When I decided to cover tonight’s Donald Trump event in Burlington, Vermont, I expected a few things: police, the cold, and waves of Bernie Sanders supporters. What I didn’t expect to see were anarchists. And yet, as I walked to the Flynn Center at 4:30pm for an event that started at 7pm, I saw this.
The anarchists chanted, “Politicians, we don’t need them / all we want is total freedom” then “Racist, fascist, anti-gay / Donald Trump, stay away!” People on the sides of Church Street—an outdoor pedestrian mall—smiled and took pictures. One man walked faster, turned to me and said, “Yeah, people yelling the same thing their leader says over and over again screams anti-fascism.”
As I approached the Flynn Center, more than two hours before the event, a massive line had already formed. The theater holds 1,400, but the Trump campaign had given away roughly 20,000 free tickets. Some had suspected that most of the tickets were snatched by protestors, which may have been true, but as the line stretched for more than six blocks, I talked to a number of people who had arrived early to support who they saw as our next president. One woman drove almost 200 miles with her husband because she thought America should be “great like it was 20 years ago” and Trump was the only president who would make that happen. Another man put it in simpler terms: “Don’t fuck with number 45.”
When I asked a retired veteran why he was waiting in line, he explained, “You think we’d wait out in the cold if we weren’t fans?” I talked to 62 people who waited in different sections of the line. Twenty-three were “fans” (37 percent), 15 disliked the candidate (24 percent), and 24 (39 percent) had no particular allegiances and were there to see another potential Republican or, mostly, to see the spectacle.
The rumor of protesters taking over the line hadn’t happened. But a large, vocal group had set itself up across the street to chant “Donald Trump shut it down / We want Donald out of town.”
Another protester wore a KKK hood and held a sign which read, “Donald we know you’re with us. We’re with you.” A black couple laughed upon seeing it and posed with him for a picture. On the Trump side of the protest, a man who resembled Bernie Sanders held a sign that read “Bernie Who?” Someone yelled, “Madoff?” To which he replied, “They’re all the same. You get it.”
The most common sign I saw was one that simply read “Love Trumps Hate.” A mother turned to her young daughter and said, “You see that sign that says we shouldn’t hate each other? That we should love each other? That’s a good message, right?” The child looked up at her mother, smiled, and nodded. The mother smiled back.
A number of volunteers collected signatures up and down the line. I was told they had gotten hundreds. When I asked what they were for, a man lowered his voice and said, “We’re getting people on the ballot.” “Who?” I asked. He replied, “Bunch of people. Huckabee. Fiorina. Cruz. Rubio. You know.”
A story echoed through the crowd: Someone at the front of the line allegedly got kicked out by a Trump staff member because she was wearing a Bernie sticker. She was said to have left distraught, having waited since around noon. The Burlington Free Press reported that this occurred because Trump officials would only let in supporters. Of course, anyone could have lied about being a Trump supporter and there would be no way to confirm their true beliefs, but that sort of issue has never bothered the Trump campaign.
Next to the theater sits Kountry Kart Deli, a standing-only place known in town as a reliable sandwich shop which is perfect for late night food—often when drunk—and friendly service. I stopped in for a quick sandwich and saw their special.
The owner told me they hadn’t sold one yet that day, but he was still thrilled about it: “We don’t even carry bologna! I had to get it this morning.” On the counter next to the cashier sat two tip jars—one with Sanders’ face and the other with Trump’s. Handwritten below them read, “You decide!” Someone asked who was winning and the owner replied, “It’s not even close. Bernie has something like $106 today and Donald has $6.16.” The customer responded, “That’s how it should be.” And everyone in the deli nodded.
As I waited at the back entrance for Trump’s car to arrive, I talked to some of the cops on duty. One estimated that more than 40 officers were working the event, which was about the same as the night before the Fourth of July, their busiest day of the year. “It’s a shame,” he said. “These are taxpayer dollars. Most of us are working overtime. This money is getting taken away from real police work.” A cop behind him nodded, adding, “I’m supposed to be working on child abuse cases right now, but instead I’m here.”
Trump’s motorcade finally arrived with little fanfare as they had bypassed the crowds. The old snow on the ground was growing colder. One woman who hoped to get in saw the line and the crowd and said, “I think I’ll just read about it later.”
Photo via Evan Weiss