Two Sides of the Trump Rally
When the President of the United States announced he was coming to our city, we decided it was an event we couldn't miss.
November 8, 2019
Two staff reporters took on the challenge of covering the Nov. 4 Trump Rally at Rupp Arena. One was outside. The other was inside. Here are their stories.
My Editor-in-Chief, Kennedy, and I left school a little early to get to the rally. Her mom drove us there so we didn’t have to worry about parking. We tried to get there quickly, so we stopped at McDonald’s. We didn’t know if there would be concessions (there were). As we quickly stuffed down our food, we pulled up Google Maps to arrange our pick-up with our ride.
We got downtown and the realization of the situation we were putting ourselves in became apparent. We saw protesters and supporters yelling at each other, but we didn’t see anyone getting physical with each other. That calmed my nerves. Also, there were about a million cop cars surrounding Rupp Arena. There weren’t as many roads blocked off as we thought there would be, so we were dropped off right in front of the Arena.
When we exited the car, we asked a police officer for directions. They told us to head toward the side entrance of Rupp so we walked to the end of the line that zigzagged all the way through the back parking lot (about 700 feet). Kennedy and I had a lot of fun looking at all the Trump supporters decked out in all their Trump contraband from makeshift carts selling things like flags with Trump holding a machine gun and standing on a tank, and MAGA hats including my personal favorite: hats that said: “Make AOC a Bartender Again.”
When we finally arrived at the door (about 30 minutes later), we had to go through metal detectors similar to those at school, but instead of friendly safety ambassadors, there were cops with full-body bulletproof suits. One thing that surprised me as we entered was that we didn’t actually need a ticket to enter even though we reserved ours on the Trump website.
We got to our seats in section 25 of the lower arena directly facing the podium. There was pretty good music playing like “Piano Man” by Billy Joel and “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John. We were on the outer two seats, and then two ladies from Maysville came and sat next to us. We chatted, and they asked us a few questions and told us where they were from. They were pretty nice. Then Kennedy and I waited for the event to begin.
Things started ramping up. “YMCA” by the Village People started playing and everyone in the stadium started dancing and singing.
Matt Bevin entered the arena between sections 16-17 which was diagonally from where we were sitting. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. He walked down the stairs shaking people’s hands and then he gave a little speech. He said not only was he going to win, but that KY was going to have a full Republican ticket. The crowd went nuts. Then he went behind the stage to the locker room area.
The stage was empty, and there wasn’t really anything going on, so people were getting bored. Kennedy and I started filming ourselves lip-synching to the songs. A red-headed lady started dancing on the floor in front of the stage to “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner; it was entertaining.
Kennedy and I decided to go get ice cream, and the nice ladies held our seat for us. She also gave us gum.
The crowd started doing the wave when Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” started playing. Even people in the upper arena were doing the wave which went around about 10 times.
We were all getting excited because hyped-up entrance music started playing. Everyone stood up because they thought Trump was coming in, but he wasn’t.
The stage was still empty, and it felt like time was going so slow as we waited on Trump to arrive. “Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty was playing, and when it stopped we got anxious that it was time. But then another song started.
Singer Lee Greenwood walked out and started belting out “God Bless the USA” in a live performance (the song came out in 1984). Everyone went crazy. About halfway through the song, Trump started walking out. He walked to the podium and stood by as Greenwood finished the song, sometimes pointing to him like “wow, he’s really good.” A lot of people were singing along.
Trump started talking about how Kentucky was thriving “more than ever before.” While he’s talking, the crowd is silent. You could hear a pin drop. Then he talked about Al Baghdadi and how he killed him, and how he’s going to kill his successor next. The crowd cheered. He said “American Special Forces gave the biggest terrorist a one-way ticket to hell.” The crowd went insane–like seriously ballistic.
Then he talks about how the Democrats are suppressing everyone, mentioning the Covington Catholic boys. That started his rant about Democrats in general. He said “Nancy Pelosi and Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff need to stop wasting their time” in reference to the impeachment inquiries. The crowd booed when he said the word “impeachment.” Then he said that cities like L.A. look like a “third world city.” Everyone laughed.
Trump moved on to the Stock Market as being “the highest it’s ever been in American history.” The crowd began cheering, “USA, USA, USA.” He moved on to the media (everyone booed) and then he pointed at the press box and the crowd pointed and booed with him. He kept yelling “fake news” which some in the crowd also joined. Someone in the upper arena shouted “F**k you, Trump” and security immediately grabbed him to escort him out. Trump noticed and said, “Be gentle, be careful. I don’t want to be sued. He’s going home to his mom.” The crowd roared with laughter.
