The first thing that struck me was the parking lot—how a nearlysilent stretch of pavement could speak so loudly through vitriolic bumper stickers (including, many times over, the ever-popular slogan “Hillary for Prison”) and derogatory messages (most about President Barack Obama) painted on car windows. I mean, these vehicles, for the most part, weren’t even carrying messages of support for the man set to speak hours later inside the arena located a few hundred yards away.

And as I walked toward the venue, I found more of the same inthe T-shirts, hats and buttons being hawked by those lucky few who figured out how to make a profit off hate. One said, “KFC HILLARY SPECIAL. 2 FAT THIGHS 2 SMALL BREASTS … LEFT WING.” Seriously? Is this what an interview for arguably the most important job in the world is supposed to look like? I mean, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have seen those kind of words used to describe a male candidate. And the worst part about it wasn’t seeing this piece of shit, or even being handed one to keep for free so, as the guy slinging them told me, I could “remember being a part of history.” No, the hardest thing to stomach was the chuckles from men and high-pitched laughter of women—WOMEN—who thought it was funny.

Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, let me make one thingabundantly clear. I did not go to Donald Trump’s rally at Dorton Arena today in a formal “I’m a journalist” capacity. There would be no extensive interviews for a hard-hitting news piece on a tightening race that, lately, has felt like it might never end. I was going to buy a shirt, put on a ball cap, a pair of jeans and my cowboy boots and be, for as long as I could tolerate it, one of them.

Since I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on a shirt thattrashed Hillary, my choices were quickly limited. And I know this sounds crazy, but I actually engaged in a debate with myself on which of two—one, featuring the Republican White House hopeful as a superhero and the other, a “Deplorable Me” shirt that had a drawing of Trump’s hair on it—to buy. So I got them both. There. I said it.

So now I look the part—a bag of swag in hand as I walk, a man defeated, toward the entrance of Dorton. Remember in Lord of the Rings when Frodo, because he was wearing the ring around his neck, felt worse and worse as he inched ever-closer to Mordor? It was kind of like that … or something.

“I don’t like anything here at all,” he said to Samwise Gamgee. “Step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed.”But alas, like the young Hobbit, my path was laid. And momentslater, I stood there, at “the end of all things” (well, actually, it was on the floor of Dorton Arena) wondering how, should I ever cross paths with these people again, I could look them in the eye.

They were chanting “Lock her up” and chatting about the “biased media” while a little old lady admired a “Trump That Bitch” T-shirt and asked a friend if they were “selling ’em outside.” There was a man who stopped to compliment me on my boots before telling me how, until Trump “took a stand” for people like him, “white men were under attack.”

And the energy, I mean, it was electric. If I were blind and had no idea where I was, I would have been floored by the notion that so many people could come together under a common purpose. But my eyes can’t unsee the hate that was on display in the form of loud boos and shouts directed at the members of the press in attendance and snickers whenever an LGBTQ issue was mentioned by a speaker. My ears can’t unhear the thunderous applause that met comments ranging from Governor Pat McCrory’s snarky, “Deplorable is protecting the basic common-sense definition of gender” and Buck Newton’s prediction that after the election, we would be calling the former secretary of state “Inmate Clinton,” to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s defense of HB 2 by characterizing transgender rights as “the ridiculous notion of putting men into your daughters’ showers and locker rooms.”

The speakers hit the marks that have become all too familiar in recent television and radio ads and stump speeches. There was the promise of “building a wall” and “winning again,” whatever that means. There was a pledge to repeal Obamacare and put manufacturers back to work, as if unemployment hasn’t been on the decline for years.

And when Trump, himself, emerged and was met with a chorus of shrieking women and roaring men, he, too, did more of what he does when the spotlight zeroes in on him. Hell, he did it within thirty seconds of taking his place behind the lectern. He lied. Point blank. Again.

“There are thousands of people outside waiting to get in, but we should start. Do you agree?” he said.

So I went outside—because re-entry was not an issue at this
NOT-packed arena—to get a picture of this throng of people. And guess what? There were less than a hundred. And that’s being generous.

The speech itself was like a Jackson Pollock painting—a frenzied, chaotic stream of consciousness that saw few “points” married to the words that came before and after them. He characterized the media as “the most dishonest people” and said our country—OUR COUNTRY—contained “nothing but poverty, nothing but problems, nothing but losses.” Nothing? Really?

But one young man was bold enough to verbalize the fact that he was done listening to the garbage being peddled—and worse, consumed—inside that arena. Andrew Koenig, a thirty-one-year-old who traveled to the fairgrounds on his bicycle, had simply had enough. So whenever Trump paused, he yelled “Liar” until, as more eyes turned his way, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office got involved.

They asked him if he “had a problem” and urged him to leave. But as he made his way toward the exit, one of the deputies involved denied, to the INDY, that he had any knowledge of the incident—repeating, instead, “I have no idea what happened.”

Outside, Koenig was fired up.

“I know he probably didn’t hear me, but that felt good,” he said. “Fuck that guy. I’m tired of this shit. … You know, we’re winning. That’s why Donald Trump is happening. It’s because we’re winning. This is the dying breath of a bullshit ideology. Hopefully, it doesn’t take us all down with it.”

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve got some shirts to burn.