Like everyone else at the Fort Lauderdale Trump rally, he had a “Make America Great Again” sign in his lap. But something seemed off. I tapped him on the shoulder. “Are you here, like… ironically?” I asked.
He nodded and gestured at his row of friends, who were all in their late teens and sitting directly in front of me. “We’re here to get kicked out,” he whispered. It occurred to me that they were the largest group of nonwhite people that I’d seen in the three hours since arriving at the BB&T Center. “Can I come sit with you?” I asked.
I’d chosen my original seat because it was near four bros in Croakies, baseball caps, and Vineyard Vines T-shirts who looked a lot like date rapists I’d known in college. I figured that if I got to know them during the rally, I’d be one step closer to understanding the corrupted heart of white America or something. But unlike the date rapists, the bros didn’t have much interest in talking to me.
It had been a long couple of hours. First, I’d had to stand outside for half an hour in 85% humidity waiting for the doors to open while people in Reagan-Bush ’84 T-shirts fanned themselves with copies of The Art of the Deal and chanted, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Then, I’d spent $12 on two bottles of water because security had confiscated mine and another $6 on fries because I’d forgotten to bring snacks.
Afterward, I’d wandered around trying to figure out who, exactly, attends a Trump rally that’s taking place in one of the most liberal counties in America. After a few laps, I’d identified two main demographics: 1) middle-age white men who spend a lot of time at city council meetings complaining about the garbage truck routes, and 2) bored teenage couples. The first demographic was expected, but the second was not. I confronted one couple who were making out in front of the men’s bathroom, because New Times pays me to be weird and creepy.
“Are you guys on a date?” I asked them.
“No,” they both said in unison.
“But you’re here… together…” I said, gesturing stupidly.
“Yeah,” the girl said. “But we came with a friend. He dragged us.”
“So you’re not Trump supporters?”
“Nah,” the boy said. They went back to making out.
Meeting a group of teenagers who had come for the sole purpose of protesting renewed my faith in America. Michael, Qambar, Brian, Danya, Umar, and Mo were Cuban, Pakistani, Palestinian, and Vietnamese. Several of them were Muslim, but they were more concerned about Trump's attitude toward minorities in general than his comments about Muslims specifically. They all lived in Tamarac and Sunrise and had woken up that morning to learn that Trump was going to be more or less in their backyard. Since tickets were free, they decided to “go and fuck shit up,” as Danya put it.
I sat down next to Umar, Danya’s 12-year-old brother, who’d collected “Make America Great Again” signs in red, white, and blue.
“What are you going to do with them?” I asked him.
“Probably rip them up,” he answered.
Trump was scheduled to come on in half an hour, and Diamond and Silk were doing their bit urging black voters to “come off that Democrat plantation,” which got cheers from the overwhelmingly white crowd. “Donald Trump has already extended an olive branch to the RNC,” one of them — I can’t recall whether it was Diamond or Silk — said. “It’s time to grab that olive branch, and jump on the Trump train.” The metaphor made no sense, but people started pumping their fists and yelling, “CHOO-CHOO! CHOO-CHOO!” anyway. I started making a list of things people booed: Syrian refugees, the media, Barack Obama.
A radio reporter came around and asked everyone to describe Trump in three words. "Hmm, three words... one is arrogant," Umar said. He thought for a while but couldn't come up with anything else.
Afterward, a man came on the PA system to inform us that this was “a private event paid for by Mr. Trump,” and there might be some people who would “take advantage of Mr. Trump’s hospitality.” The correct response, apparently, was to start chanting, “USA! USA!” until the police arrived. “Please do not touch or harm the protesters,” he finished. The Vineyard Vines bros behind me seemed bummed. “I wanna hurt them, though,” one complained.
Pam Bondi gave a speech about how God loves Donald Trump and God loves America, and then we were left staring at an empty stage and listening to a weird, presumably Trump-selected mixtape of the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Pavarotti. He was already twenty minutes late, and Umar looked bored. “We should have been kicked out by now,” he complained.
When “God Bless the USA” (perhaps better known as "Proud to Be an American") started playing, everyone got to their feet. Onto the stage walked… Mike Huckabee. Everyone sat down again, deflated. “That thing I sent you about poop — did you read it?” the middle-age white lady in front of me asked her husband, who had already pulled out his phone. He ignored her.
When Trump finally came on more than an hour late, it felt anticlimactic. One lady was yelling, “WE LOVE YOUUUU, DONALD TRUMP” and tugging at her shirt as if she was about to pull it off, but otherwise, the crowd was fairly tame. The BB&T Center wasn’t full despite the fact that they’d cordoned off the upper level, and the “Lock her up!” chants were doing much better than “Trump 2016,” suggesting that people were more passionate about their hatred of Hillary Clinton than anything else.
At first, his speech was, well, boring. Trump mentioned that he owned multiple properties in South Florida — “In Miami, we developed many great, great developments” — and then moved into a lengthy anecdote about a friend in the trucking industry whose trucks were getting destroyed because the roads were in such poor condition. “Trump is complaining about potholes...?” I texted a friend. Then, perhaps sensing that we were losing interest, he offered this gem: “Obama is the founder of ISIS. Hillary Clinton is the cofounder...”
I didn’t get to hear the end because all at once, the teenagers stood up and started chanting, “DICKS OUT FOR HARAMBE! DICKS OUT FOR TRUMP! TRUMP YOU SUCK!” Umar quietly ripped up his “Make America Great Again” sign into small pieces.
The Vineyard Vines bros, who’d been waiting for this moment all night, started chanting, “Get the fuck out! Get the fuck out!” Someone poured a soda on Umar. Then a very polite man with a Spanish accent came and told us that it was time to leave. I hadn’t been doing anything besides recording a video, but I left anyway.
Later, on TV, it looked as if Trump had paused for a moment to watch as we were escorted out. In any case, it was impossible to hear him over the sound of people chanting “USA! USA!” and “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” as they punched and shoved the protesters and threw drinks and trash in our direction. A guy in a red polo shirt and boat shoes, dripping with sweat, yelled, “I’m going to kill you, bitch!” at no one in particular.
“I’m not even mad,” Umar said, with impressive swagger for a 12-year-old, as a team of security guards led us out of the BB&T Center and into the humid night. “I did what I came here to do.”