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‘Purple Rain’ and pepper spray: What I saw (and heard) when Trump came to town

Trump’s rally was easily the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at Target Center.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaking during Thursday night's rally in Minneapolis.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

It’s early Friday morning, I can still taste the pepper spray on my tongue. And that wasn’t even the weirdest thing that happened at the culture war that visited Target Center in downtown Minneapolis Thursday.

Trump’s rally was easily the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at Target Center — a campaign event built around the themes of law and order, law enforcement, military strength, and Trump’s love of cops — with only one other outing even coming close. Standing there Thursday night in section 121, watching the expressions of the crowd, I couldn’t help but recall when shock rocker Marilyn Manson whipped a Target Center crowd into a frenzy with video images of a burning cross and Third Reich imagery.

That was 1998. Twenty-one years later, in the very same spot, Donald Trump brought his show to town.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Jay Gabbert: “I live in Plymouth. That’s a Republican stronghold. I made my sign this morning, because I’m sick of the liberals’ rhetoric. I just think it’s important that the Trump supporters have their voice for a change. It’s actually pretty simple. Nobody’s out here to hate people and all that nonsense. We’re just here to support the president and let the world know he has our support.”

Tom Wasik, Northeast Minneapolis
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Tom Wasik, Northeast Minneapolis: “I found out they were selling these t-shirts because the mayor didn’t want the cops to wear their uniforms to this rally, and the police union building’s not too far from my house, so I picked up one of these for me and one for my wife for twenty bucks each. I’ve come to this rally to say I went to a Trump rally that I’ve seen on TV in many cities before. So that’s why I’m here, and I’ll be heading home pretty soon to watch it on TV.”

Trump’s campaign stop came at the end of a week that saw him facing impeachment, a new order for him to turn over his tax returns in New York, a controversy of his own making in Syria, and Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey blowing a raspberry at the White House.

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Yet the night before the rally, television news gave no mention of some of the more conspicuous signs of protest, like the baby Trump balloon that festooned the top of First Avenue, which hung a rainbow “Vote 2020” sign on its marquee and announced it would be donating all club proceeds to Planned Parenthood. 

First Avenue
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Trump fans monitored the anti-Trump protest happening below them on the intersection of 1st Avenue and 7th Street as the baby Trump blimp hovered over First Avenue, which donated all its Thursday proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
To that end, Thursday’s protests included the Dump Trump! rally outside Target Center and a Minnesota Musicians Against Trump Rally, many of which continued into the early hours Friday morning.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Wyatt Miller (foreground, in rain hoodie): “We’re with the Minnesota Anti-war Committee. We are here to unwelcome Donald Trump. We are a coalition of groups that have been working to fight a lot of Trump’s anti-people policies in a lot of different fields of struggle. We’ve been doing that for a long time, and we’re out here to oppose all those policies, whether they are anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-worker, or pro-war, and we’re also here to oppose what he’s actually bringing into the city of Minneapolis today with him. There have been studies that show that when Trump holds a rally, hate crimes spike one hundred percent in the weeks following his visit, and he’s made Minneapolis in particular such a source of his racist incitement that we really feel it’s necessary for people from all different communities in the Twin Cities to come out and send a message that he and his policies are not welcome here.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Jerry Guritz, Richfield; Clarence Richards and Kimm Kraai, Minnetonka. “I believe I’m a very patriotic person,” said Richards. “I enlisted in the Vietnam war, and I was fighting for my country and democracy back then, and we’re not getting that democracy; it’s slipping away and our quality of life is going down for the whole country. It’s preposterous. I’m here because Trump’s in my back yard. Get out of here. Get out of here. Every time Pence came here, I was there to protest, too. Get. Out. Of. Here.”

Lola Walsh, Minneapolis
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Lola Walsh, Minneapolis: “I had to create something to do with my Native American heritage, and the fact that he is using Pocahontas as an insult. I just want to make a statement. I know it’s not going to be a big deal, just one person, but I feel that I needed to be here.”

Thursday’s rally was also Trump’s first in Minneapolis since he whipped a North Carolina crowd into a chant of “send her back” about Rep. Ilhan Omar, who made history as Minnesota’s first Somali-American legislator and member of Congress and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. 

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“Our beautiful state welcomes everyone with open arms,” tweeted Omar shortly after Trump’s visit was announced. “But to be clear: we will continue to reject you and your campaign of lies and bigotry.” 

In his speech Thursday night, Trump attacked Omar again, repeating several lies about her while also attacking Somali refugees.

Kathy Wikstrom, St. Louis Park
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Kathy Wikstrom, St. Louis Park. “I was born and raised in Minnesota, and my family has two century farms in the northwestern part of the state. My family are all Democrats. I have not been since the ’70s. I’m here to support this president because I finally got sick and tired of being called a racist, calling me names. They’ve been doing it to me for decades. I’m done. Why do I have to prove something that you can’t prove of me? I have a very varied family. My family is multi-racial. Why do I have to defend myself against false accusations?”

The day before Trump landed in Minnesota, Gail Collins wrote in The New York Times: “In a happier time Americans went about their lives, complaining about Washington, then sort of shrugging and moving on to a discussion of the World Series. Or medieval history. Or goat yoga. Whatever. Now we aren’t even free to change the subject. We’re looking at the pileup and wondering whether the next thing will usher in the Big Crackup.”

The Big Crackup came to Minnesota on World Mental Health Day, and many political agnostics chose to stay away, perhaps for health reasons or out of fear of getting caught in the low-grade chaos. 

