The 60 or so people who gathered along Route 25A in East Setauket Friday afternoon for a political protest weren’t unique in terms of their political activism, which has spawned countless new movements in response to President Donald Trump.
But their target was. It was not a specific policy or politician, but a private citizen: Robert Mercer, a Long Island billionaire whose influence on the new Trump administration has become the subject of intense interest.
Hoisting American flags and signs that decried Mercer’s reported ties to key White House policymakers, the protesters marched down the busy route from a CVS shopping center to the offices of Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund where Mercer serves as co-CEO — and where multiple Suffolk County police cars guarded the entry.
The march included many members of the North Country Peace Group, which was started in the wake of the Iraq War and has held regular political protests in the same area. It was led by men wearing paper masks depicting the faces of figures such as Mercer, President Donald Trump and Trump’s chief adviser Steve Bannon. The Mercer character held mock puppet strings tied to the others.
Some protesters said they were spurred to action by recent news reports that describe Mercer as a quiet but formidable presence behind Trump’s election victory and the shaping of his cabinet. Mercer, of Head of the Harbor, and his daughter, Rebekah, were reportedly key in getting Trump last summer to hire Bannon and Kellyanne Conway as top campaign aides. Bannon and Conway are credited with helping Trump to his upset victory.
Mercer has given millions of dollars to political action committees backing Trump and his policies, and, according to media reports, has also been a major investor in the conservative news website Breitbart, which Bannon used to run.
“I just don’t think a lot of people who thought Trump would speak up for the little guy had any clue,” Barbara Matthews, 62, of St. James, said of Mercer’s reported influence.
Mercer could not be reached Friday for comment.
Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, who was a prominent Trump campaign surrogate and attended a post-election party at Mercer’s estate, criticized the protestors.
He said their focus should be on issues or on Trump, not a private person involved in the political process.
“What they’re doing is disgraceful,” LaValle said in an interview.
But another protestor said the level of Mercer’s political involvement made him fair game.
“He’s got a perfect right to do what he does with his money, but we’ve got a perfect right to tell him we don’t like it,” said Robert Polin, 79, of East Setauket, a psychotherapist.