Trump compared the Republican and Democratic parties saying that the Republicans are as united as they’ve ever been while Democrats aren’t. He said, “The Dems need to get the hell out of office.” He started talking about Matt Bevin who walked over to stand closer to Trump, who said: “[Bevin] is such as pain in the ass, but that’s what you want in a Governor, right?” Bevin kind of laughed. Throughout Trump’s entire speech, no one in the arena sat down.
Trump addressed Bevin’s opponent, Andy Beshear, next. “This guy, Beshear, is a major lefty.” Then he joked, “Are we sure we need an election tomorrow?” he asked the crowd. Then he moved on to the whistleblower which caused an uproar. Trump said, “Andy Beshear rejects everything Kentucky stands for.” The crowd booed at the mention of Beshear’s name.
Matt Bevin came up and started speaking about how Trump endorsed him, and how Trump is great. “You guys like Trump,” he said. “You should vote for me.”
Around this time, Kennedy and I decided to leave because it seemed like Trump was finished speaking. Plus, we didn’t want to be in the mass of everyone leaving. Kennedy called her mom on my phone since hers had died. We were in a crowd of Trump supporters as we left the rally, so we were booed by protestors. As we walked down Broadway headed past Triangle Park, Kennedy’s whole family came to get us. They spotted us on the sidewalk and stopped. They opened the door of their van and urged us to get in. At first, I was like, “Are we being kidnapped?” Then I saw Kennedy’s sister.
We headed away from Rupp Arena, and they dropped me off at my house. My Trump rally experience was over. Even though I’m a member of the Democratic Party, I went into the Trump rally trying to be an unbiased reporter. With that being said, it was difficult to be surrounded by people with such a polar opposite view of my own. The atmosphere was really fun and I had a really good time. Despite my best efforts to hate it, it was an experience that I’m glad that I witnessed.
I anxiously waited for my mom and sister to text me back. My older sister was going to come with us to the protests but she abruptly (and reasonably) decided she didn’t feel safe going anymore. I was now trying to convince my mom to still let me go but with some swift words from my dad and sister, she didn’t seem to have a problem with it.
I wish I could say my mom picked me up at this time but, no, of course, she didn’t. As I waited for her and my Lamplighter colleagues, Mike and Sloan, and I geared up with cameras, mics, and SD cards. Mrs. Turner, my adviser, said “If you, in your heart, feel unsafe at any point, you can turn around and leave. Trust your gut.” It was at this very point that a sinking feeling hit my stomach. This was actually real. No playing around– just real, hardcore journalism. Well… maybe not “Shane Smith-in-Liberia” hardcore journalism, but by far the most hardcore I’d ever gone.
Once my mom picked me up, we made a pit stop at my house. As a student journalist, I’m supposed to be completely neutral but I couldn’t help changing into my Bernie 2016 t-shirt. Of course, I put a jacket and a huge scarf on so the shirt never saw the light of day. But still, I felt like this super secretive undercover reporter that was ready to dismantle the corruption in democracy or something like that.
As you can see, the adrenaline was getting to my head.
I patiently drank my tea at the meeting spot as I waited for the rest of the team. I watched outside through the windows but nothing was really happening yet. It was calm…weirdly calm. There weren’t more than 35 protesters at Triangle Park. It didn’t even seem like a protest; it was more of a peaceful gathering. And so I waited.
I crossed the street into Triangle Park and found Mike and Sloan. Shortly after, another staff reporter, Mason, found us and so the whole team was there. As I looked at the whole group together, all fear of possible danger went away. I was surrounded by 6-foot tall guys who all looked like professional reporters given all the gear we had with us. I was going to be a-okay. We started to wander around Triangle Park; not much was going on yet but the crowd was slowly growing. It was time to be a journalist.
This is when things started getting weird.
The first oddity of the night was the massive crowd of vaping protesters. They all had matching “WE VAPE! WE VOTE!” shirts and signs. At no point did they state a clear motive, but nonetheless they seemed fired up and ready to go. As I tried to figure out what was up with these particularly passionate protesters, the crowd kept booing and booing.
Trump supporters had to go right through the protests to get to Rupp Arena, but every time a red MAGA hat would bob through the crowd, the growing sea of protesters would boo and yell without missing a beat. The juxtaposition of the Trump supporters parting the chanting, sign-yielding protesters really brought me back to reality.
