christians who say enough is enough,” he said. “You have taken prayer out of our schools, you’ve taken the Bible off the public bookshelves, you’ve taken from us our right to assemble, you’ve taken from us our right to go to church and we’re saying today that enough is enough.”


Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.