Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s rally at the Albuquerque Convention Center began with an announcement: “If you spot a protester, do not touch them.” Evidently unconcerned with recent accusations of violence at Trump rallies, the crowd responded in unison with an audible “Boo!” The announcer went on to declare, “This is a peaceful rally,” to which the audience responded—again in unison—with a resoundingly disappointed “Awww!” It was a sign, to say the least, of things to come. By the close of the evening, Trump’s supporters would get their wish for violent confrontation.
Of course it was hard to miss the protesters. Thousands of them—men, women and children—had marched up Central earlier in the evening, sporting signs and chanting slogans like “Love Trumps Hate!” Getting into the convention center itself meant walking a reverse red carpet of anti-Trump activists. Most loudly accused Mr. Trump of being racist. One offered rally goers the opportunity to “Hug a Mexican.” Some simply and sincerely begged people not to enter the convention center and support Trump’s candidacy.
Inside, it was undoubtedly a telling sign that Trump couldn’t convince a single New Mexico politician to come to the rally and support him. Republican Governor Susana Martinez, for example, was “too busy” to speak on behalf of her party’s presumptive nominee. So the rally began with Trump’s lead policy advisor Stephen Miller taking the stage to recite passages from Peter Schweizer’s rabidly anti-
He spent the first half of his hour-long speech fending off protesters inside the venue. Like clockwork the protesters would unfurl a banner (“#undocumented #unafraid”) or expose a T-shirt (“I Heart NM”), and the Trump supporters would engage in a giant game of “Where’s Waldo,” pointing out the intruder en masse, hooting and hollering and chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” to drown them out. Trump would break from his speech, turn to locate the protester and say, “Get ’em out. Get ’em out of here.” It was a refrain he was forced to repeat at least a dozen times over the course of the evening. Occasionally, he would toss in a grade school insult to boot: “He’s only doing this because he couldn’t get a date tonight” or “That’s the youngest protester I’ve ever seen. He was wearing diapers.”
The level of discourse barely hovered above a third-grade reading level. Trump’s speech, when he could make it, was exactly as expected—a rambling, disjointed collection of crazy observations (an extended insulting of Ted Cruz, who isn’t even in the race anymore; something about “people with Syrian flags on their cell phones”) punctuated frequently (very frequently) with what have become Trump’s “greatest hits.” He talked again and again about “Crooked Hillary,” he repeatedly told the audience “We’re going to make America great again,” and he helpfully informed his followers that “We’re gonna win so much you’re gonna get sick of winning.” Although it was clear—and not just from the pop-up protesters being “escorted” out of the venue—that not everyone in attendance was a dyed-in-the-wool Trump follower, the majority of the audience was in lock-step with his oft-repeated slogans. “Build that wall! Build that wall!” they shouted with regularity.
Even before the rally built to its crescendo and Trump left the stage to the strains of the Space Jam theme song “Get Ready For This,” a certain percentage of the audience seemed to grow tired of either the 100th repetition of “We’re going to make America great again” or the venue’s lack of chairs. At least one elderly woman teetered on the edge of passing out and was wheeled out by paramedics. Conservative mouthpiece Breitbart.com pegged the crowd at “approximately 10,000,” but 5,000 is far closer to reality. When the rally finally did come to an end, the folks inside the convention center started making their way toward the exits. That’s when the traffic jam started.
Police herded attendees toward the center’s two escalators. People were forced to walk upstairs and away from the many doors through which they entered. As crowds jammed into the dangerously clogged lobby, it became apparent why: The doors of the convention center were trembling. Police horses ringed the building. Protesters were pushing against the glass. Inside the center many stopped to film the protesters and flip the bird in their direction. Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” spontaneously rang out inside the lobby. Rally goers were eventually led on a circuitous route and exited the building on the far north side, well away from the brewing “riot.”
The streets of Downtown were lined with cars. A seemingly endless parade of pickup trucks flying Mexican flags filled Central and its tributaries. The drivers and passengers were clearly having none of Trump and his supporters. The Trump faithful responded in kind, screaming things like, “Go back to fucking Mexico! I work for a living!” and “Get out of my country!”
On Central, there was a sort of chaotic party atmosphere underway. Gone was the family-filled anti-Trump parade of earlier, replaced now with a lot of younger folks blaring Trump-bashing rap songs from their car stereos and shouting out car windows. Closer in to the convention center, the leaders of the earlier organized protests had long since left. What remained was a selection of high school and college-aged troublemakers. They threw rocks at the windows of the convention center, burned a Trump T-shirt and hurled insults at APD. Pepper spray and smoke canisters were eventually fired into the dwindling crowd, who kicked them around with glee, having donned gas masks and bandanas in earlier anticipation of such hijinks. Walls were spray-painted (“Fuck Trump”) and dumpsters were pushed into the street.
The bad eggs were, to those who were paying attention, few and far between. Of the thousands inside and outside the convention center that evening (numbers seemed about even for the pro and anti crowds), barely a hundred stuck around to cause real trouble. But it wasn’t a pretty picture, particularly when it started showing up on national news the next morning.
There was plenty of animosity on both sides of the barricades. Hardliners in both camps spoiling for a fight found exactly what they were looking for. But what the evening exposed, in stark detail, was Trump’s most bald-faced lie. “I’ll be a uniter, not a divider,” he’s said time and again. Yet his candidacy has done nothing of the sort. The rally in Albuquerque was just a tiny taste of what is likely to happen all across this nation come election night. A nation now used to 50-50 division in all things from sports to politics to soda options is happily choosing sides. Leading Republicans refuse to be seen with Trump. Supporters dredge up antiquated racist and isolationist ideas. The opposition is denigrated, not with questions of policy and political stance, but with juvenile insults. The ranks of protesters and counter-protesters swell in equal numbers. Haters have violent reactions to Trump’s very presence in their city. Things break down, and streets start to burn. Four people were arrested at the Trump rally in Albuquerque, and it made international headlines. Three nights later 35 were arrested at a rally in San Diego. This is the sort of “unity” Trump is delivering. Odds are it’s only going to get worse.