‘I don’t know how it got this bad’: Trump supporters and protesters meet in Phoenix – Washington Post

 In U.S.
Just before 4 p.m. on Tuesday, at an intersection near the convention center where President Trump was scheduled to hold a campaign rally, two vendors hawked products with competing messages.

On one side of the street, two men sold “Make America Great Again” caps for $20 and T-shirts featuring Trump’s beloved red-splattered electoral map, along with this message: “Better coverage than Verizon. Can you hear us now?”

On the other side of the street, volunteers collected donations for stickers, buttons and signs with messages such as: “Make racists afraid again,” “White silence is compliance,” “Goodnight alt-right,” “No border wall,” “Punch your local Nazi” and “Resist!”

The event would not start for another three hours, but thousands of rallygoers and protesters had already arrived downtown and made clear on which side they stood.

They swapped accusations of being ignorant or brainwashed, of being paid to be there, of being on the wrong side of history, of being hateful. Some tried to engage in discussions, but those often devolved into screaming positions over and over again as both sides recorded video of the exchange. Local police officers in casual polo shirts served as a buffer.

Under the hot August sun that afternoon, the political and racial divisions that have deepened across the country in recent weeks played out on this city’s downtown streets.

5 p.m.

As the temperature hovered near 106 degrees, volunteers on both sides handed out bottles of water.

Nearby, the Rev. Michael Weldon sat on the steps of St. Mary’s Basilica in a brown robe and quietly prayed: Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

“I hear anger in people’s voices,” he said.

On the other side of the convention center, rallygoers stood in line along a street protected by trash and recycling trucks. A protester in a floppy hat held a neon pink sign reading “Trump the Ignoramus” and loudly mocked the president for avoiding the draft and for not following through on many of his campaign promises, such as building a wall and locking up his political rival, Hillary Clinton.

“He’s a chicken! Chicken!” the man shouted.

“I don’t even know what he’s saying,” Robyn Elam, 28, said to a friend as the line inched forward. “I can’t understand him at all.”

A woman gives a peace sign to police officers in riot gear after a rally Tuesday by President Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center. (David Mcnew/Getty Images)

Elam said she’s glad Trump ignored the pleas from Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) to delay the event because the country is so divided following a rally in Charlottesville earlier this month that attracted hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis and ended in violence.

Elam, who works in the health-care industry and lives in Tempe, Ariz., said she’s alarmed to see cities remove monuments to Confederate leaders, an action she compared theoretically to conservatives removing the statues of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

“Personally, I like the statues being up. To me, it’s not celebrating racism; it’s remembering the past,” she said. “If you try to erase history, how do you remember the past?” “To me, he loves America — and you can’t fake that,” she said of Trump, as others in line voiced their agreement. “Am I right? You can’t fake it.”

She struggled to list what Trump has done as president that she likes. For her, success is more of a feeling than a laundry list of actions.

5:30 p.m.

To Betsy Sweeney, a 70-year-old East Coast transplant living in Phoenix, the president’s behavior since taking office has been un-American. She believes the president is an embarrassment who is disrespectfully holding a rally so soon after the clashes in Charlottesville that left a counterprotester dead.

She can’t even bring herself to say his name, instead referring to him as “45.”

“No other president would behave in the manner that he’s been behaving in,” said Sweeney, a health-care worker who said her elderly patients would suffer under the health care changes Trump has proposed.

Police in helmets and bulletproof vests were now on the scene, and black-clad and masked protesters associated with the far-left antifa movement — short for anti-fascist — began to file into the crowd of protesters.

Trump supporters booed and hissed.

A supporter with a .357 Magnum holstered around his waist told his companion: “They’re bad people.”

6:01 p.m.

Austin Knaust, a 24-year-old self-employed trucker, had finally made his way past the screaming protesters and into the rally hall. He’s surprised by the backlash following what happened in Charlottesville — he thought the president’s comments “nailed it right on the head.”

“I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said, as a song from the musical “Cats” blared in the rally hall. “Just because someone wants to protest doesn’t mean that someone should antagonize them.”

But what if those people protesting are yelling anti-Semitic things?

“It’s ridiculous, because they can sit there and call [Trump] a Nazi and call him all this stuff because he didn’t call them white supremacists?” Knaust said. “Well, what did Obama do for eight years? Obama didn’t call Muslim terrorists Muslim terrorists, so does that make him a Muslim terrorist? It doesn’t make sense.”

Minutes later, a local GOP official took the stage and announced: “Welcome to the president’s rally.”

7:06 p.m.

The president took the stage as the crowd cheered and parents put their young children on their shoulders. He spent the next three minutes marveling at his crowd size, claiming “there aren’t too many people outside protesting,” attacking the media and reminiscing about the debates.

Meanwhile, Diana Bunyard, a 52-year-old real estate agent from Phoenix, continued to stand in a line that snaked two blocks, fanning herself with a Make American Great Again hat. Her mission for the day: “I want him to know we still love him.”

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