'We want our president to be Donald Trump,' say the first in line at Fresno rally
Donald Trump brought his campaign for the presidency to downtown Fresno on Friday morning, appearing before a half-empty Selland Arena crowd waving Trump signs as protesters outside shouted. About 30 minutes after Trump departed, a heavy police presence began to move in on a knot of protesters at Ventura and M streets.
Trump’s plane was delayed by about 45 minutes, leaving supporters to mingle inside Selland Arena and listen to warm-up speakers. Outside Selland, a minor scuffle broke out, but was quickly contained.
KMJ radio personality Ray Appleton urged the crowd to be patriotic, keep their cool “and, when Mr. Trump shows up, I want you to scream like hell.”
As Trump took the stage, they did as instructed – as a forest of arms held up their smartphones and snapped pictures.
“Thank you everybody – what a crowd!” Trump said.
Trump reminded the crowd during an hour-long speech that he had been in Fresno previously, when he considered taking over the Running Horse development that folded in 2007.
Trump immediately launched into a discussion on water for the Valley, vowing he would make sure water wasn’t sent out to the ocean when Valley farmers need it.
Then he quickly pivoted to national security and Hillary Clinton, repeating comments he’s made at many recent campaign stops: “She lies so much, she lies so much.”
Other than himself, Trump had no kind words for virtually anyone – not former Trump executives, political reporters or the president of the United States.
“Our president is grossly incompetent,” Trump said to wild cheers.
Trump referenced past American military leaders Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, saying they’re rolling in their graves at the current state of U.S. defense.
“We’ve to build up our military bigger, better, stronger than ever before.”
Trump lamented U.S. policy in the Mideast: “We got death, we got destruction, we got ISIS.”
“Respect us,” shouted one man in the audience as Trump talked about how America should deal with others.
“This guy had the best line of the morning. I’m very embarrassed. Can I use it?” Trump said.
He launched on a point about Hillary Clinton’s “lies,” specifically how she said Trump likes the North Korean leader. He changed direction, however, taking exception with The New York Times coverage of him. Then, pointing toward where the media was assembled, he said, “They’re dirty, rotten liars.”
He called out pundits who predicted a tight race for the GOP nomination: “We won by such big margins that we had knockouts.”
Trump said he wasn’t bragging, but pointed out record ratings for the televised debates he participated in. “Let’s say I wasn’t in. If I wasn’t in, they’d have, what, three people?” watching.
Several women in the audience called out that they love him, and Trump responded.
“Believe me, I love women. ... I looove women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women,” he said to more cheers from the crowd.
Trump told about shuttered factories of New York and then gave some advice to investors: “If I win, before I win, go buy all those empty factories. ... Because if I win, the economy will be vibrant again.”
As Trump launched into discussing his stance on illegal immigration, a protester revealed himself. “Oh, you have such beautiful voice,” Trump said, then said, “Get him out” as the crowd began to cheer and hoot at the protester.
He called out Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims (”where’s the sheriff, a beautiful woman”) and Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer to cheers.
Trump said it’s up to everyone to combat domestic terrorism. He talked about the couple in San Bernardino who attacked the development center in December; later, it was learned that they had been openly planning the attack, and Trump wondered why their friends didn’t report them.
“They had bombs on the floor. That’s not normal,” Trump said. Pointing at three women just below the dais, he asked, “Do you have bombs on the floor?
“If you did, I’d report you.”
Law enforcement moves in on protesters
By 12:30 p.m., Fresno police and California Highway Patrol officers were getting ready to try and disperse a crowd of protesters assembled at Ventura and M streets.
From a helicopter overhead, authorities announced at about 12:20 p.m. that the crowd had 10 minutes to leave.
Tear gas was evident among authorities as they prepared to deal with the crowd. Police Chief Jerry Dyer tried to work as a peacemaker.
Donald Trump’s jet touched down about 9:45 a.m. Friday at Fresno Yosemite International Airport. His motorcade pulled out of the airport about 10 a.m. His rally at Selland Arena, scheduled for 10 a.m., was delayed.
The scene before Trump’s arrival
Hours before the rally, crowds of Trump supporters and protesters converged on Selland Arena in downtown Fresno ahead of what some say could be a historic political event for the city.
A line of people waiting to get inside Selland snaked around to the back parking lot, some of them draped in American flags or decked out in cowboy hats with the colors, stars and bars of the American flag. As they filed past metal barricades leading to Selland’s doors, protesters shouted anti-Trump slogans and waved protest signs from M Street. Separating the street protesters and Trump rally attendees was a line of Fresno police officers, some with a fist full of zip-ties hanging from their belts, who calmly scanned for trouble.
