Scores of protesters gathered outside a convention of about 3,000 young conservatives Wednesday, met in turn by a throng of Turning Point USA attendees with signs and chants, when two pedestrians were seriously injured by a car outside the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
West Palm Beach Police Sgt. Dave Lefont said no one involved in the accident was believed to be connected to the protest. The pedestrians were crossing Okeechobee Boulevard and heading toward the convention center when struck by a car that was heading east, officials said.
Shortly before 7 p.m., one pedestrian was taken as a trauma alert to a local hospital, and the other sustained serious injuries, police said.
“It was sobering,” said Turning Point USA attendee Stephen Burns, 19, of Kennesaw, Ga.
The atmosphere had been growing tense before the accident, he said. Protest groups including Women’s March Florida held signs reading, “Hey Nazis, leave those kids alone!” and “Hate Not Welcome in WPB.”
Attendees of the Turning Point USA gathering, including students ages 15 to 25 from around the country, held their own signs and chanted back. At various points, the counterprotesters chanted, “Taxation is Theft” and later “No More Food Stamps, Get a Job!”
Burns said he tried to urge his fellow conventiongoers to engage the protesters in a constructive way.
“Instead of just chanting at them and yelling ‘USA!’ and ‘Build the wall!,’ I said let’s try having conversations with them,” Burns said. “We were starting to find some conversations, but the police had to pull me out because they believed things were getting a little tense. Then the car wreck happened and it was really sad.”
Participants on both sides were not initially sure who was hurt in the traffic incident and why. It was not so long ago a woman died after being struck by a vehicle during a protest in Charlottesville, Va.
Alex Newell Taylor, Palm Beach County co-captain for Women’s March Florida, said of the atmosphere before the accident, “I think it’s ugly.”
She said she was troubled “they are coming to our town to behave like this.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was scheduled to address the Turning Point USA gathering according to its online agenda, but organizers said the session was closed to media.
“Great to meet with Wisconsin students at the @TPUSA Student Action Summit today,” Walker tweeted. “We need MORE young conservatives to help us fight for MORE bold reform that will keep Wisconsin moving forward & provide a conservative model to the nation!”
Anthony Scaramucci, who served briefly as White House communications director, is listed on the agenda for Thursday.
Donald Trump Jr. spoke on the opening of the four-day event Tuesday. He and the young attendees celebrated tax cuts that were nearing final passage, to chants of “USA! USA!” The president’s son said: “Big government sucks.”