I went to a Trump rally this month, and was amazed, shocked, and angered, but not as afraid as I thought I’d be.
There was a light drizzle as we pulled into the parking lot of Spooky Nook Sports Center in Manheim, Pennsylvania on October 1. I had charged my phone, and felt like I was going into the lions’ den.
I read about all the rowdiness and occasional hostility of crowds at Trump rallies, and was steeling myself the entire hour drive it took to get there. I was here to document an experience, and what an experience it was.
When we got into the center, there were already about 300 to 400 people taking up the closest spots to the podium. We got a spot off to the right side of the podium, hugging the netting separating the area from the rest of the center. We got out our phones, and began to ask people why they were there, and why they were supporting Trump.
A lot of the answers were centering on one or two things: Washington was broken, and Trump would be able to fix it with his attitude and fresh ideas. A lot of them voted for Trump in Pennsylvania’s primary, and those who didn’t voted for Ted Cruz.
There was one eerie moment that I still remember vividly when we were talking with people. The media crews, who had been setting up the entire time we were there, turned on their cameras for the first time. I don’t know who started it, but soon a chant of “Lock her up!” consumed the entire area. I was right in the middle of it, and I immediately began to record the footage.
We soon stopped the impromptu interviews, and waited for the rally to begin. At around 6:00, local politicians began to take the stage and speak to the crowd, with the Vice Chairperson of the Pennsylvania GOP, Joyce Haas, leading the initial part of the rally.
When the clock neared 7:00, the intended start of the rally, Haas said that they were going to take a “short break” before Trump took the stage. It wasn’t that much of a surprise, seeing as I had waited for about half an hour at a Pence rally in August. A half hour passed. Then an hour. Then an hour and a half before Trump finally took the stage.
In the meantime, it was getting pretty claustrophobic and sticky in the rally area. There was nowhere to sit down and no water given out, and we were there for about three and a half hours by the time 8:00 came and went. People were beginning to faint, and after songs repeated for the third or even fourth time, people booed and chanted “We want Trump!”
I was getting really nervous at this point. This may have been my stereotypes of Trump rally goers showing itself, but I really thought it was going to get violent the more and more people fainted and booed. Others were now chanting for water whenever paramedics went and got people who fainted out of the crowd.
When Trump finally took the stage, the atmosphere immediately changed. The tense atmosphere made his entrance a sort of catharsis as people cheered and cheered and cheered. It was a bit uncanny seeing Trump for real. I had always seen him on television, but there is a barrier between the screen and what is being shown, and that barrier was broken for me.
And then he started to speak. Now this was before the Access Hollywood stuff came out, and the night his tax returns broke, so his campaign was in a relatively non chaotic state. His speech began with how he thought he won the first debate, and the crowd all agreed.
He also talked a lot about Hillary Clinton’s emails, and her apparent mocking of Bernie Sanders supporters which had broke that day. He said he felt for “crazy Bernie” supporters, and actually agreed with him on trade. As a former Bernie supporter, I knew this was obvious pandering to someone like me, but it wasn’t working for me at least.
The most shocking thing I heard at the rally was when he was talking about Clinton’s emails, some people began chanting “Lock her up!” again. Instead of letting it fizzle out, he said that he would lock her up if he was president. That was shocking for me to hear, because that sounded a whole lot like Putin’s Russia, which of course Trump holds up as a strong leader.
Then it got a little bit weird. Trump was focusing more and more on Bill Clinton’s past sexual history, and said Hillary Clinton has such little loyalty to anything, that she wasn’t even loyal to Bill. I can certainly say that when I walked into that sports center that I did not expect to hear Trump say that she was the disloyal one, not Bill.
It was now around 9:30, and the New York Times just broke the excerpts from Trump’s 1995 tax returns, which long story short exempted him from income taxes for almost two decades. I was suddenly more interested in that story than the rally itself, and we decided to leave soon after.
All in all, it was certainly a surreal experience. For one, seeing a national figure is always something to remember, even if they aren’t Donald Trump. It also wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Sure, there were times where I got nervous, but it never got violent, and the people I talked with were some really genuine and honest people. While I disagreed with nearly everything Trump said on that stage, it will always be a positive experience for me, and I would jump at the opportunity to do it again.