It wasn’t my intention to get thrown out of the Donald Trump Rally this past Friday in Chicago. In fact, I went a bit grudgingly. I almost didn’t go at all, but the chance to be a proper witness, particularly as a journalist was far too important. I’ll let you be the judge as I lay it all out. Here goes…
Sid Yiddish, a local performer, and I arrived more to chronicle the circus than anything else. Sid had ordered the general issue tickets on line, like everyone had, and printed them at home. In full disclosure, I am a Bernie Sanders supporter and fully opposed to the darkly dangerous rhetoric by Trump, and most especially, the cult like fervor of many supporters. the rally was to be held in the UIC pavilion on Chicago’s near southwest side. The school is publically funded. My wife got her bachelor’s there some years back. I still do research in the university’s library for Classical Roman and Balkan history, as well as one of the best collections of academic archives in the nation.
Sid and I walked the two blocks to the pavilion. along Harrison street. The sun was setting, splashing across the Loop towers across the highway, and very nearly obscuring several thousand anti-Trump protesters and hundreds of taxpayer paid police officers in shadow. A chill rose from the shadows, and when we met Dan Leupker, a reporter from Que4 Radio waiting in line for the event he was already shivering in just a short sleeve shirt and tee shirt.
The line moved quickly. The mood in that line, a potent mix of the curious, anti-Trump people and pro-Trump people, was cordial. At the back of the pavilion three young men were shoved out the door under the stoic eye of a tall middle aged secret service man in uniform. The three were ejected simply for wearing hand scrawled white shirts reading “Muslims United Against Trump.”
We would see more people ejected as the ever growing line of perhaps 10 thousand snaked around to the front entrance where thousands chanted anti-Trump slogans behind barricades and ranks of Chicago police. The mood of the police wasn’t overly tense. having been to hundreds of protests, none wore any sort of riot gear. A line of mounted police were chatting and joking with one another. It was clear they did not view the protesters outside as any sort of threat.
At the entrance, I was surprised to find that federal, taxpayer paid TSA agents were searching everyone who entered. A woman searched me, after I’d emptied my pockets and piled the contents with my camera into the center of my sweater. A supervisor stood behind her.
“So who is paying for you guys?’ I asked. “The pavilion, Trump or the taxpayers?”
With a half glance to the supervisor she frowned and said, “I’m in uniform, aren’t I?”
I took that to mean that I along with everyone else there, and taxpayers not in attendance, and maybe or maybe not Trump devotees were footing the bill for all of this.
I caught up with Sid and Dan after taking pictures of the TSA agents. I left them at their seats and moved off to explore and get a feel for all that was happening. Upstairs, I found a place to take photographs just to the right of the stage where Trump would be speaking. that was just above the main floor where TV cameras and the media were corralled. Already, just below the stage, several hundred Trump supporters were clustered. However, what was even more curious to me was something else that, the more I observed, the more it seemed to become apparent.
Meantime, a protesters continued to be led away by armed campus police under the direction of Trump’s security team. But there was something more. It was stern, even edgy young white men circulating at the perimeter of the main floor, observing, at times provoking and pointing out anti- trump protesters. Though there were a few incidences of protesters shouting anti-Trump slogans, time and time again, simply espousing dissent, or even being in proximity to a dissenter brought a throng of police. Being Black, or Hispanic or Muslim was enough to draw the young white men, some holding “Veterans for Trump” signs who would attempt to incite, provoke or intimidate people whom they identified as potential dissidents.
While Anti-Trump protesters were scattered throughout the pavilion, comprising and estimated 1/4 to 1/3 of the people there, many of them, predominantly young people of color collected peacefully, but for reflecting or reacting to the taunts and provocations from Trump people, to several sections opposite the stage.
quickly, as the time for Trump’s speech neared, actions against obvious protesters and the young people became far more aggressive. The white Trump toughs congregated, some moving into the audience in tactics I witnessed during the Occupy movement in which police attempted to provoke violence as a pretext for retaliation. I moved over to those sections to chronicle any potential confrontations, as they seemed most likely to happen there. Tensions were rising. I had been very critical of Trump’s wink and a nod approval of violence against dissenters and protesters, particularly as his campaign was characterized more and more by white, and in particular male violence directed at Blacks, Muslims and Hispanics.
I had seen that before. The tactics and rhetoric recalled the years I spent living under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, and the xenophobic incitement of Bosnian Serbs during the Bosnian genocide by Milosevic underling, Radovan Karadzic. The arrogance and egotism, deployed without conscience or without considerations for the national or moral consequences of populist and nationalist rhetoric could not be closer, in my very direct observation to that of those Serbian leaders.
Quickly, Trump supporters w ere becoming more aggressive. The young plain clothed men stepped up their ominous and threatening behavior, a tactic to enflame and incite obviously young and emotionally volatile young people, already overflowing with passion to a man campaign they view as a direct assault on the fabric and civility of a very diverse community. Trump security, flanked by university police now surrounded protesters, whether vocal or not, in whatever calculous they used. All the while I did my best to chronicle the events unfolding around me.
Then a young woman stood on a chair, after those around her, young Black and Hispanic people, were confronted without cause by a man who identified himself as Trump’s chief of security. She was holding a sign in defense of immigrants to this nation.
“Take her down and get her out of here, with the rest of them,” he ordered the eager and compliant police.
“Sorry, on what grounds,” I asked the man. “Doesn’t she have a right to free speech?”
At first he ignored me. I started the camera again, and began filming what was clearly an affront to the first amendment. After all this was a political rally in a presidential election in America, not Zimbabwe, not China, not Russia, but in America. Given that taxpayers were footing the bill for much if not most of this, when one of the cops proclaimed it as a private event, I shot back, that it was an open event, and not by invitation. Turning back to the security chief, I pressed once more, “Isn’t this a First Amendment issue?”
“And remove him too,” he told the officers.
At that, refusing at first to move, I was taken by four officers and pushed through the building, two officers holding my arms, one with a hand in my back and a 4th leading the way, simply for asking a question.
But that is the key. Trump, a corporate Frankenstein, assembled out of crass marketing, predatory capitalism, perverse consumerism and populist trickery has been very clear that he supports violence against any form of dissent. he has led, like a racist Moses, white supremacists and anti-American bigotry out of the shadows and into the daylight, where they now feel empowered to assert, as a one caller put it to a local radio station in Chicago today, “what’s wrong about white’s taking back their country again?”
In opposition, after I was thrown out to applause from anti-Trump demonstrators, were thousands who reflect and stand and fight for a different nation than the one Donald Trump would have. Theirs and mine is a city and a nation that holds the promise that everyone, of all economic class, or all religions and races and genders are integral parts of a rich and diverse community. They came out to reaffirm and to celebrate that diversity and to stand in full opposition to a clear and unequivocal message of hate and division which stands fully in opposition to men like Donald Trump.
In the end, I learned, Trump cancelled the speech. Sources have told me that he cancelled because so many inside stood in opposition to him, and there would be no chance to incite without response and dissent. No one prevented him from speaking. That was his choice. He later blamed the Chicago police, who immediately denied Trump’s assertion. but it must be said that the actions of the candidate reflect the type of president he will be.