There were a few minor confrontations – a couple of men wearing Trump T-shirts yelled at a small cluster of protesters waiving signs and banners saying “Dump Trump” and “Stop Trump” and yelling more anti-Trump slogans outside of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church. One Trump protester, on spotting a friend in line for the rally, hollered “I’ll never speak to you again!” Later, as Trump was speaking, a scuffle broke out behind Selland, but was quickly broken up as police intervened.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said his department had done a lot of planning to ensure that the rally and any protests remain safe and peaceful. About 100 officers were briefed about 5 a.m. in preparation for the day’s events, and when officers spread out around Selland early Friday, they were greeted with applause and cheers by some waiting in the Trump line.
“This is a historic political event and we want to make sure it goes off calmly,” Dyer said.
Dawn broke with a small line of people queued up outside of Selland waiting for the doors to open at 7 a.m. Trump’s rally is scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
Cheryl McDonald and Liz Ritchie of Granite Bay, outside of Sacramento, arrived about 10 p.m. Thursday night so they could be first in line outside Selland Arena.
The women, wearing cowboy hats with blinking lights and “Trump” emblazoned on the front, said they heard busloads of protesters were planning to show up, and they wanted to beat the protesters to Fresno and show their support for Trump.
“We just wanted to let them know this is what a good work ethic looks like. We were here at 10 o’clock prepared to be front of the line because this is important to us,” Ritchie said. “We want our president to be Donald Trump and we have been supporting him since he announced.”
Rally organizers said Thursday that thousands of tickets had been requested and thousands more were expected to be sought for the 10 a.m. event. If they’re right, many who wanted a Selland seat may be left standing outside. But by 9:30 a.m., many seats inside Selland remained empty.
If a last-minute surge of supporters does show up, it might just validate the prediction from Trump supporter and Republican activist Michael Der Manouel Jr. who said: “This is going to be the biggest political event in the history of Fresno.”
It also may be one of the most disruptive.
Trump’s recent rallies in communities with large Latino populations have sparked clashes between Trump supporters and those who oppose his superheated rhetoric on Mexicans, Muslims and immigrants. In Albuquerque, N.M., Tuesday’s protests devolved into violence, and in Anaheim, protesters threw rocks and clashed with Trump supporters.
So Fresno police, bracing for large crowds of Trump supporters and protesters, planned to bring in dozens of extra police officers, along with officers from other agencies and the Secret Service. M Street near Selland was blocked off, and authorities on Thursday were removing throwable rocks from the DoubleTree hotel green space across the street.
“The main purpose for our presence is to deter any type of violence, criminal activity and to ensure that the people who want to voice their opinion or even protest can do so, but they’ve got to do so calmly,” Dyer said. “And we’re not going to tolerate any activity that’s going to cause us to have someone endangered and so we’re going to be able to remove those individuals very quickly.”
An estimated 200 to 250 protesters were shouting, waving signs and banners and trying to make their voices heard along M Street outside the arena. Some were students who skipped school, but most were adults.
When Maria Rodriguez heard Donald Trump was coming to Fresno, she had to be there.
Rodriguez was born in Mexico. She came to the Fresno area at 18 and now lives in Clovis.
“We have to stop this hate,” Rodriguez said as she watched the long line of Trump supporters walk into Selland Arena. “It’s unbelievable...look at all these supporters.”
She brought her 5-year-old son, Josiah. “He has to learn hate is not the way.”
Rodriguez is a substance abuse counselor and is working on a degree in social work. She added: “I am proof I am not here to get support from the government.”
Another protester was Joe Solorio, an Army veteran from Fresno. Holding photos of himself and his brother, who won a Silver Star in the Korean War and spent 25 years in the service, Solorio said they were both what Trump would call “anchor babies” – children born to a non-citizen who Trump has said should be sent back to the parents’ home country.
“He wants to send us back?” Solorio said. “What military was he in – Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts?”
Trump supporters did their own bit of shouting as well – with one man in line shouting toward Latino protesters, “Hey, how are you guys at laying brick and mortar?”
Before addressing the crowd of thousands, Trump is scheduled to meet with central San Joaquin Valley farmers and attend a small VIP reception. Der Manouel said the meeting with farmers will include a wide array of the industry, including corporate agriculture, small family farmers, dairies, growers and ranchers.
Neither Der Manouel nor Trump California coordinator Tim Clark would name names. But prominent west side rancher John Harris said his company will be represented at the meeting; he won’t be attending because he is at a beef cattle meeting in San Diego. Harris said he thinks that Harris Ranch Chief Operating Officer William Bourdeau will attend.
Der Manouel said he is attending for the experience, if nothing else, and noted the historic nature of this week for Fresno with three presidential campaigns visiting the city: former President Bill Clinton campaigned Monday on behalf of his wife, Hillary, at Fresno State; Trump on Friday; and Clinton’s Democratic Party competitor Bernie Sanders is scheduled to speak Sunday at a rally at the Fresno Fairgrounds in southeast Fresno.
Trump held a rally Thursday in Billings, Montana, and was expected to fly into Fresno Friday morning before heading down to San Diego for a 2 p.m. rally there.