FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. — Donald Trump’s rally in the Phoenix suburbs on Saturday was briefly delayed as dozens of protesters carrying signs that denounced racism blocked an Arizona highway leading to the rally site.
The route was first blocked by a pair of pickup trucks decorated with banners reading “Comb Over Racism: Dump Trump” and “Shut Down Trump.” Dozens of protesters then filled in the roadway, carrying signs reading “Love Trumps Hate” and “Stand Against Racism,” along with one homemade sign stating: “Combat White Supremacy.” As the trucks were towed away, protesters formed a human wall. Traffic finally resumed after officers began arresting protesters.
Later Saturday afternoon, scores of protesters temporarily blocked the entrance to the Tucson Convention Center, chanting “Shut it down!” and preventing supporters from entering a Trump rally there.
And in New York City, protesters from a wide range of left-leaning organizations organized a roaming protest on Saturday targeting two of Trump’s most prominent properties in Midtown Manhattan. There were reports that the police used tear gas to prevent a group of protesters from moving past barriers near Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
For yet another weekend, footage of anti-Trump protests are poised to dominate the news. Activists hope these images will hurt the billionaire businessman’s chances of becoming the Republican nominee, but many Trump supporters say it will only strengthen their candidate’s popularity ahead of Tuesday primaries in Arizona and Utah.
“It’s a big spectacle,” said Devin Wood, 32, a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) who attended a protest outside Trump’s Friday night rally in Salt Lake City but worries that Trump benefits from the media coverage that the protests prompt. “I think the showman in him thinks any type of news or any type of exposure is going to help. He relishes in seeing this because I think he’s a narcissist and he loves to see this whole hullabaloo just made up about him.”
The anti-Trump blockade in Arizona on Saturday deepened Geneva Arthin’s admiration for Trump. She said she’s convinced that the same group of protesters has attended each of Trump’s rallies and is being paid by Trump’s Republican and Democratic opponents.
“They are against Mr. Trump,” said Arthin, 77, who lives in Mesa, Ariz., and has already cast her primary vote for him. “And Mr. Trump is not afraid of them because they are afraid of Trump because they will lose their subsidies.”
As police worked to unblock the highway, several thousand people waited in the hot sun for Trump to arrive at Fountain Park, known for a fountain that shoots up a tall column of water. News of the blockade popped up on cellphones and spread through the crowd. Unlike most of Trump’s rallies, reporters were forbidden from mingling with the crowd, even hours before the rally started.
The rally began nearly an hour late. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose jurisdiction includes Fountain Hills, introduced Trump and announced that law enforcement had arrested three protesters. Arpaio is a controversial longtime sheriff known for demeaning his prisoners by making them live in tents, wear pink underwear and eat food scraps, along with using his office to target immigrants in the country illegally and to hasten their deportation. Arpaio endorsed Trump and has appeared on the campaign trail with him several times.
“We had a little problem, some demonstrators were trying to disrupt,” said Arpaio, as the crowd booed the protesters. “If they think they’re going to intimidate you and the next president of the United States, it’s not going to happen. Not in this town, I’ll tell you right now.”
In the crowd was Courtney Enos, a 20-year-old community college student from Mesa who got in line at 6:30 a.m. and had planned to shout at Trump, asking why he is not talking about issues important to Native American communities. But when she got inside, she lost the confidence — she was the only minority in a sea of white faces, and some of the men around her commented on how they wanted to physically harm the protesters who shut down the highway.
“Honestly, for me, it was a little scary and nerve-wracking,” said Enos, who said she would have voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but didn’t register to vote in time. “I was too scared to say anything, with the way people go after protesters.”
Marla Becker, a 64-year-old Trump supporter from Apache Junction, didn’t make it to the rally in time to get a spot inside, so she watched from a nearby grassy hill, along with a group of protesters.
“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t want any ruckus to start, because when you’re old it’s kind of scary when there’s a ruckus,” said Becker, a former Democrat who plans to vote for Trump and had her decision confirmed as she listened to the protesters. “It’s kind of irritating when they’re yelling and screaming.”
Inside the Tucson rally, the demonstrations escalated after Trump took the stage, where he was interrupted at least half a dozen times. In some instances, the interruptions prompted physical altercations involving shoving and punching. At one point, at least a dozen protesters heckled Trump from behind the podium while holding “Black Lives Matter” and “Dump Trump” posters.
Trump took umbrage in another instance when a protester put on a white Ku Klux Klan hood and began shouting at the candidate. As the protester and a friend were escorted out, a man punched the protester’s friend and was taken away by police as well.
Back at Fountain Hills, Trump took the stage in one of his red ballcaps that read “Make America Great Again,” and he kept his comments under 25 minutes, as people in the audience were turning red from the sun and a few were becoming ill. He hit on many of controversial stances that have sparked protests: Building a massive wall along the Mexican border, stopping illegal immigration, barring Syrian refugees and getting rid of political correctness.
He also resumed attacking his Republican opponents, telling the crowd that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) “wasn’t even born in our country” and that Kasich is weak on immigration.
A few protesters were led out of the rally early during Trump’s remarks, including four women with their arms linked and a man in a U.S. Army hat with a sign reading: “Vets to Trump: End hate speech against Muslims.”
A handful of protesters stood near the entrance to the rally, including Jay Helser, a 47-year-old small business owner and father of five who made a sign showing an orange pig and Trump that said: “Cute orange pig, Pompous orange pig.”
“The man personally offends me,” said Helser, who lives in nearby Litchfield Park with his wife, who is from Mexico, and came to the rally alone. “He offends my wife — he offends her as a woman, he offends her as a Mexican American. He offends my kids who are all half-Mexican. . . . I’ve never lost sleep before over politics, but I have literally had lots of sleepless nights over this man.”
By the time the road had been blocked, Trump’s rally was already packed and a long line of people waited to get in — so the protesters did little to prevent Trump from getting a full audience. Still, John Kavanagh, an Arizona state senator who supporters Trump, told KPNX, the local NBC affiliate, that he plans first thing Monday to introduce legislation to increase penalties for those who block traffic into political events.
“These people are the fascists, and we’re going to crack down on them,” Kavanagh said. “Maybe President Trump will get a federal law, too.”
For months, Trump’s rallies have attracted protests, but the number and intensity have dramatically increased in recent weeks. Several high-profile eruptions of violence have attracted the condemnation of Trump’s critics, who say he has set a tone at his rallies that encourages violence among his supporters.
At a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., a Trump supporter sucker-punched a protester who was being escorted out by police officers. In St. Louis, 32 demonstrators were arrested at the Peabody Opera House, where demonstrators interrupted Trump eight times inside while hundreds clashed outdoors. And Trump canceled a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago because thousands of protesters had gathered inside and outside the rally, often violently clashing with Trump supporters.
But the real estate mogul has strongly pushed back on the suggestion that he is responsible for the incidents even as he has played down their frequency. He and his supporters say that protesters are intentionally stirring trouble and inciting aggression in order to hurt Trump’s candidacy.
Amy Muldoon of the International Socialist Organization, which helped organize the protest in New York, said it was important for her organization to protest, despite Trump’s use of similar protests to leverage support.
“What Chicago proved is that when people act in a united way, that’s his weakness,” Muldoon said. “He feeds on division.”
Bump reported from New York, and DelReal reported from Salt Lake City. Niraj Chokshi in Washington and John Wagner in Phoenix contributed to this report.