Republican convention kicks off with rallies duelling over Trump

It was a day of duelling rallies, where Donald Trump supporters and detractors held respective events in downtown Cleveland as the Republican National Convention officially kicked off.

No reports of violence, conspiracy theorist draws a big crowd

Hundreds of anti-Trump protesters marched through downtown Cleveland, winding their way through city streets in a nearly 90-minute demonstration. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Shortly after midnight in Minneapolis, Khadija Hassan boarded a rented bus with 50 others and drove 12 hours to Cleveland just to be part of Monday's anti-Donald Trump protest.

"As a first-time voter I didn't want to just roll up to November and just check a box. I wanted to be more involved in the campaign," said Hassan, who was only staying a few hours in Cleveland before heading back home on the bus.

Minneapolis resident Khadija Hassan boarded a rented bus with 50 others and drove 12 hours to Cleveland just to be part of an anti-Trump protest. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Meanwhile, blocks over at a pro-Trump rally, software engineer Glenn Hessler, 52,  of Erie, Pa., said he too felt the need to come to Cleveland, but for exactly the opposite reason — to show his support in person for the Republicans' presumptive presidential nominee.

'A very important event'

"I took the day off because I think this is a very important event," he said. '"You have to be careful who you tell [at work]. So I've told people who are kind of sympathetic."

Software engineer Glenn Hessler supports Trump. The full message on his T-shirt is 'Hillary for Prison 2016.'

Such is the passion of these two attendees, neither social activists, just regular people with opposing views drawn to be here on the day of duelling rallies, the day that the Republican National Convention officially kicked off its four-day event.

There has been concern that the pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces might clash, as they have at previous rallies. To be sure, law enforcement officials kept a watchful eye and maintained a prominent presence. But both events were incident-free, with no reports of any kind of violence or mischief. 

A mostly reserved crowd attended the Citizens for Trump rally, held at the city's west-end Settlers Landing Park. It was not a rallying site for rank-and-file Republican delegates, but an opportunity for some Trump stalwarts to see the list of invited speakers.

By far the most popular was conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, founder of the website InfoWars and a Trump supporter. Many there were wearing Hillary for Prison 2016 T-shirts, sold by Jones' website, and were just as motivated to see Jones as they were to show support for Trump.

Media flocks to gun carriers

Those who decided to take advantage of Ohio's open-carry gun law and strap a firearm to their side, likely drew the most attention. However, anyone expecting to see an armed militia would be disappointed, as only a handful came with their weapon.

CBC News' Steven D'Souza talked to an armed protester at the convention Monday.

"We're not trying to stir up anything," said Sam Kurek, 25, from Pennsylvania, who had a Glock 31 strapped to his side. "I'm carrying to actually prevent violence. It's a deterrent effect," he said.

"We're not here to start a war."

Many at the rally shared similar concerns, similar messages. They didn't speak about issues most identified with Republicans or conservatives, such as low taxes, abortion and a strong foreign policy. Instead, these attendees spoke in stark terms about their fears of globalization, the elite or power brokers who they believe run the country, and they said they were attracted to Trump's talk of nationalism.

Only a handful of gun owners decided to take advantage of Ohio's open-carry gun law, and strap a firearm to their side at a pro-Trump rally. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

"My main issue is that he's a nationalist," Hessler said.

"I think everybody else on both sides are globalists and I think they basically sold out the American worker to these multinational corporations. I think Trump's the only guy who wants to bring jobs back to America."

'Nationalism vs. globalism'

It was a nearly identical message from Cleveland resident Steve Bruno, who said his main concern is "nationalism versus globalism" and that Trump is a nationalist who's not part of the "secret club."

At the anti-Trump protest that gathered at the city's Fountain of Eternal Life, the concerns were broader, focusing on issues surrounding social justice. But they also zeroed in on Trump.

"His bigotry, this anti-immigration sentiments," said Hassan. I'm an immigrant myself. I'm a Muslim myself and so all my inherent identifications he's basically against."

The anti-Trump protest was certainly a more lively affair and better attended than the pro-Trump gathering, and many there had a particular ideological bent.

The communist Workers World Party, supporters of Black Lives Matter movement, Student Socialist Society and Students For a Democratic Society were well represented. And most were united in denouncing Trump as an anti-immigrant bigot and misogynist.

'Whipping up a fascist movement'

But not all belonged to a particular group. 

"First and foremost, I'm in complete opposition to the hatred that Donald Trump has stirred up in the country," said Mike Shane, a factory worker who travelled to Cleveland from Detroit just to voice his opposition to Trump. "He is whipping up a fascist movement. And the only way for us to stop it is to all get together and fight back."

The rally then turned into a march, and wound its way down the streets of downtown Cleveland, as marchers repeated a number of chants: "Dump Trump," "Shut it Down" and "Donald Trump go away. Racist, sexist anti-gay."

It was a relatively long march, about 90 minutes, and it ended peacefully where it began, back at the fountain.


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.


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