How I got kicked out of a Trump rally
“You know, they all look like spoiled kids, too. They look like spoiled people.”
Donald Trump, responding to my disruption (50:50)
I had his attention. The bully stared me down and searched for the right words — the best way to belittle me. But what he couldn’t understand was that it didn’t matter what he had to say. When you stand up to a bully, the act alone diminishes him. I had his attention. And for a minute, I had something more.
I went to Donald Trump’s rally in Fayetteville, N.C., last week without much of a plan. I first had to get in, then make my way as close as possible to him. I figured it’d help if I looked like a Trump supporter, or at the very least someone nobody would notice. I wore a tucked-in polo and khakis, but the most important piece was a “Make America Great Again” hat, which I threw on as I got in line for the rally. I looked the part, and it made me uncomfortable.
I got through security just as an announcer introduced Trump and as The Alan Parson Project’s Sirius blared from the coliseum speakers. The crowd was already in a frenzy as their great, politically incorrect hero climbed to the podium. I scrambled to find a seat behind him, until I noticed people were filling the floor space only a few yards in front of his podium. With the help of some Trump campaign staffers, I found a spot so close I could see every infamous Trump gesture and grimace, as only a metal barrier and some secret servicemen separated me from the man I came to see.
Everything about the rally was a circus, with a demagogue for the ringleader. Trump jumped from one inflammatory topic to the next, offering his usual policy platitudes mixed in with broad generalizations and dangerous rhetoric. He complained about the “dishonest” media at almost every turn, detailed all the great deals he would make, and lamented President Obama’s refusal to waterboard.
The disruptions came early and often. Each time a protester stood up and demonstrated, the mob would take over. Most times, you found the protester only from the choreography of a whole section standing up and pointing at the Individual. The whole routine was sport. And almost without exception, Trump would transform into the bully his fans craved and loved. No matter how far away the protester, Trump would stop what he was doing, often leaving his podium, and stare them down with a sick look of approval as the mob and officers worked together to remove the disrupter.
But Trump’s favorite part of this show was the chance it gave him to bully and belittle. He reveled in it. Whether it was disparaging their clothes, making assumptions about their employment or just calling them “disgusting,” Trump was most animated when he had the opportunity to take on a protester. When my time came, he didn’t disappoint.
I waited until the last 10 minutes before the time felt right. Earlier in the evening, Trump complained about the unfair treatment the media gave him for his voter loyalty pledge in Florida, and its obvious parallels with Nazism. After pleading from the crowd to give them their chance at the pledge, Trump relented with excitement. As he was closing the rally and calling on his supporters to vote, Trump reminded them of the pledge they made. That was all I could handle.
Adrenaline kicked in as I raised a Trump rally sign and called out to the bully standing yards away.
“Hey, Donald Trump! You’re a bigot! You’re a bigot, Donald Trump!”
As the crowd began to shout me down, I saw Trump turn. Once I had his attention, I tore the sign in two, dropped the pieces to the ground, and kept yelling. Or at least, that’s what I thought I did. From that point on, everything was racing, and it was hard to keep clear what was happening. All I remember is a nearby supporter shoving me repeatedly, with a mix of others either calling for him to stop or encouraging it. I heard yelling coming from all around, and above them all I saw Trump beginning his session on what was wrong with me.
“Oh, he’s a quiet one. He’s a quiet one.” He began.
“Who is it? Who is the protester? Get out of here, out!” Trump continued.
At this point, I had turned away and started walking to the exit on my own, with a couple of local officers helping me out of the crowd. Even then, I could tell he was still going. So I turned around, and was right.
“You know, they all look like spoiled kids, too. They look like spoiled people. Say hello to mom and dad. Are mom and dad here supporting me? I think his mother and father are here supporting me. All right, goodbye!”
For the record, my parents are not Trump supporters (surprise). But that’s not really the point. Still at the moment I’m writing this, days later, what amazes me is Trump’s hyper-willingness to bully and belittle. He had every right to respond to my disruption, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less. However, what you can’t see in the video is that I really didn’t continue after my initial disruption.
Trump, himself, acknowledged that I was different from other protesters he had faced that night because I didn’t wait for the officers to come and get me. He could’ve just as easily moved on with his speech with only a disappointed head shake. He could’ve been the bigger person. Instead, Trump decided to taunt me for an entire minute. He couldn’t help but be the bully.
And that really is the point of disrupting him. Trump’s rhetoric is enough to dissuade people from voting for him. But what should truly terrify people is who he becomes when someone opposes him. Whether it’s during nationally televised debates or just a rally in North Carolina, he can’t help himself from belittling anyone who disagrees with him. In the case of protesters, he has routinely even gone as far as calling for violence against them. It’s not much to say this isn’t the behavior of a president, but more importantly, it shows Trump for who he really is. He is a bully.
Once you accept this definition of him, it becomes clear why disruptions matter. We are taught from a young age that the only way to handle a bully is to stand up to one. This doesn’t mean resorting to violence or even the same disrespect they use as a weapon. It simply means letting the bully know you aren’t afraid. In the act of standing up to them, you take away their power.
And that’s why I know Trump’s a bully. He can’t let it go when someone interrupts him. He has to restore his power. The only way he knows to do this is through belittling and disparaging — the truest sign of a bully.
I have heard from several people since the rally who believe I made a bad decision; not because I could have been hurt, but because I infringed on his rights and the rights of his supporters to peaceably assemble. I understand this argument, and I have spent the days since grappling with the ethics of my decision.
But I still arrive at the same place. Disruptions and protests are not only ethical, they are necessary. Every day, Trump uses his platform to peddle hate and fear. There are real consequences to this, and we see it in the violence conducted by his supporters at rallies, along with the violence that happens well beyond them.
Trump thrives on his own power, and he has chosen to use fear and hate to augment it. That’s what bullies do. I refuse to stand by without standing up. Everyone should. Wherever and however you can, stand up to him today, tomorrow and every day until he stops practicing the politics of fear. If not, what will we have to say if he wins?
Pete Mills, from Meriden, Connecticut, is a first-year master’s of public policy candidate at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
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