Outside Trump rally, thousands of protesters swelter and shout before tear gas finally fills the streets
Thousands of anti-Donald Trump protesters gathered in Phoenix on Tuesday outside a campaign-style rally by the US President, engaging in shouting matches with his supporters over whether Trump harbours racist views.
The demonstrations remained peaceful until the end of the rally, when some protesters tried to break through barricades near an entrance to the convention centre where Trump was finishing his speech. Police, who said some protesters had thrown rocks and bottles at them, used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Hanging over the sweltering city all day was the shadow of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s recent assessment that “both sides” were to blame for the violence at a recent rally there by white nationalists and his comments that “some very fine people” were marching alongside neo-Nazis.
In an effort to prevent the Phoenix demonstrations from turning violent, authorities called in extra officers and put the National Guard on the ready.
Barricades were erected to separate Trump supporters and opponents outside the Phoenix Convention Centre, where afternoon temperatures climbed past 37 degrees and the growing crowd sought shelter under mesquite trees lining the sidewalks.
“Build that wall! Build that wall!” Trump supporters shouted as the barricades went up.
“This is a country for everyone!” yelled a counterprotester.
For Ubaldo Cruz, the arrival of Trump in Phoenix was an opportunity.
“I don’t want to regret not speaking up,” Cruz, who does accounting work, said as a beastly sun slipped behind downtown office buildings, moments before Trump strolled onto the stage at the convention center. “It’s one thing to complain with friends ... I wanted to show up and speak up.”
The anti-Trump protests in Phoenix consisted of several marches downtown that converged at the convention centre.
Nearly 4,000 people indicated on Facebook that they would attend an anti-Trump rally at the Herberger Theater Centre, less than a block from the convention centre. In a separate post, about 3,000 people said they planned to attend a “White Supremacy Will Not Be Pardoned” event downtown organised by the Puente Human Rights Movement, a local immigrant rights group. No official crowd totals were released by law enforcement officials.
Among those to arrive about four hours before the rally was Wolf Schneiter, 62, who held an “Alt-right delete” sign to protest the far-right movement that has backed Trump.
“I used to protest in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but I took a little time off,” he said. “Now it’s time to get back in the game.”
Schneiter said he was dismayed by Trump’s comments about “both sides” being to blame for the violence in Charlottesville.
“What was that about? ... I’m beyond words that we’ve come to this,” he said. “You can’t even condemn bigots? Unreal.”
Kim Aimes, 64, marched alongside members of the Puente Human Rights Movement.
Aimes, a social worker from Prescott, about 160km north of here, is a member of Indivisible Group, a national network resisting the Trump administration.
“He wants to come west, so, well, we’ll bring it,” Aimes said. “We’ll bring the fight to him.”
Aimes held a sign that read, “Hate Never Made a Great Nation.”
“I just think this country is not moving ahead …,” she said. “We’re talking about Nazis and the KKK. That’s not normal.”
Not far from where Aimes stood, three members of the Southern Arizona Militia wore sunglasses and held AR-15 rifles.
“Y’all Nazis?”an anti-Trump protester asked the men.
They did not move.
“Y’all Nazis?” he asked again.
“Just here to keep the peace,” one of the men finally replied.
Members of the John Brown Gun Club, who oppose Trump, were also carrying weapons as a “community defence team”.
Ross Hubbard of Phoenix held his navy blue “Make America great again” hat as he fanned his face with a leaflet while waiting in line for the rally.
“This is America right here ... a great day – what a time to be alive,” Hubbard, 45, said. “This will be the greatest show on Earth tonight.”
Sharon Miller, 62, travelled from her home a short drive east in Mesa to cheer on Trump.
“I’m so tired of everyone acting like they’re doing something so brave by standing up to our president ... They’re not,” she said.
Once Trump took the stage, many of the protesters began to head for their cars. Others stayed until the end – and the clash with police that filled the air with tear gas. “Some people in the crowd began fighting and throwing rocks and bottles at police,” Phoenix police spokesman Sergeant Jonathan Howard said.
“This is crazy, so crazy,” said Mira Ramirez, a 20-year-old Phoenix resident who was there to protest the president. “Everything was great until the end.”