It was a quiet Saturday morning at Halifax Mall as a crew began to set up a small stage embellished with American and Trump flags. Merchandisers were hanging up red shirts with slogans like “Pumps for Trump” and, of course, “Make America Great Again.” A slow but steady trickle of Trump supporters began to populate the lawn for the March 4 Trump/Deplorables United rally that was held in Raleigh this afternoon.
Things were about to get loud.
Enter stage left: a group of counterprotesters with signs reading “Total Liberation from Domination” and “Against White Supremacy and Patriarchy.” Orchestrating a staccato ballad of airhorns, drums, and pots and pans, the crowd began to chant: “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”
Enter stage right: from across the field, Trump supporters moved in with their own signs: “Trump for America”; “I Support Trump.” They had their own additions to the musical number: “U.S. Communist Party! Thank y’all for coming out!”
And so the rally began.
Taking the actual stage, Charles Hellwig, a vice chairman of the Wake County Republican Party and a voter fraud obsessive, set the day’s speeches in motion. In response to the counterprotest, he said, “Please enjoy the trumpets in the background. They’re here to cause problems, and we’re here to celebrate. … I just want to start out the day with a ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’” The crowd—probably about three hundred, just a small fraction of the anti-Trump demonstrations that have taken to Raleigh’s streets in recent weeks, and definitely not the “biggest of the all” (sorry, Mr. President)—began to chant with him, drowning out the sound of the airhorns. Then, “USA! USA! USA!” before beginning the pledge of allegiance.
The group’s Facebook page set the mission for the day: “Let’s support our President and stop the hate! Please join us in this effort to unite the citizens of this great country. Bring your signs and flags to support our President and his administration—wear your Trump gear!”
Linda and Carroll Guthrie, friends of Terry Moore, who is identified as a leader of the rally on the Facebook event page, said in response to the counterprotesters, “That’s all they have left is disruption. When you don’t have an argument left, you resort to name-calling.”
Ordained minister Steve Rosser, who was introduced as a “born-again spiritual Christian from North Carolina” who “rode his [motorcycle] to the Seventy-fifth Rally of Sturgis,” was the first to speak to the crowd. “Money isn’t going to fix this country. So, with this group saying we’re gonna do this or we’re gonna do that, listen. This problem is not a Democrat or Republican problem. It’s a spiritual problem, folks. And you know what? The bottom line is this: you have to understand, our leaders come from us. And we have to understand that if we’re not right, and the people that lean left are not right, we’re gonna keep perpetuating stuff that’s not right. That’s where we’ve gotten, today. We have become a nation that has been held captive too long to ‘politically correct,’ and then nothing gets accomplished.”
Rosser then read a passage from Psalms: “Deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters. From the hands of foreigners, whose mouths are full of lies. Whose right hands are deceitful … there will be no breaching of walls to going into captivity. …” The Trump supporters all joined hands as Rosser led the crowd in prayer, asking for healing and forgiveness for “the differences that we make and the distinctions that we make between peoples and races.”
Haley Hall, a member of the UNC College Republicans, sang the national anthem. Apologizing for the counterprotesters as a daughter of veteran soldiers, she said, “That’s not us as a country. And, unfortunately, all the cameras are turned that way. So, we need to get them to turn back here. All we can do is drown them out and be louder.”
Later, Michelle Nix, the vice chair of the N.C. Republican Party, took to the stage. “Hey! How ’bout y’all deplorables? Let me hear you loud and proud!”
Nix talked about getting involved with the tea party in 2009. After seven years of work, she said, “it’s been a long time coming,” referring to Tar Heel Republican victories in the presidential race, as well securing a majority on the Council of State and the lieutenant governor’s office. Acknowledging the loss of Pat McCrory and the N.C. Supreme Court, Nix said they still had the people’s house, via Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly. Members of the legislature waved their hands to identify themselves as the crowd cheered.
“You think the left behind me is noisy and being annoying?” Nix asked, “Wait for the next year. The next two years. They’re going to be pounding us, relentlessly, because you know why? They hate to lose. And they’re proving it, every day.”
She also led the crowd in a chant: “Build that wall! Build that wall!”
A wall was built, right there on Halifax Mall’s lawn.
Donning red construction paper rolls, a group of people encircled the Trump supporters before unrolling a wall of their own.
Grayson Haver Currin, a former INDY managing editor who organized the demonstration, came into the “stunt-based activism” business with Tina Haver Currin, his wife, about three years ago, when the two started Saturday Chores. More recently, they started the group Come Out & Show Them, which recently announced the pro-immigration initiative Welcome to Raleigh, Y’all.
While “today’s antic wasn’t really a part of any organization,” Currin says, it did receive a $100 donation—from a Trump supporter.
The Trump crowd initially thought the wall was being unfurled in support of their cause, Currin said. And when the man found out Currin was the leader of the wall demonstration, he put a Benjamin in Currin’s shirt pocket, saying “Man, I love it. Thank you so much.”
Once Trump supporters realized what was going on, Currin said, they weren’t quite so enthusiastic about what he was doing:
“Go back to your mama’s basement!”
“You notice it’s red for communism?”
“I’ll give you one thousand dollars if you can use a shovel!”
“I think the wall is a really absurd expression of American, United States vainglory,” Currin said. “Just something as absurd as ‘build a wall across the border,’ a wall so expensive we don’t know how expensive it is. We wanted to match that absurdity with that sentiment with an absurd sentiment of our own.”
A man who identified himself as Alex Al, a Trump supporter who moved to America from Iraq—and who was escorted away from the wall stunt by police—had something to say to the counterprotesters.
“You keep lying! That’s not racist. You’re the racist!”
Al said he’d been waiting for the Deplorables United rally for a long time. He wanted to see the people who voted for Trump stand up for him. He doesn’t believe that Trump supporters are really against immigration. Nor does he believe they are the authoritarians they’re sometimes made out to be.
“When you shut down free speech, you’re the fascist,” he told the INDY. “OK. You’re calling other people fascist. You’re the fascist. Who burned books? Hitler burned books. They’re burning books. The conservatives are not burning books. They’re not afraid of engaging with people. And also, considering I came from the Middle East, a legal immigration way, I was vetted for years. So I don’t want the same people I ran from to come here. … Today we’re coming to show support for our president. He won, he’s the president. I believe we should support him because he’s supporting us, the people.”