This is Jeff Sieting. He’s the Village President of Kalkaska, Michigan. This pure up north town is known for trout fishing. They celebrate the sport with a giant trout fountain on Main Street.
Jeff Sieting owns the Hotel Sieting across the street from the fountain. He’s worked hard for the village making things better, and the townspeople do appreciate his hard work. Sieting also works hard making things out of wood, like these old timey-styled gumball machines.
Jeff Sieting turned the first floor of the Hotel Sieting into a shop to sell his homemade old timey artesianal gumball machines and antiques. Being on Main Street and right across the road from the giant fish fountain seemed like the ideal location.
Except it hasn’t worked out that way for Jeff Sieting. Most tourists who come to Kalkaska don’t stop to buy homemade gumball machines, no matter how well made or nice looking they are. People stop in Kalkaska to fuel up, eat, and head to the cottage or cabin to do what everyone from downstate comes up north to do – enjoy being up north. Sure, people stop to take a picture of the giant trout fountain because that’s cool. Then they might notice the bar or ice cream shop across the street and head over for some refreshment. Gumball machines? Where are the fudgies supposed to stash those in their boats and campers – toss out the beer and Koegel Viennas?
Needless to say, when your big plan to sell your overpriced handmade gumball machines doesn’t work out, you’re going to get grumpy about it.
There’s another issue that very likely has something to do with people avoiding the Hotel Sieting. Since last fall, a large sign urging people to vote for Trump has hung prominently over the front door of the gumball machine store/hotel. Sieting’s hotel was covered with Republican campaign signs during the election. He removed most of them afterward, but the Trump sign remains. When people in town pointed out he was violating the law, he changed the word “vote” on the sign to “pray 4”.
People still didn’t buy his gumball machines, and the fact the sign wasn’t taken down and people weren’t happy about it grew from local grumbling to regional and statewide notice. A radio personality in Flint who used to live in Kalkaska made Sieting’s social media page’s content aware to the public, including an anti-Muslim rant that suggested “kill them all.”
More out of towners got involved. A woman named Phoebe Hopps who was involved in the Women’s March on Washington organized a “no hate” protest against Sieting for the rhetoric he shared on Facebook to take place in front of the giant trout fountain on June 23, 2017 at seven o’clock in the afternoon. Not to be outdone, more out of towners called Your Defending Fathers announced a 2nd amendment demonstration in support of Sieting and Trump to take place in front of the Hotel Sieting on the same day beginning at six thirty. Bikers welcome and pizza for all.
The residents of Kalkaska? They looked on and wondered what on earth they did to deserve all of the attention.
People arrived for both demonstrations. This is what it looked like on the giant trout fountain side of the street:
And this is what it looked like on the Hotel Sieting side:
There were flags and placards with messages being carried on the sidewalk. Some nice folks brought extra flags for people to hold. On the Hotel side, people shouted things like, “Get a job! Have any of you served?” And in on more than one occasion, when they chanted “USA USA USA,” the no hate demonstrators joined in with them. One man shouted, “Just like the Muslims, you’re a bunch of f****** dumbasses!” This prompted the no hate demonstrators to chant, “love not hate!” The heckler’s answer? “At least we have God on our side!”
It wasn’t enough for the Sieting supporters to stay on their side of the street. Many came over to the no hate side and argued with demonstrators about why all Muslims deserved to die, that they were all going to hell for supporting LGBT rights and not accepting Trump as their personal lord and savior. One debate turned into a shouting match and prompted the police to move in.
People carrying firearms and wearing MAGA hats did the best they could to intimidate the no hate demonstrators. Trucks and motorcycles drove back and forth making as much noise as possible and flipping off the peaceful no hate side of the road. Coal rollers billowed black smoke, and some made sure to honk their horns when they drove on the Hotel Sieting side.
As the afternoon became evening, the police presence on the street grew more obvious. Most of the no hate demonstrators moved further down the street to get away from the Sieting demonstrators who were also patronizing the Kal Ho Lounge. They occasionally walked out onto the sidewalk, shouted insults and profanity before going back into the bar.
Kalkaska locals who talked to the Up North Progressive commented on the fact that most of the people demonstrating on both sides were not residents of the village. What especially bothered them was the purpose of the demonstration and the negative publicity their town received from the public and the press. The local TV stations were there to take pictures and interview demonstrators. Most people walked away afterward assuming this all started over a Trump sign that’s still violating the law, free speech rights, the 2nd amendment, hate speech … and they’re all wrong.
This is about Village President Jeff Sieting getting mad at a town because no one wants to buy his gumball machines. The Trump sign still violates the law, but Sieting refuses to take it down, especially now when it’s getting people to notice his hotel. Maybe they’ll notice his gumball machines next.