Many of those waiting in line outside the Spokane Convention Center on Saturday to catch a glimpse of the man likely to carry the mantle of the Republican Party in the November presidential election criticized the media for selectively covering the New York real estate mogul.
“They report what they want to report,” said Steve Peters, of Spokane, who attended the rally with his wife, Marcia.
Renie Smith, director of Meadowbrook Educational Services, said she began to support Trump after looking more closely at his policies and the full text of his speeches, rather than what’s being reported.
“At first, I wasn’t sure,” Smith said. “The news media, they just pulled things. What we were hearing wasn’t really Trump.”
Smith said she believed Trump was the best candidate in the race to address wasteful spending on education.
“It’s an almost sinful amount of money we spend on education, that’s wasted,” she said.
Grant Davis, a 19-year-old student at Eastern Washington University, said he hoped the candidate’s appearance would encourage more people to vote. Davis said he registered to vote this year and was awaiting his Washington presidential primary ballot. The May 24 election among Republicans will count for picking delegates to the National Convention, but all candidates have dropped out except Trump.
“He’s pretty unique in his own way,” said Davis, who attended the rally with his girlfriend, Kari Peplinski.
Long lines to enter the Convention Center began forming about 7 a.m., but Pamela Arnone got in line just before 4 a.m., she said. Though she lives in Spokane, she spent $300 for a hotel room nearby so she could be first in line.
“He’s working for us, the people,” she said of Trump. Arnone moved north from California about 15 years ago because she felt her home state was turning into Mexico. She supports Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
“We really need control of that. It’s got to be stopped,” she said.
Sabina Pinch also supports Trump’s immigration plans. Pinch immigrated to the United States in 2002 from Azerbaijan, a former member of the Soviet Union. She said the effort she put into becoming a U.S. citizen made her appreciate the United States more.
“I think it’s very important that people don’t get an easy pass,” she said. “As a U.S. citizen I really appreciate what I get. I grew up during a socialist regime.”
Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell was among the elected officials in attendance. Haskell said he would support Trump over Hillary Clinton in the general election.
“I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but I do want to see a Republican in the White House,” he said. “I hope for the sake of the party they unite behind him.”
Councilman Mike Fagan opened the rally with the Pledge of Allegiance. He said Trump isn’t a perfect candidate, citing his support of allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, but said he would support Trump in the general election over Hillary Clinton.
“Nobody’s the perfect candidate unless your name’s Jesus Christ,” he said.
Not everyone at the rally was there to support Trump.
Nate Brantingham attended the rally dressed as Jesus as a form of protest. Brantingham is a member of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Spokane.
“I thought it was a very simple way to point out that a fellow like Jesus would not be a Trump supporter,” he said. “All political stuff aside, Trump is not a good guy.”
Judd Wilson, his wife, Melissa Wilson, and their five children woke up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday to drive from Moscow, Idaho. Wilson said he supports Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border and believes that unlike many politicians Trump will deliver on his promises. Wilson said he wasn’t concerned about some of Trump’s comments about women and minorities.
“Racism and other terms like that are simply shut-up words designed to shut down political discourse,” Wilson said.
Kevin Schilling, a senior history student at Washington State University, said he was there because it was a “historic moment.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see the presumptive Republican nominee,” he said, though he’s a self-described Democrat and “huge Hillary fan.”
By 10 a.m., a group of about 30 protesters had gathered on Spokane Falls Boulevard. Some quietly held signs, while others yelled at Trump supporters, calling them racist.
Debbie Schaible, a retired Spokane-area schoolteacher, said she was protesting because she believes Trump is a racist and a bigot.
“We’re stepping back in time,” she said. “This is why we had a civil rights movement.”
As people left the Convention Center after Trump’s speech the mood grew tense between Trump protesters and those who attended the event. About 50 protesters stood on the sidewalk of Spokane Falls Boulevard holding signs and chanting. Below them, near the entryway to the Convention Center, Trump supporters yelled back, brandishing their signs.
Trump supporters chanted “Build that wall” while protesters countered with “Ain’t gonna happen.” Protesters’ chants of “Si se puede!” led one Trump supporter to yell back, “You won’t be laughing when you get deported.” The Spanish phrase translates to “Yes, we can.”
Vincent Flores, who is Mexican-American, brought a large Mexican flag to the protest. He said he wanted to speak out against Trump’s comments calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. He said some Trump supporters used a derogatory slur toward him typically directed at African-Americans.
“Just because you come from Mexico or the crossing of any border doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist,” he said.
Before Trump’s speech began, Marina Stuart, 53, carried a “Latinas for Trump” sign outside, facing the protesters. Stuart said her grandmother came to California from Mexico and starting a sewing shop, employing over 100 people. Stuart now lives in Hayden and said she likes Trump because of his experience creating jobs for people of all races.
Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants don’t bother her, she said.
“He’s talking about illegal immigrants. He’s not talking about all the immigrants,” Stuart said.
After the rally, Spokane police officers kept a tight line between the two groups. The department declined to say how many officers were working the rally, but several officers on the street said it was more than 100, about half the patrol division. Officers said overall, the day was calm and under control.
“I don’t think anybody’s changed anyone’s mind though,” one officer said wryly while watching Trump supporters and protesters yell back and forth.
Kim Price called Trump’s rhetoric “refreshing” and said she would support the Republican Party regardless of the candidate. She said she enjoyed his speech.
“I’m an educated female and he hasn’t alienated me,” she said. “I’d like him to get a little tighter on his policies.”
Standing near the Convention Center doors, Price gestured toward the protesters lined up on the sidewalk.
“I bet about half of them don’t have jobs,” she said. “They haven’t listened.”