Every time Donald Trump comes through Arizona, his political rallies get larger, his protesters get braver, and the interaction between the two groups gets more intense. Today’s rally in Fountain Hills certainly was no exception.
Hours before Trump even arrived, hundreds of protesters stormed the only two roads leading to the venue, while dozens chained themselves together and to vehicles in an effort to block traffic.
At least three people were arrested, authorities say, and Shea Boulevard remained blocked by law enforcement for hours.
But the contentious and verbally volatile interactions continued as protesters made their way to the site of the rally and waved their anti-Trump signs and banners high in the air.
“Targeting non-combatants is not an American value,” one sign read.
“Trump speaks hate” and “Trump 2016: Makes America Hate Again,” read others.
As the sun rose in the sky and the temperature crept into the low 90s, the tension between thousands of sweaty, impassioned Trump supporters and the equally sweaty and impassioned protesters almost was palpable. The tipping point came as Trump arrived about noon.
Both sides provoked the other, hurling slogans and insults – “Get a job,” a Trump supporter yelled; “Stop supporting fascism,” a protester responded.
Standing near the anti-Trump protesters, it was hard to hear the Republican front-runner through loudspeakers, and as the crowd of Trump supporters encircled the demonstrators, squeezing them into an ever-tighter space, hearing anything said from the main stage was nearly impossible. (New Times didn’t make the cut for getting a pass to the roped-off media platform, but all the real action happened outside of the gated area.)
Trump talked for about a half hour, and the few snippets of his speech included such lines as:
“My wife and daughter said I needed to act more presidential … I didn’t hit Little Marco, and I didn’t hit Lying-Lying Ted;”
“I’m going to beat Hillary, don’t worry. Mitt Romney [couldn’t because] he choked, he choked like a dog;”
“I’m conservative, folks. I’m also, like, smart;”
“We’re going to win, win, win. We’re going to win on education, really win with the military … We’re going to win so much you’re going to come to me and say, ‘Mr. President, we’re winning too much.’”
“I just love the way he talks,” a woman in the crowd said.
“Just because we don’t want our businesses to go to Mexico doesn’t make us racist,” another woman told the person standing next to her.
But for all the hardcore Trump fans at the rally, there were a lot of people who said they were still deciding which candidate to vote for in the presidential primary this Tuesday.
“I don’t know who I want [now that] my man [Chris Christie] is out of the race,” another woman told New Times. “I just came to see what this is all about.” When the conversation shifted to the protesters, she added:
“I do get very upset about the hatred, the protesting, the lawlessness on both sides, but I don’t think we can unify the country. It doesn’t matter who wins, there’s too much hatred in this country.”
Hatred, anger, and passion are three words thrown around a lot on the campaign trail this season, and all three were clearly on display today. Actually, the fact that no punches were thrown is incredible given that rumors have been swirling for days that an armed group of protesters or supporters covertly was planning action to incite violence.
“He’s got everyone riled up, and I love it,” one man was overheard saying.
“I think you have the right to protest,” 19-year-old Krysten Shields told New Times. “But it’s one thing to peacefully protest and it's another thing to shove [a viewpoint] down someone’s throat. They’re going on and on about Donald Trump hating everyone and everything, but they’re saying they hate him.”
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But for Chris Weir, who is not a Trump fan but came to the rally to experience what she calls “a very historically significant phenomenon,” there is an upside, or at least a silver lining, to all the fighting and protesting and counter-protesting and name-calling rocking the country at Trump campaign events:
“I guess the one positive thing is all the exposure really important issues like racism and sexism are getting,” she says. “The reason I’m here observing is less political and more out of concern for political liberty, equality, and non-discrimination … These rallies create a forum for the intersection of all ideas and points of view.”