HOMOSASSA, Fla. — For the small, outspoken liberal minority in Citrus County, death threats, bullying and harassment are common occurrences for their vocal opposition to conservative beliefs in the area.
Dale Pray, a 68-year-old retiree who moved to Florida from Maine about 13 years ago, has publicly spoken out against the county’s denial of a New York Times subscription at local libraries. Pray later opened his mailbox to find a written letter threatening his life, he said.
Pray says instead of retaliation, he found support from a group of like-minded people. In April 2019, Pray, a Citrus County resident, created the “Citrus Impeach Trump” Facebook group. The group was meant to connect the minority of county residents who opposed former President Donald Trump’s actions.
“I attended a women’s rights rally and said ‘hey, I’m not alone,” Pray said. “A few of us would recognize each other … and we decided we ought to have a way to communicate with each other.”
Pray doesn’t consider himself a leader, but as someone who isn’t afraid to speak up and is willing to create a Facebook page, he said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be tech-savvy to keep the Facebook group going and to be not fearful of local rabble-rousing,” Pray said. “I’ve only got one death threat so far.”
Now in 2023, the group goes by the “Citrus Coffee Coalition” and has over 1,000 Facebook members. After Trump’s term ended, the group focused on rallying support for issues such as women’s reproductive rights, the war in Ukraine and gun regulation.
Citrus County has historically voted Republican on local and national levels. Only once since 1976 has the county gone to a democrat in a presidential election – President Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996.
As of December, 53% of active voters in Citrus County are Republican, 24% no party affiliation and 21% Democrat, according to the Florida Division of Elections.
Citrus County’s five-seat commission is entirely Republican.
Signs supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Trump dot the county’s busiest streets, joined by emphatic expressions of disapproval against President Joe Biden.
The Citrus Coffee Coalition meets up monthly to discuss politics and activism, or just to grab a cup of coffee at Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters. During the 2022 election season, local candidates of any party affiliation were invited to speak to the group.
The Coalition’s most public objective is putting on protests and rallies in the county. The latest they organized was a “Bigger than Roe” rally on Jan. 22 at the Old Citrus County Courthouse. About 35 residents attended the women’s reproductive rights event.
The following day, about 150 residents attended the “Roe v. Wade Memorial Service,” an anti-abortion rally, held at the same location.
At past protests, the Citrus Coffee Coalition has experienced harassment in the forms of insults and passing truck drivers blowing smoke on protestors, according to multiple members. The group does not let harassment impact their protests and rallies and tries to embrace the attention.
Judi Matthews and Tony Ayo, Citrus County residents, typically arrive together at rallies in costume. Matthews dons a handmaid’s outfit based on “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. While Ayo takes on a different persona as “Rhonda Santis,” a “southern belle personality” with a long-haired wig and dress.
Matthews and Ayo aren’t the only ones who dress up for the protests. At the last women’s reproductive rights rally, one attendee wore a 5-foot penis costume.
Mary Roberts, a Citrus County resident, does not let the negativity phase her. Roberts describes herself as outspoken and willing to speak up for the causes she believes in, she said.
“I do believe when they go low, we go high,” Roberts said. “There’s no sense in arguing”
A couple of weeks ago Roberts was at her doctor’s office in Inverness when a patient in the waiting room began yelling about immigrants stealing benefits from American citizens. Roberts spoke out against the person and accused them of lying, she said.
“I’m not going to sit back anymore and just let things go or nod my head,” Roberts said.
Robert Hurley, a Citrus County resident, moved to the area from Boston and was shocked at the way people treated those with differing political opinions, he said.
“I moved down here, and I thought I moved into a different dimension,” Hurley said. “I couldn’t believe the animosity and the hatred.”
Hurley and other members turn to the coalition for support from a like-minded community.
“We can’t do a whole lot but maybe we can make a few people sit up and take notice that things are wrong,” Hurley said.