Trump Rally Veers Toward Chaos in Harrisburg
With a crowd of thousands still piling into the stands and onto the dirt floor, the PA system at the Farm Show Complex’s large arena crackled to life with an unusual announcement, one it had likely never made before.
“If you see a protester, do not harm them. This is a peaceful event,” said the man’s voice on the other end.
It was an unusual public appeal, not only for the venue, but also given the context.
This was a presidential campaign stop by a presidential front runner.
But Donald Trump’s campaign has been unusual in almost every-way. Unusual in its nose-thumbing at political leaders. Unusual in its imperviousness. Unusual in its polarizing effect.
And so it was no more than five minutes into Trump’s event Thursday, with thousands still in a line snaking around the palatial Complex, that the first protester was spotted.
“Get him out. Get him out,” Trump said with a swipe of his hand.
Minutes later there was a second one, this time chanting “Black Lives Matter.” The man was snatched up by police and rushed through a cattle chute and into the hallways outside.
Halfway into the event, ejections of protesters had become so commonplace that Trump developed a rhythm.
“Aren’t Trump rallies fun,” he said to uproarious applause.
“The protesters are giving up ’cause we like it, we have fun with it,” he added.
And they certainly did.
But for every dissenter inside, there were more out.Donald Trump protesters outside of rally in Harrisburg
Outside the building, hundreds of protesters had gathered, growing from just a handful earlier in the day. After the event, they faced off with Trump supporters as they filed out of the arena and toward their cars.
They traded barbs earlier in the day, which later escalated into verbal threats and taunts.
Inside, Trump got in on it, too.
“Let him go. He’s got no voice. I can’t even hear him,” Trump said of one protester before commending police for the speed of their extraction.
A Capitol Police officer told PennLive that protesters would be told to leave the building and could face arrest if they returned. The officer added that some could be arrested on the spot depending on the severity of the disturbance they created. That did not appear to be the case on Thursday. But there was at least one person taken into police custody outside, before the event ended and the unrest grew.
During his speech, Trump took aim at his detractors, insinuating the protest movement was something other than homegrown.
He said protesters in New York, when pressed by media, expressed ambivalence about their anti-Trump message or favor for the candidate himself. He pointed to signs and placards he said appeared mass-produced, hinting at a third party’s involvement.
But those outside the Harrisburg event said their own convictions led them to protest his appearance here.
One of them, Keith Bentz of Harrisburg, blamed Trump and his campaign for a divisive tone that he feels has the nation “splitting itself down the middle.”
Another man, Michael Betsill of Harrisburg, helped organize Thursday’s protest through social media platforms, and said of Trump, “what other campaign has caused this ever? What other candidate has ever caused so much chaos among a nation and that’s why we’re here.”
He added, “Everybody that’s involved and seems to be supporting [Trump’s campaign] has one vision for what America should be. America is already great, there’s not one person who is gonna make this country great again.”
Across the police barrier, Trump supporters dismissed characterizations of the campaign or Trump’s message as racially incendiary and said the protesters were likely just supporters of a political opponent, such as Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
Ryan Leonard said Trump’s stance on issues like immigration weren’t about race, but about “what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s legal and illegal.”
Another supporter, Chanse Firestone of Denver, Pa., said it wasn’t about race, but rather the refusal of some in this country to buy into the American Dream.
“Everybody says it’s about race. It’s not about race. It’s about putting America to work.”
Around him, other supporters shouted “get a job,” and “no more handouts,” at members of the opposing group. There was a moment when the sides pushed in toward the middle and a flashpoint seemed inevitable.
But cooler heads prevailed.
Inside the event, meanwhile, Trump was back on the subject of his protesters, saying most were there to disrupt and agitate.
But he assured the rabid crowd of thousands that he was in control.
“Remember what I said, the safest place on earth is a Trump rally.”