An appearance by far-right figure Steve Bannon at a fundraiser planned for Assemblyman David J. DiPietro at East Aurora’s iconic Roycroft Inn has been canceled after an outpouring of opposition and — according to the organizers — a barrage of threats.
Michael R. Caputo, DiPietro’s campaign manager and organizer of a separate election rally in Elma also planned for Wednesday, said Friday morning that phone calls and messages from as far away as the West Coast promised to import "mobs" opposed to Bannon and his views to the fundraiser. Coupled with a host of new demands from the Roycroft concerning security, Caputo said organizers decided to cancel.
A long-planned DiPietro fundraiser slated for Thursday will go on as scheduled, he said. It will take place at the Roycroft, with no featured guest and no added security demands.
“After threats against the property from as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California, I decided this morning that I am unwilling to put this national cultural icon at risk,” DiPietro said in a statement.
DiPietro did not return a call seeking comment, but Caputo said Roycroft officials required the campaign to provide additional safety assurances including 30 uniformed officers, a $5 million premises insurance policy and business interruption insurance. He said the “stark realization that the threat from radical leftist activists who have a record of violence and property destruction was real made the assemblyman’s decision a foregone conclusion.”
The DiPietro statement, meanwhile, indicated he understood the concerns of inn managers.
“This morning I realized nowhere is safe in today’s political climate — even my historic hometown,” DiPietro said. “As a boy, my family celebrated many milestones at the Roycroft. As mayor of East Aurora, I helped the Roycroft with too many projects to recite.
“The vision of this beloved building in flames, swarmed by masked rioters, was too much,” he said, echoing a new “mob” catchphrase of President Trump.
“When Democrat name-calling and finger-pointing translates into threats and violence and chaos, it’s time to walk away,” DiPietro said. “The Roycroft was here long before these mobs and it must remain long after they end in the dustbin of history.”
But Andrea Nikischer, a leader in the Citizens Against Collins group that has sponsored local anti-Collins billboards in the past, dismissed DiPietro and Caputo's claims as "ridiculous." She noted that several local groups opposed to the congressman agreed to pay no attention to either Bannon event set for Wednesday.
"We all came together and said we would ignore Steve Bannon; that he wasn't worth our time," she said. "This was just a bunch of misogynous men we wouldn't worry about, and instead we would be out campaigning for Nate McMurray."
Local union leaders also said they planned no protests, and Nikischer emphasized that her group had received no communication from outside opponents indicating plans for any kind of action at the now cancelled Bannon event. She claimed Caputo and DiPietro have a history of falsely painting their opponents as "violent monsters."
Martha Augat, Roycroft innkeeper, again did not return a call seeking comment.
"The organizers have advised us that they have chosen to move to another venue," the Roycroft posted on Twitter on Thursday.
Martha Buyer, an attorney and president of the Roycrofters-At-Large Association, expressed relief that the event will no longer take place at the campus founded by philosopher Elbert Hubbard in 1895. She said her group, which represents more than 200 artisans associated with the Roycroft campus, was never concerned about Bannon’s right to express his views.
Instead, she was concerned about possible boycotts of the inn or the artistic works produced on the campus because of Bannon’s appearance.
“It was not a free speech issue,” Buyer said. “My issue simply was that people should understand the separate entities of all things Roycroft, and that it would threaten our brand.”
Bannon, a key member of Trump’s campaign team and chief strategist in the administration’s early days, is slated to address a separate, 4:30 p.m. rally on Wednesday at the Jamison Road Volunteer Fire Company in Elma. All Republican candidates from throughout the region have been invited to the rally, designed to energize voters to go to the polls on Election Day.
It is expected that Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, who is facing federal charges of insider trading, will loom as a major beneficiary of the effort since Republican leaders continue to fear that some voters will prove reluctant to support the congressman while under indictment. Collins and the GOP, in turn, have emphasized the need to keep the seat in Republican hands as Democrats mount a serious challenge to take over the House of Representatives.
Collins spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre said Friday morning that no decisions have been made about Collins’ attendance at the Bannon event.