Some of the 1,500 people scrappy enough to actually gain admittance to Donald Trump's campaign stop last Friday at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs did so by getting in line as early as 8 a.m. By 3:30 p.m., their brewing excitement nearly soured into frustration when the star attraction, billed as starting his speech at 2 p.m., had still yet to grace the stage.
But all seemed forgiven in the uproar that greeted Trump's triumphal entrance. In his opening remarks, the Republican presidential nominee spared no breath on the reason for his tardiness — that the Colorado Springs Fire Department had rescued him from an elevator stuck between the first and second floors of the Mining Exchange Hotel, where Trump had stayed Thursday night.
The crowd would have perhaps learned that fact later. Instead, Trump led his hour-long ramble by trash-talking the men and women without whom he'd still be trapped in that historic downtown edifice — a dead zone possibly without Twitter access.
"This is why our country doesn't work," Trump began. "We have thousands of people next door. Thousands of people outside. Now, the reason they won't let them in is they don't know what the hell they're doing."
The "they" in question was the Colorado Springs Fire Department adhering to the Gallogly Events Center's occupancy limit.
"It's because of your fire marshal, who I'm not a fan of, he's probably a Democrat, probably a guy who doesn't get it," Trump continued, adding, "What a disgraceful situation. But you people can't be complaining, right?"
The crowd roared in the affirmative.
That nonsensical antagonism was characteristic of the whole day.
Outside, Trump's supporters and opponents clashed — mostly, as the former reality TV-star later put it, with their "verbal."
The literal divider between those groups was a driveway. On one side was the long line of people waiting to get in to the auditorium (mostly, but not entirely, Trump supporters) and on the other side was a loose configuration of counter-demonstrators.
Their disparate signs added up to a sum message of love, inclusivity and positivity — a force they see as combating the Republican candidate's "Midnight in America" rhetoric. Throughout the afternoon, the two sides traded chants, songs and miscellaneous shouting.
One apparent misperception on the pro-Trump side was that the other side was protesting the very presence of their candidate or his right to speak. Another was that the protesters were for all immigration (legal and illegal) and against all cops (good and bad).
But the anti-Trump side was not free of their own misperceptions. Springs native Chris McCormick, 39, who wore a "Team Trump" T-shirt and stood on the corresponding side, named one that particularly irked him. "There has to be all these categories so they categorize us as poor, uneducated white trash. Sorry, but I went to college."
For all of the theorizing about each side and what they stood for, there wasn't much productive exchange. Most of the discussion across the driveway looked more like a screaming contest than civil conversation — a dynamic that some on both sides lamented but did little to remedy.
A 36-year-old Trump supporter who identified as a military wife but withheld her name said she was "amused" that the protesters "will stand out here telling us how awful we are but won't listen to nothing. They're angry because we have a different point of view. I'll tell you what, if they just sat down and listened to what we had to say, I bet they wouldn't be so angry."
Shelby Knight, a 23-year-old UCCS senior, shared that sentiment — in a way.
"They keep chanting 'USA, USA!' like we're not with them on that. Like we don't care about this country like they do," she said. "I want to hear all sides, but that side would never listen to opposition."
Tensions simmered but never boiled over into violence. For protest organizer Crystal Cravens, the experience was painful nonetheless.
"People were calling us hippies, un-American, slinging around racial slurs, curse words, the most hateful things," she said, specifying certain names she personally got called like "slave princess," "welfare queen" and n***** (ironic considering she's educated, employed and a veteran).
"I'm glad no one brought children because I don't know how you'd explain this. Since the civil rights movement, people used to be ashamed, but Trump's letting people come out of the woodworks by talking about deporting Mexicans and calling Muslims terrorists."
The most haunting image, Cravens says, was seeing a young boy, around 7 or 8, yelling support for the KKK.
"I looked at his mom, asked her, 'How could you let him say that?' and she was just laughing hysterically," Cravens says. "That one's going to stick with me for a few days."
Back inside the auditorium, Trump eventually did move on from bashing our award-winning and generally well-liked Fire Marshal Brett Lacey.
In his winding, off-the-cuff speech, the recently nominated candidate did all of the following: bragged about the Republican National Convention's TV ratings; called Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech "boring" and "average"; complained that she didn't pay him enough respect and wasn't adorned in enough American flags; jokingly scorned his daughter Ivanka's friendship with Chelsea Clinton; cast doubt, again, on the nation's commitment to mutually defend other NATO countries; promised to "hit the Democrats hard"; called out one specific CNN camerman for ridicule; railed against email (as used by his opponent as secretary of state and as a mode of communication in general); and commanded his followers to vote even if they have diarrhea on election day.
He also made clear he intends to win Colorado, announcing pointedly, "I'll be back here so many times you'll be sick of me."
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