Before last weekend, few people knew Chris Molla, the Manahawkin man who decided to organize a boat parade that served the dual purpose of showing support for law enforcement as well as the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump. Now, he is credited with organizing one of the largest boat processions of its kind of the east coast.
Molla was upset after seeing recent rioting and anti-police protests getting so much press while those who support good, honest police officers did not seem to have much of an outlet. He already managed a Facebook page that chronicles photos of fun times at Tices Shoal, the popular anchorage in Barnegat Bay behind Island Beach State Park, and thought he’d create another page on the platform and see if anyone was interested in having an event much like those that gained publicity in Florida and other coastal states. While those boat rallies were aimed at supporting Trump, Molla told Shorebeat he wanted his to first support law enforcement.
“It was to show some support for our law enforcement – our girls and boys in blue,” Molla said Monday, 24 hours after the all-day procession down the bay was complete. “I have family on the job, many of my friends are in law enforcement, and it seems like their hands are somewhat tied to show support for the good cops that are out there.”
Molla said his page for the event first drew 100 followers, then quickly drew hundreds more and eventually ended up with over 5,000 the day before the parade (and over 6,000 the day of). With an event this big, he knew safety could become an issue, so he reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard, state police and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office – especially after he received threats that protesters were planning to plunge objects off bridges onto the boats.
“I found out that I did need a permit, so I applied and it got approved,” said Molla. “Once it was approved, it was game-on. I just tried to add as many people as I could, and we were also getting tons of requests from people on land asking where they could see it and show support from there.”
“We did get threats of people throwing stuff from the bridges, but I spoke with the sheriff and they made sure no one was up there with backpacks or doing anything illegal,” he added.
While Sunday was a windy day on the water, with southwest winds blowing 10-20 m.p.h., the bane of boaters in the bay, Molla said his team of volunteer marshalls counted just about 1,000 boats between the northern and southern flanks of the parade. It began at the Route 37 bridge and proceeded south to the Route 72 causeway bridges between Manahawkin and Long Beach Island.
“I was a little scared,” he joked. “I’m looking back and I was like, whoa! We were well past Bayville and there were still boats leaving Toms River.”
Some boats peeled off after they reached Tices Shoal, while others joined at the same point. The flotilla ultimately motored down to the Route 72 bridge, where they were met with supporters cheering them on from the bridge’s walkway and from land.
In an age where conservatives feel their voices are being silenced on social media, and some are nervous to openly support law enforcement in public for fear of obtaining a negative label by political foes, the boat parade was a bold statement and provided strength in numbers, organizers said.
“We wanted to make a statement that, ‘you’re not alone,'” said Molla. “Over 400 cops have been beat up, up to 14 have been murdered, assassinated. I’m not going to sit down and be quiet.”
“I had a cousin on my boat who is a New York City police officer,” said John Norris, another organizer. “When we got out to the ICW and saw 1000 plus boats with an average of 8 people per boat … he had tears in his eyes and was very moved.”
“I cannot even begin to express how happy and at home I felt out there with everyone,” another attendee, Virginia Kutsop, posted on social media. “It was incredible to be out there with my fellow patriots!”
A day after the parade, hundreds of boaters were sharing their photos on social media.
“It blew up and got way bigger than I expected, which was incredible,” Molla said.