Dispatches from inside the Rally of America’s most divisive candidate

The spectacle surrounding Donald Trump and his rallies is dense, and it becomes terrifyingly apparent the moment you step off the train. Security is heavy. Coming off the train at the Erie Canal Harbor station, riders are greeted by law enforcement with M-16s stationed every fifteen feet along the side of the train. Teams of state troopers shepherd crowds along the closed off streets surrounding the arena.

On the corner of Scott and Washington marks the first sight of vendors. Massive tents of t-shirts, buttons, hats, and masks filled the sidewalks, with a variety of products ranging from unsettling to straight offensive and sexist. One barker with a fistful of T-shirts screams out the slogan on the front of the shirt “Hillary Sucks, but not like Monica.” Spinning the garment around he bellows the text on the back “Trump that bitch.” Families file past, some stop and buy shirts. A hot dog vendor set up across from the barker remarks “Who really wants that t-shirt?”

As the crowd turns off of Washington and onto Perry, the protesters come into view. A couple hundred people were packed in-between the First Niagara Atrium Building and barricades, lining Perry, holding signs reading “America is Already Great” and “Stop Hate.” As Trump supporters pass by, both sides gaze on the spectacle of the other, neither understanding why the opposing group is there. Trump supporters remark “What a pathetic turnout,” and “If they had jobs they wouldn’t be here.” It quickly becomes a trend for Trump supporters to stop and pose for photos to be made with the crowd of protesters in the background.

Inside the Arena the distinction between the media and the crowd is made evident. Donald Trump has a habit of barring media access to his rallies if they write unfavorably of him, and in some instances having reporters ejected. Karibu News was denied media credentials in advance of the event but was granted access upon arrival.

The press pit resembles the protest on the outside of the building, there is an apparent “us-and-them” divide that is a clear intention of the organizers. When The Public Editor Geoff Kelly is found wandering outside the barriers, he is quickly corralled and returned to the pit, as are a number other photographers caught trying to mix into the general population.

The organizers are quick to remind the audience that they had the courtesy to invite the media, and that we were privileged to be there. Addressing the crowd, local politician Carl Paladino, echoed his gubernatorial campaign slogan “I’m Mad Too, Carl!” directing the audiences attention to the press pit and riling up the crowd. “Are we mad? Are we going to let the nation see how mad we are? Turn around and tell that to the press, turn around and tell them how mad we are,” he said.

After Carl Paladino spoke, an extended period went by where the stage was empty, and an inexplicable mix of Elton John and Rolling Stones songs filled the arena. Buffalo Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan took the stage amidst a stadium of cheers and told an anecdote about the defunct United States Football League’s New Jersey Generals, which Donald Trump owned, briefly, towards the end of their three season existence. Rex Ryan ended his brief announcement welcoming Donald Trump to the stage to the sounds of 2 Unlimited’s 1991 hit “Get Ready for This.”

Donald Trump began his address reminding the crowd of his failed attempt to purchase the Buffalo Bills in 2014. “You’re going to have a very, very good season this year, you watch, it’s going to be great,” despite having made statements after losing the bid for the team, saying “I would have produced a winner. Now that won’t happen.”

_MG_8897Within the first couple minutes of his speech a group of .anti-Trump protesters gathered in front of the press pit, locked arms, and began chanting “No Trump, No KKK, No racists in my state.” Trump supporters quickly drew the attention of law enforcement who attempted to break up the protesters. Locking arms they sat down, making it difficult for law enforcement to control them. As the crowd of supporters formed a circle around the protesters, law enforcement began peeling them off each other one by one and either dragging them off the floor of the arena or carrying them out by arm and leg. The members of the media in the press pit crowded the barricades trying to get photos of the struggle underway. Carl Paladino, not far off, smiled as protesters were passed by in the arms of Erie County Sheriff’s Officers. One girl being led with two officers on each arm said “I Love You” in sign language as she was carried off.

As Donald Trump took notice of the goings on, he paused and addressed the protest “Get em outta here,” he said adding “Go home to mommy” as members of the protest disappeared from the floor. As the confrontation continued and the officers continued to remove people from the floor of the arena, a reported 21 in all, the crowd slowly turned its attention back to Donald Trump as he resumed his speech.

Trump went on to hit his usual points: The building of a very large wall along the Mexican border, a large tirade about “New York Values” that included an already much publicized gaffe in which he said “I was down there on seven eleven,” in lieu of 9/11.

For the most part the speech itself met expectations based on what I’d seen of previous rallies and debates. The most surprising thing was the pervasive feeling of anger and hatred that was palpable in the arena. Being there in the midst of the crowd was the closest I’ve ever come to being present at the sort of dystopian death-match arena you see in movies like “The Running Man,” with Donald Trump playing the role of Richard Dawson’s Damon Killian.

As soon as the speech closed, I quickly made my way towards the exit. Organizers were resolute in making sure that members of the press trying to leave the press pit were making their way out of the arena and not trying to mingle in with the crowd. I made no attempt to stay.

I was lucky enough to make it onto the front of an uncrowded train making its way out of down town. On board I met a young man named Tad Townsend. Townsend was one of the several people dragged out of the arena. He shows me a photo on his phone a friend had taken where two officers have him by the wrists and he is making a peace sign and smiling as he’s dragged away.

He says he hadn’t come with the intention of protesting, and wasn’t with the organized group that started it, but once he saw the way the law enforcement were handling the protesters, primarily young females, he felt compelled to step in. “I regret nothing.” He says. To his knowledge at the time, of the people ejected, three were arrested and charged with trespassing. It was later reported that six people were arrested in all, mainly people outside the arena.

As we talked toward the front of the train about his experience a few of the supporters on the train took notice “We’re you one of the people who got thrown out?” He tells them yes, and explains why, and adds that some of the people he was with volunteered themselves to be arrested. “What a bunch of idiots,” one supporter says.

As the train makes its way past Fountain Plaza and into the underground tunnel it’s clear that there’s little to say about Trump’s governing potential and more to say about the spectacle surrounding him. Which brings to mind a poignant quote that comes, not from last nights event, but from the character of Damon Killian in The Running Man.

“You want ratings, you want people in front of the television instead of picket lines. Well, you’re not gonna get that with re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.”