Trump’s diplomatic appointment to Bermuda triggers protest

This Bermudian man was among dozens who descended on the US Consulate in Crown Hill to protest the appointment of Lee Rizzuto Jnr, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter as the incoming Consul General. (Photo: The Royal Gazette)

Scores of Bermuda residents have protested outside the United States consulate to denounce a new appointment and the unlawful killing of blacks in America.

“It’s about stopping the global spread of fascism, racism, white supremacy, and stamping it out wherever we see it,” protest organiser Kristin White told reporters outside the consulate on the outskirts of Hamilton on Monday night (June 1).

Her comments followed confirmation by the US State Department of the appointment of businessman Lee Rizzuto Jr, a controversial Donald Trump campaign contributor, as replacement for US Consul General Constance Dierman this summer, even though she has completed only two years of a three-year assignment in the British Overseas Territory.

White said the furore over Rizzuto’s appointment and the racial justice issues that have flared up in the US after the death in police custody in Minnesota of black American George Floyd are “sides of the same coin”.

The protesters held a nine-minute moment of silence to reflect the amount of time that Floyd spent pinned under the knee of a Minnesota police officer before dying of asphyxia. They also stood, knelt and chanted slogans ‘Silence Is Compliance’, ‘Reject Rizzuto’ and ‘Twenty-one Square Miles, No Space for Racism’ outside the consulate building for about two hours.

The protest, headlined “We Take Action”, carried the hashtags #blacklivesmatterbda, #rejectrizzuto and #icantbreathebda, a slogan related to protests against the killing of black people by American police officers.

Leandro Rizzuto Jr. and his wife Denise are regulars to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, resort in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: ABC News)

Makai Dickerson, another protest organiser, said the movement was about justice for everyone.

“This is about standing up as Bermudians in making it known that we stand with our brothers and sisters worldwide,” said Dickerson.

Dierman, who arrived in Bermuda in 2018, thanked the protesters for observing the rule of law.

“Freedom of speech and assembly are cornerstones of a healthy democracy. I thank those peacefully making their views heard outside the US Consulate and thank the Bermuda Police Service for ensuring everyone’s safety,” she said.

No official reason has been given for Dierman’s early departure.

Rizzuto, 58, who gave US$449,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign political action committee, made headlines in America after he shared “conspiracy theories and unfounded attacks” about the President’s political opponents on Twitter in the run-in to the 2016 election.

The fallout resulted in Trump not gaining Senate confirmation when he nominated Rizzuto as Ambassador to Barbados in 2018.

White, a well-known entrepreneur and social activist, added “any support for Donald Trump is support for fascism”.

“Wherever Donald Trump’s people go, racism and fascism follow,” White said, adding that she hoped the Bermuda government would pressure Governor John Rankin to refuse the appointment of Rizzuto.

“That is the bottom line. We do not want him here,” she said, adding that such an appointment embodied “anti-Muslim, anti-black and anti-woman” sentiments.

But Premier David Burt admitted the government’s hands are tied when he addressed the issue during a press briefing about the coronavirus pandemic being held at the same time.

Premier of Bermuda David Burt

“I can recognise that there may be persons who have strong feelings one way or another. The post to Bermuda is not often used as a political post. This is a political appointment as opposed to a career foreign service officer.”

Burt said that while the US Senate had not confirmed Rizzuto to a post in Barbados, he did not require similar approval for the Bermuda post because the island was not independent.

“I hope the persons who are calling for that type of change also recognise that it’s what happens when you live in a colony,” Burt said.