FUNKSTOWN, Maryland — As protests broke out in American cities over the last week, with thousands demonstrating against a series of executive orders handed down from President Trump, life as normal continued in many small towns across the country — including this conservative community of just under 1,000 people in northern Maryland.
On Saturday night, as crowds swarmed multiple U.S. airports, there was little interest among residents in talking “politics” here at Funkstown Tavern and Joker's Bar and Grill — the two late-night spots on the town’s main street.
The patrons were aware of the issues that had passions running high in many urban centers of the country (“build that wall!” one woman shouted from the corner of the tavern), but this city was more interested that night in toasting a local high school baseball team than roasting politicians.
When the sun rose on Sunday morning, 100 locals filed into St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the one place of worship within the city limits. And when asked, parishioners were quick to give the president their support.
“He’s doing what he said he was going to do — and he’s doing it well,” said Nina Volz, one of the churchgoers. She allowed that Trump’s executive order barring refugees from entering the United States raised some questions. “It’s hard to draw a straight line — yes, we’re taking refugees; no, we’re not,” she said.
The church is “supposed to welcome the refugees,” she said. But in this town — 97 percent white and overwhelmingly Republican, no one was squarely opposed to the president’s decree.
And inside the church, there was only praise for President Trump.
“At the end of four years, if [Trump] pulls off everything that he says he’s going to be able to do and accomplish everything, he’ll be the second greatest person to ever walk the earth,” said Karen Lighter as she walked through the church’s fellowship hall.
Dan Miller, a member of 62 years, said the U.S. should ensure refugees and immigrants enter in a “godly manner.”
“We’re a Christian nation, so if you want to be a resident — if you want to be a refugee coming into a nation and be a resident, be a resident — but in a godly manner,” Miller said.
Barry Warrenfeltz, a city councilman and churchgoer of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, nodded knowingly when told about an Iraqi translator who aided the United States military and an Ivy League student who were among those detained at U.S. airports following the president’s executive order.
But Warrenfeltz, in response, flatly stated: “I’m pretty sure that some were in that batch are ISIS troops trying to get in too.” The U.S. has released no intelligence to substantiate such claims.
A local business owner across the street, Jerry Mellott, suggested that there could be “a kind of Ellis Island” set up, where asylum seekers would go through an enhanced vetting process in person. He suggested the refugee executive order may not be “the right thing to do” but added that “something has to be done.”
And back at Joker’s Bar and Grill during the Sunday lunch hour, Ronald Curry Jr., a patron, questioned the court’s authority over the president’s executive order. A federal judge issued an emergency stay on Saturday night that prevented federal authorities from deporting immigrants already at U.S. airports.
“How are you going to rule the president?” Curry Jr. asked. “He’s doing — it’s what he’s supposed to do for this country. He wants this country to be a better place. But now people are not backing him up and are denying what he’s doing.”
Across the bar, Amber Rowland, who helps run the place, insisted that she agrees with the ban on refugees and suspension of immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“You want to help people out to get away from their countries and things like that,” Rowland noted. “But it’s making it harder for us to have a life. These people who are coming in are getting free handouts and everything else like that.”
“We have people here who need help,” she said.