The chanting started to grow and more and more protesters were starting to group together. After a while of walking around the park, we decided to take a look at what was going on around the protests.
We walked over to the courthouse and lo and behold a giant, baby Trump balloon sat in the courtyard. People were gathered around taking selfies with it.
At this point, we walked over to the designated Trump “territory.” Basically, you’d walk about 100 feet away from the protest and you’d enter this so-called territory. Less than 100 feet and all you could see were flags plastered with Trump’s face, MAGA everywhere, and even a strange Trump wargame.
Sprinkled throughout the block were merchandise sellers who were all hawking their wares and yelling “get your latest Trump 2020 hats right here.” Normal, right? Actually, no. Many of these vendors were selling shirts that had, in big red and blue font, the words“Donald F***ing Trump 2020” on the front and “B**ch, I’m the president” on the back. We couldn’t help but laugh. Between the shirts, weird merch, and giant baby balloon, it felt like I was in the middle of an SNL skit and I was the butt of the joke. This couldn’t possibly be happening right now.
Mason and Sloan took this time to interview some Trump supporters while Mike and I took photos and filmed some b-roll. We had been wandering around for some time when we found a huge, 20×10 foot tall screen. It was playing the rally in real-time and it looked like a watch-party. No, sorry, it WOULD look like a watch party if anyone had been there. It was completely deserted. It was only half a block away from all the chanting and protests, and literally next to all the commotion, but it felt like we had been transported to a completely different universe.
After listening to tangents about the media and socialism, we decided it was time to leave the supposed watch-party and get some more interviews. We also heard some commotion outside of Rupp Arena and decided to check it out.
This was the only moment of the night where I didn’t feel 100% safe. It’s not like felt endangered but a part of me was saying that something might go wrong. It was one of the moments where my internal voice went “Uh oh….”
Right in front of Rupp Arena there were several protesters chanting. Some were yelling vulgar things and Trump supporters were matching it with the same. The two conflicting groups were separated by 100 feet of sidewalk at the beginning–it wasn’t much but at least it was something–but then there were only inches separating them. I was waiting for a collision between the “Trump for Prison 2020” signs and the “Make America Great Again” hats. In the middle of all the chaos, a pretty aggressive Trump supporter got ahold of a megaphone and started arguing with anyone and everyone.
Insults were flying, and then siren lights started shining. “You’re pathetic!” a supporter said to a man holding a “Veterans against Trump” sign.
In the midst of all the turmoil, the four of us broke the most important rule of the night which was “Do NOT get separated.” I suddenly lost my three bodyguards, and I found myself in the middle of a screaming match between a supporter and a protestor. After less than a minute of overdramatic panicking, I saw a familiar face. Let me just say, I’ve never been happier to see Michael David Marshall in my entire life.
This was the height of the protest. Around 300+ people had gathered at Triangle Park as the initial measly gathering of people grew into a screaming sea of anti-Trump, anti-Bevin, anti-Mitch, and anti-GOP signs. Massive groups of people showed up. The “WE VAPE! WE VOTE!” group was chanting loudly and a group of protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks showed up.
Every once in a while, small groups of hecklers would walk by and cause a disruption. I distinctly remember a duo of Trump supporters proudly walking through and holding a Trump 2020 t-shirt, screaming “Hell yeah I voted for Trump! Hell yeah!” The strange thing is that every time a heckler would walk by, they would always be escorted through the crowd and protected by the police.
We walked over to Rupp Arena and saw that more anti-Trump protesters had gathered at the entrance of the rally, but not much was going on since all the Trump supporters were already inside.
We headed back to Triangle Park. The protest had mostly died down with the exception of some particularly passionate groups that stayed in place. The majority of protesters, including the vape protesters, had departed. Even though the protestors were dispersing, a duo on the street adjacent to the park was holding an American flag with “Trump 2020” painted across it. Nobody seemed to pay attention to them, and I wondered why they weren’t inside at the rally.
After a long day of reporting, we headed across the street to Starbucks and got some coffee. As we defrosted from the cold, we discussed the crazy experience we had just experienced. My “Dream Team” colleagues and I talked about the anger we witnessed from both sides, and how although some moments were tense, we didn’t ever really feel unsafe (shout out to Lexington police officers).
Everything was pretty quiet by the time we decided to leave, and frankly, I was very eager for the weirdest day of my life to come to an end.