North Carolina rallies have set the tone for the discussion on Donald Trump’s response to protesters at his events has brought the conflict about the atmosphere that surrounds Trump and his campaign stops to the forefront.
My bandmate Jake Marszalek and I decided to go to Trump’s rally in order to observe the mayhem firsthand. We were not disappointed.
It began as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, greeted by a crowd of a dozen or so protesters who held signs proclaiming dislike for the Republican front-runner and chanting slogans such as “No hate in our state.” From there, we were directed to the parking lot and began our descent down the rabbit hole.
Stepping out of the vehicle, we joined a migration of surprisingly diverse Trump supporters. The crowd ranged in age with an unexpected variety, but the racial monotone of white people persisted through the entire event. As we entered the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center, peddlers sold everything from shirts proclaiming that Trump was someone “with balls,” to buttons advertising a desire to put Hillary Clinton in prison.
Secret Service agents monitored our every move as we made our way into line. Emptying our pockets, we were patted down and screened. We had heard that at other Trump rallies, campaign staff members have made a habit of asking every attendee whether they support the candidate in an attempt to weed out protesters. No one asked us if we supported Trump, and we passed through with no difficulties.
We spent the next several hours listening to what Trump supporters had to say. To me, they all seemed to be people who were drawn to Trump by his outsider nature, not his money or fame. I overheard one supporter wishing for a “poor good ol’ boy” to run, but she had accepted that Trump was “the best we’re going to get.”
As the morning progressed into afternoon, the rally started. Songs such as “Leader of the Pack” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” were played over the loudspeakers in preparation for the arrival of the man of the hour.
Soon, undercover security guards began pointing law enforcement officers toward people who seemed out of place. Uniformed private security, sheriff’s deputies and Secret Service began to lead potential protesters out the door. It started with individuals. It progressed to groups.
At least a half-dozen clad in black were led out of the area, fists raised in the air in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
A couple of African-American men asked law enforcement why this was happening. They received no clear answer. My friend and I spoke to the gentlemen, and they told us why they were there. One told us that he was going into the Army soon and was terrified of Donald J. Trump becoming his commander in chief. They both said that they came simply to listen to the man, to try and comprehend his rhetoric.
After five minutes, for no clear reason, security made their way over and escorted our two new friends from the venue. They had done nothing to voice opposition. They were merely black.
The carnival continued, however, and my friend and I observed as the show began.
First, the campaign manager for the Trump effort in North Carolina took the stage. He proclaimed to the masses how wonderful Trump is and how excited he was to be able to work with the candidate. Next, a woman in a sequined pink jacket led the crowd of thousands in prayer. This prayer wasn’t so much directed at God, but more toward The Donald himself. She thanked God for allowing Trump to run, for Trump’s landslide victories in the primaries, for putting Trump on this Earth to save us from the terrible political situation of the past 10 years.
Her voice boomed from the loudspeakers, shaking the arena and causing my body to vibrate in time with her proclamations. But the worst was yet to come.
Before Donald Trump took the stage, the crowd was led in a series of chants.
The arena shook as the crowd chanted about Clinton, “PUT HER IN JAIL! PUT HER IN JAIL!”
The heavens were rattled with cries of, “CAN’T STUMP THE TRUMP! CAN’T STUMP THE TRUMP!”
My friend turned to me and said they should be chanting “Bankrupt! Bankrupt!”
I’ve never been as scared in my life as I was when I heard the next chant.
My bones were chilled with nervous energy and my muscles shook with fury as the amassed crowd of thousands began a chant of, “BUILD THAT WALL! BUILD THAT WALL! BUILD THAT WALL!”
The room shook with the vibrations of people stamping their feet as signs were rattled in the air and cheers flew through the air. A dull pocketknife could have cut the anger and desperation that filled the arena. Finally, as the room settled, opera music began to play and the man himself took the stage.
He walked out slowly and deliberately, a smug smile plastered on his face. Each step seemed a calculated move, a slow clap generating as he walked on a long stage toward the podium.
My friend turned to me and whispered, “This feels like a WrestleMania event or something.”
I had to agree. The utter ridiculousness of the whole thing, from the subliminally narcissistic songs being played to the fervor that gripped the crowd, all struck a nerve with me. I found myself questioning the situation inside my head, “Is this for real? Is Donald Trump really running for president?”
He began the speech with a crowd-warming rhetorical question.
“How great is North Carolina?” Trump asked.
He was met with cheers from the crowd of thousands, packed shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor and every available seat filled.
Trump began with what amounted to talk about policy, mostly addressing the loss of jobs in the region and the export of labor to overseas and neighboring countries. He directed most criticism at companies who had moved their labor to China or Mexico, evading harsher U.S. labor laws. Trump promised to increase tariffs, while simultaneously condemning and praising free trade.
Later, in the parking lot, we asked a Trump merchandise peddler where the products were made. Although the peddler said they were made in the U.S., upon checking the labels, we discovered something different. The labels on the hats said China and the labels on the shirts said Honduras.
Trump promised to build a wall as high as the event center across the entire Mexican border and continued to repeat similar motifs and sound bites from earlier press interviews. As Trump continued with his rhetoric on walls and bombs, the first protesters began to show themselves.
One young man standing beside us, sharply dressed, with a long ponytail, started with a yell. He denounced Trump as a bigot and fascist. With every condemnation, Trump responded with a plea to security to “Get him outta here.” The young man was hauled off by security and deputies while raising both hands in a middle-fingered salute to the crowd.
More protesters followed in the young man’s wake. Droves of both individuals and groups were led out, interrupting Trump’s speech every few minutes. My friend began to nudge me.
“When are we going to speak up?” Marszalek asked me.
I hadn’t originally planned on protesting. I had come to observe, to serve as a journalist. My job was to witness, not participate. But I had a breaking point.
When Trump began to launch into another speech about building the wall, I had to speak up.
“Your daddy was a Klansman!” I shouted above the crowd.
I followed up with cries of “Racist!” “Fascist!” and “Bigot!” as the crowd around us began pointing us out to security. My friend shouted some obscenities, and then security managed to reach us. As we were hauled off, I gave The Donald the bird, and a Secret Service agent very sternly told us not to flip anyone off. We exited with hands raised in peace signs, as we were escorted out a back door and told to leave the premises.
Donald Trump is an interesting candidate. He speaks in an almost hypnotizing way, and it lures you in; however, it is all rhetoric. Most what he says sounds like a third-grader bragging on a playground. Once you look carefully, it all turns into boasting and impossible claims.
In light of events in Fayetteville, North Carolina in which a protester was punched while being escorted out; in light of St. Louis, where pictures showed protesters bleeding as they were led out; I have to stop and think about where the true danger in Donald Trump’s claims lie.
It’s important to note that he is not making people racist. He is merely causing them to be more vocal, to express their discomfort and hatred. In a news interview that went viral, the supporter who punched a protester in Fayetteville said, “Next time, we might have to kill ‘em.” At the Concord rally we attended, one supporter said she wishes they could have the protestors leave on stretchers. And Donald Trump encourages it, saying they deserve to be roughed up.
This experience left me with one conclusion.
Donald Trump isn’t the only problem; the people who support him are just as dangerous.