Trump’s campaign has raised a record amount of money this year, and Minneapolis and Minnesota look to be obvious test markets to see how wide the country’s divide really is, with Trump vowing repeatedly Thursday night to get more Minnesotans to vote for him in 2020.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Marie and Bonnie Wiech, Burnsville. “I’m in real estate,” said Bonnie. “We’re here to show support for our president, to show support for Minnesota and show that there are many, many here that support him and it’s not being told on the news, and to support our police officers and law enforcement. Mostly because the president is delivering on all his promises.”

“I wanted to come today because I strongly support Trump and I think what he’s doing is great,” said Marie. “I just love everything he’s doing. I’ve supported him since Day One. I know that a lot of students my age don’t necessarily like him, but I personally do, and I just think he’s a great president.”

Thursday, his supporters were out in something like force, in the skyways and in the streets. Outside of the arena, as a group and individually, the Trump fans were extremely quiet and cloistered and eerily so. But inside the Target Center, it was a party. Boomer classic rock hits were cranked to the max (mostly Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, R.E.M., several repeats of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” and, yes, even a spin of “Purple Rain” that got zero love from the throng). 

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There were also themed t-shirts galore: “Adorable Deplorable,” “Latinas For Trump,” “If You Build It, They Won’t Come,” “Jesus Is My Savior/Trump Is My President,” and several variations on the themes of patriotism, liberty, and making America great.   

As the crowd of 20,000 made its way in, Minnesota GOP head Jennifer Carnahan led the people in a prayer, ending with, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” Then came the pledge of allegiance, with much “God” emphasis, followed by chants of “U.S.A.” and “four more years” and the national anthem. Later, Mike Pence kept the God train rolling, talking about how we should never forget about faith when talking about the presidency. Thursday night, it was impossible to forget.

Trump supporters were funneled through the skyway to get to and from Target Center.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Trump supporters were funneled through the skyway to get to and from Target Center.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Campaigner: “We’re with the campaign, doing a spot for the campaign. We are here with Trump supporters. What do you guys think of the mayor of Minneapolis?”

Man: “Bad idea, trying to shut [the rally] down.”

Campaigner: “First Amendment matters, don’t you think? What do you think of the mayor?” 

Woman: “I don’t think I can say what I think about him on TV.” 

Campaigner: “We’re not TV. Don’t worry. We support the president. What about you guys? Do you support the president?”

Don Morgan, Montrose
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Don Morgan, Montrose. “I manage the mobile home park that I live in in Montrose. I wanted to be here because I like Trump. I like everything about him. Not one particular deal, just everything.”

Shortly before Eric Trump came on stage to talk about his love of law enforcement, the whole place erupted into a three-minute arena-strong execution of the wave, set to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” and the sight of all those Trump/Pence 2020 signs rising and falling and rippling was nothing short of sobering. Then Mike Lindell (aka the MyPillow guy), Eric Trump, and Pence and Trump came out and talked about law and order, law enforcement, and winning Minnesota in 2020, to more deafening cheers.  

Donald Trump and Mike Pence at the Target Center Thursday night in Minneapolis.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Donald Trump and Mike Pence at the Target Center Thursday night in Minneapolis.
At one point, Trump told the crowd: “Cops love Trump, and Trump loves cops,” in reference to Minneapolis police union head Bob Kroll, who looked on lovingly and joined his president on stage with a dozen more cops clad in “Cops For Trump” shirts. Leaving the stage, one of the cops held up a sign: “Law and Order Vote Trump.” 

All told, Trump’s 102-minute speech included lots of references to fake news and a rundown of his enemies list, including “rotten” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who proclaimed Thursday “Love Trumps Hate” Day in the city. 

Melania Trump fan at the concession stand.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Melania Trump fan at the concession stand.
I admit I left before Trump finished, and I was glad to have split early: I got out of the arena and walked down 1st Avenue and came upon a protest with hundreds of people wielding signs, and cops patrolling the streets on horseback, foot, and bikes. 

Police and Target Center security ousted several protesters who shouted and blew whistles at Trump from the arena rafters.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Police and Target Center security ousted several protesters who shouted and blew whistles at Trump from the arena rafters.
Trump fans covered a protester’s sign, then booed him out of the section and into the hands of police and Target Center security, who escorted him from the building.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Trump fans covered a protester’s sign, then booed him out of the section and into the hands of police and Target Center security, who escorted him from the building.
Police and Target Center security ousted a protester for holding an anti-Trump sign at Thursday’s Trump rally in Minneapolis.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Police and Target Center security ousted a protester for holding an anti-Trump sign at Thursday’s Trump rally in Minneapolis.
Around 9 p.m., a bonfire of MAGA hats and signs was lit in the middle of the intersection of 6th and Hennepin to a chant of “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” The cops on horseback pressed the crowd of a few hundred back, spilling most of us — including a guy dressed as Jesus wielding a “Not My President” sign — onto the Kieran’s Pub patio. 

That’s when the tear gas canisters and pepper spray hit the air, and I and my tongue and eyes had enough. 

I hung around until the tension eased up, walked down 1st Avenue, which was now lined with a hundred or so cops in riot gear. I heard a punk rock band roaring inside First Avenue, and fell-in behind a large group of red-hatted post-rally Trump supporters who looked very alone, far away from the red wave bubble. In a world with unlike-minded people, some of whom held anti-Trump signs. 

I biked home slowly through the quiet streets in the rain. Hell if it didn’t feel something like an all-cleansing shower.