ENCINITAS — A series of “Trump 2020” memorabilia stands have begun to pop-up in Encinitas and across North County, sparking a variety of local responses — from passionate support to physical violence and verbal abuse.
Legally permitted to sell their products, the “Trump 2020” vendor stands are owned and operated by Brown & Associates, a Los Angeles company, and have obtained the necessary permits from the City of Encinitas to remain in business through summer of 2021.
However, there is more to these political kiosks than first meets the eye.
Who are the employees running the stands?
Giovanni Filomeno, an employee of Brown & Associates, spoke to the Coast News while working his shift on June 28 at a Trump merchandise tent in Encinitas. Filomeno has been an employee for two weeks.
As the Coast News watched, several customers approached the stand to browse the collection of Trump hats, bobbleheads, buttons, license-plate frames and t-shirts. A mother, who arrived with her son, purchased “Trump 2020” hats and thanked Filomeno for “fighting the good fight.”
As Filomeno swiped their credit cards and handed over the merchandise, people screamed profanities and denounced Trump from moving vehicles.
“I try to be friendly with everyone but yeah, this weekend everyone was shouting at me all these bad words,” Filomeno remarked in a thick Italian accent. “I try to just do my job and keep things going smoothly.”
Immigrating to the United States 15 years ago, Filomeno was born in Torrino, Italy. When coronavirus hit the U.S., his business stalled, forcing him to look for work.
“It’s been really, really bad,” Filomeno said. “I’m a father of two and I need income. I was looking for a sales associate job when I found this on Indeed.com, believe it or not. I saw it and I needed a job fast.”
And despite his job, Filomeno isn’t a Trump supporter.
“I’m a Democrat, actually,” Filomeno said. “It’s pretty ironic.”
However, since the first two weeks of operations in Encinitas, Filomeno said these merchandise stands have been catalysts for physical and verbal altercations between supporters, protesters and passing motorists — provoking both impassioned support and vehement hatred.
“My first day was bad, I was like ‘Oh my God,’ what am I doing, but in the end, it’s just a job and these are hard times,” Filomeno told the Coast News as someone in a car screamed, “F— you, Trump” and sped away.
“The first time I was in this spot I was getting ready to leave and two kids, about 17 years old, flipped my table, the whole thing and everything flew everywhere,” Filomeno said.
Anti-Trump demonstrations have reportedly devolved into physical confrontations during which people have thrown cans of paint, knocked over tables and injured a vendor.
On the other side, local supporters of President Donald Trump have yelled at underage protesters holding signs opposing the president’s re-election.
Rumors and escalating tension
According to Capt. Herbert Taft of the Sheriff Department’s North Coastal Station, a vendor operating a Trump merchandise stand, owned by Brown & Associates and located on Vulcan Avenue in Cardiff, was injured on July 17 after an attempted assault. The suspect fled the scene prior to law enforcement’s arrival.
Rumors of the incident quickly spread on local social media pages, prompted by the website CrimeMapping.com, a largely inaccurate private database of 911 calls. Specifically, the website incorrectly identified the event “Assault with a Deadly Weapon,” which fueled false rumors of a stabbing.
A flurry of accusations and innuendo based on faulty information about the incident prompted responses from both the sheriff’s department and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear.
“We can’t confirm that anyone was stabbed. No paramedics were called to the scene so that should give an indication of whether the victim even wanted [medical attention,]” Taft said, in reference to a photograph of the vendor’s injured hand circulating on social media.
“Yes, there was an injury, but again, as far as where any stitches came from, I have no idea seeing as no medical professionals were requested… and the police are unaware of any weapon used to cause the injury itself,” Taft said.
Captain Taft explained to the Coast News how private websites, such as CrimeMapping.com, receive data from the department’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system.
“A person can call in anything they want to and CrimeMapping.com will capture that initial call,” Taft said. “The website doesn’t update itself when we arrive on-scene [to evaluate]. It just tells you what the initial person perceives happened, which in this case incorrectly states a Code 245, assault with a deadly weapon.”
However, the initial information from CrimeMapping.com spread, inspiring Trump supporters to visit stands with the intent to protect vendors, which in turn sparked arguments with protesters.
“Since we’ve responded to Code 415’s [disturbing peace in a public place], however, there have been no arrests or citations,” Taft said. “When they begin to engage each other not physically, but verbally, that’s when problems start. Our job is to protect the First Amendment rights of both parties.”
The City of Encinitas’ response
In response to emails and phone calls regarding “Trump 2020” merchandise stands, Blakespear reaffirmed Brown & Associate’s legal right to operate on city streets, provided the stand remains compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
However, Blakespear told The Coast News that city staff is preparing a new sidewalk vending ordinance for City Council’s consideration by August. The proposed ordinance will allow the city to “regulate directly when it comes to objective health, safety, and welfare concerns,” avoiding a situation in which multiple stands appear on one sidewalk, clogging the public space.
As such regulations are common in San Diego County, Blakespear referenced the City of Coronado’s current vendor policy as a possible blueprint for Encinitas’ future ordinance.
At the time of publication, Brown & Associates has 15 “Trump 2020” stands across North County, all of which are not affiliated with the Trump campaign. Filomeno said a percentage of sales actually goes to the official Trump campaign, but he could not provide specific details.
None of the locations provide security for employees, despite several reported instances of verbal and/or physical danger while working. Additionally, it is unknown whether Brown & Associates paid for the medical expenses of the vendor injured on July 18, or whether Brown himself has worked any of the vendors’ stands in North County.