Police, protests clash on Minneapolis streets outside Trump rally
MINNEAPOLIS — Boisterous and energetic protesters of Donald Trump packed the streets Thursday evening around Target Center in downtown Minneapolis as many thousands of the president’s faithful streamed into the downtown Minneapolis arena to hear the president in his latest arena reelection campaign rally.
As the evening progressed under a blanket of rainclouds, the number of protesters swelled and enthusiasm remained high for what had been several hours of demonstrating that persisted while Trump spoke to his faithful inside a packed arena.
While much of the day remained peaceful outside the arena, a few incidents flared as the president kept up his speaking marathon.
Shortly after 9 p.m., protesters began burning Trump memorabilia in the street, including flags and “Make America Great Again” hats.
Police employed pepper spray in an effort to quell one disturbance, and members of a pro-Trump militia-style group a few blocks away were confronted by police as they left their hotel.
Many of the president’s opponents carried signs ranging from calls for impeachment to supporting abortion rights, while others were dressed in rain jackets and, at times costumes.
Others blew whistles to screeching levels and expressed their disgust with Trump in sometimes profane language and hand signs.
As of early Thursday night, Minneapolis police have yet to report any arrests, but a few members of the Oath Keepers group were briefly detained after a bystander alerted authorities to men having weapons outside a hotel a few blocks east of the arena.
A couple dozen or more officers in squads and on bikes swarmed outside the Crown Plaza hotel and herded several men and at least one woman in fatigues to a street corner for questioning while holding a few others for searches.
Montanan Stewart Rhodes, speaking on behalf of the Oath Keepers, said it was “just a misunderstanding” because of their appearance that drew the police response. Rhodes said he and the others are in Minneapolis to protect attendees leaving Target Center after the rally ends, a service they have provided at other Trump events around the country.
Rhodes said some in his group are carrying guns but have not had them in view downtown and hold the required permits to carrying a firearm in public.
As some Trump supporters began to leave the arena before the president wrapped up, they were surrounded by protesters. Although no physical skirmishes broke out, at least one Trump supporter’s hat was snatched of his head, and others needed a police escort.
Also, one older Trump supporter with a shirt reading “Russia made me do it” was surrounded by protesters while police looked on warily. A woman with a sign that read “peaceful” intervened and warned other protesters against violence.
“No violence, we’re better than that, and we have to hold true to that,” said Jilliah Jackson, of Oregon, who had a red handprint painted over her mouth. “This isn’t us.”
In one of the more contentious moments earlier in the day, two men on motorbikes revved their engines, argued with protesters and demanded to pass through the dense crowd. Minneapolis police intervened, and the men turned around.
Sara Witta, 50, of Edina, who runs a small graphic design company, was with her husband, Jay, and her mother, 75-year-old Bonnie Safe, as the three prepared to enter Target Center to support Trump.
“He’s a great president and has dealt with problems since day one,” Sara Witta said, adding that allegations of racism or collusion against him are “all unwarranted.”
“There’s a swamp and it needs to be drained,” she said. “He’s disrupting what’s going on, the status quo, and they will do everything to get him out of the way. Look at Minnesota, we’re standing in the middle of a protest situation now, and we’re close to making Minnesota red.”
The three quickly became a target of protesters as they walked through the crowd on their way inside Target Center.
“Shame on you!” the protesters screamed, many of them blowing whistles. “How does it feel to be a racist and a bigot?” another asked.
After making their way through the group, Sara Witta said: “I think that was the worst of society imaginable. … All are welcome here, unless you’re on the opposite side, then you’re not welcome.”
“I’m the least racist person you’ll meet,” Jay Witta said. “They’re vulgar and gross.”
Bob Stach, 47, a software salesman living in Savage, opposes Trump. His sign was a résumé of sorts, noting he’s a lifetime Republican, military veteran and NRA member, but “I think when you see something wrong, you need to say something. … He’s unfit, and he’s unhinged.”
Just in case disputes boil over, Minneapolis police on bicycles and under riot helmets while on horseback were among law enforcement taking up their posts outside Target Center ahead of the president’s rally before what was anticipated to be a full house inside the arena, which has a capacity of roughly 20,000.
Lifelong Republican Scott Harvath, 47, of Hopkins, who got in line outdoors at 4:30 p.m. under the steady drizzle, said, “Trump is the man because he does what he says. He’s not afraid.”
Harvath, who works at Chick-fil-A in Bloomington, said the president is “trying to save the country from chaos and another World War III. … He’s trying his best to help prevent crime and give people jobs.”
Willy Jenkins made clear his opinion by bringing downtown a sign that read, “Elect a Clown Expect a Circus!” It included an image of the president in clown makeup.
Jenkins reached across the figurative aisle and hugged his newest friend, Chris Windego, who had a Trump 2020 sign, button and hat among his many campaign trinkets.
Niceties aside, hints of disdain were easily seen and heard as the evening progressed.
Trump protesters spanning many decades in age filled the streets, some chanting “Lock him up!” and “No Trump, no KKK no fascist USA!,” yelling “Shame on you!” and, at times expletives at the president’s supporters who passed through in red “Make America Great Again” hats on their way inside Target Center.
On the flip side of verbal cadence, a chant of “Send her back,” in reference to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minneapolis, could be heard at the corner of 1st Avenue and 6th Street.
Melissa Meyer-Thompson, 54, of Cannon Falls, Minn., held a sign that read “Trump is not Minnesota nice.” She said, “I made the sign because when I was thinking about why I wanted to come, I thought this president doesn’t represent what I really feel like America is about, caring about other people, so it kind of dawned on me.”
Bee Yang, 31, of Brooklyn Park, a Honeywell technician, said he was protesting because Trump was “running America down the drain.”
“We want him to be held accountable for all his criminal activity. He is surrounded by a bunch of criminals,” Yang said. “One sound is not loud but when we are all together, we echo.”
Sentiments about Trump were even evident miles from downtown, including at an overpass on Interstate 394 in St. Louis Park, where two people stood on each side of an “IMPEACH” sign and waved to the motorists below.