The Republican National Convention opened this afternoon in Cleveland with a floor fight inside the Quicken Loans Arena, where anti-Trump delegates attempted to force a roll call vote on their presumptive nominee, while only blocks away, a fervent and distrustful crowd chanted for the jailing of Hillary Clinton on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. As Donald Trump improbably closes the gap on Clinton in national polls, his supporters appeared emboldened and excited by the prospects of his nativist and Islamophobic views becoming the centerpiece of a major American political party. Back inside the arena, the roll call push was quickly snuffed out by party officials.
At the Alex Jones and Roger Stone-sponsored “America First Unity Rally,” 200 Trump fans (with just as many journalists hounding them for comment) listened to country music paeans to Trump under mixed clouds awaiting speeches by both Jones and Stone, as well as Tea Party activists, motorcyclists, and pro-Trump surrogates. Darren Bush, 22, had traveled to Cleveland with two friends from Bucyrus, Ohio to see Jones speak. “He’s not the mainstream point of view. When I see the facts, I tend to draw myself further to where they take me,” Bush told Gothamist. Describing himself as an independent voter (although he didn’t vote in the last election) Bush said he appreciated and related to Trump’s savvy as a businessman, having recently started a career in real estate himself, leasing homes.
Far from the stage, Eric Carpenter, 21, from Medina, Ohio sat with a friend. Carpenter had a small bible in his pocket, and had also been turned on to Trump by Jones. “I tend to follow Jesus Christ and whatever he shines the light on, and Trump is on God’s side,” Carpenter said as the crowd rose for the Pledge of Allegiance. “Don’t Tread On Me” banners far outnumbered American flags, and the crowd roared when around thirty “Bikers For Trump” appeared just before the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Vanessa Feltner, who had been summoned to perform the anthem, consistently flubbed its lines, owing less to nerves and more to basic unfamiliarity with the text. No matter—the crowd’s patriotism was unbowed and unbroken.
While waiting for the barrel-chested Jones to make an appearance, retired warehouse worker Ritchie Schmidt, from Strongsville, Ohio, paddled through the effluent of the Cuyahoga River in a red kayak. “I’m a Democrat, but I’m voting for Trump because he’s just as crazy as me,” he explained from down below. “We just desperately need change in this country.”
On the stage, Ken Crow, former president of the Tea Party of America, told the story about Trump giving helicopter rides to children at last year’s Iowa State Fair, helping to cement the New York businessman’s image as a folk hero, traveling the land to give regular Americans a glimpse into the world of the extremely wealthy. “I watched as he told an old man that he wasn’t running to just save what he’s built, but what everybody’s built,” Crow told the crowd.
The Bikers for Trump, who have committed to protect Trump supporters in case of protests, announced that they were helping with security in various parts of the city. “In the event that there’s some problems, we’ll be helping out the police. We’re calling this back to badge,” said Chris Cox, the leader of the group. “The fact that regular citizens felt the need to go out and support police officers is really inexcusable and an indication of the bad direction this country has taken.”
When Jones finally approached the stage, the crowd surged forward, as the ebullient Jones beamed upon them. “They are failing and Donald Trump is surging,” Jones shouted at the crowd. “Nationalism, sovereignty, free market capitalism is rising worldwide, as the globalists try to put in place their world government, but they are failing!”
As Jones went off script after a spirited chant of 1776, the comedian Eric Andre attempted to storm the stage, only to be repelled by Trump supporters. Jones, ever gracious, offered to bring Andre up on stage. “I want you to have sex with my wife,” Andre told the flustered Jones. “I’m being serious, here’s my hotel key. I’m super into Trump.”
“This is an agitator,” said Jones, cutting off Andre, who was then physically accosted by several Trump supporters before safely leaving the area.
On the other side of the convention area, Tom Moran, a bus driver from Fenton, Michigan, stood next to a simple and tactful sign explaining why he stood in defiance of Trump. He has voted for Republicans and Democrats, and would have supported Cruz if he was the candidate. “I get a lot of passengers that ride my bus that are disabled, and I try to treat them well, but when I saw Trump mocking that disabled reporter, that’s when I decided to come down here,” Moran told Gothamist. “I took two days off from work, I’m sleeping an hour away in a cabin, and I really don’t want this man to be president.”