Almost a year and a half before the 2020 election, Cincinnati got a taste of the intensity that will come with the next contest for the nation's highest office.
A campaign rally for Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence almost filled U.S. Bank Arena's 17,550 seats — and also brought occasional tumult inside and outside the venue.
Pence made short opening remarks to start off the event, but Trump was the headlining act.
The president, who is seeking a second term in the 2020 election, mostly stuck to his familiar talking points during the "Keep America Great" rally — making claims about the dangers of undocumented immigration and blasting environmental regulations and renewable energy in favor of coal power.
Trump touted his roughly three years in office, pointing to low unemployment, an overall strong economy, a decrease in opioid deaths in Ohio and other developments he claims as victories for his administration.
"We're finally putting America first," he told the crowd.
Trump also took to decrying Democrats as "socialists" and "left wing extremists" and focused special ire on former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren, two front-running candidates in the Democratic Party's presidential primary.
Trump called Warren "Pocahontas" — a derisive name Native American groups have said is racist — because she once claimed to have indigenous heritage. Trump also had a nickname for Biden — "Sleepy Joe."
Ohio is shaping up to be a battleground state again this year, with both Warren and Bernie Sanders making recent stops in the Queen City. This is Trump's seventh appearance in the Greater Cincinnati area since he began campaigning in the Republican presidential primary in 2015.
At the Aug. 1 rally, Trump repeated claims that immigrants are bringing crime and drugs into the U.S. before blasting Democrats for supporting friendlier immigration policies.
The president's rhetoric on immigration didn't go unanswered during the rally. A small group of anti-Trump protesters managed to sneak in banners reading "Immigrants Built America." and "Chinga la Migra" — "fuck ICE" in Spanish. The protesters and Trump supporters scuffled for the banners before the protesters were escorted out.
Trump asked if Cincinnati had a Democratic mayor and remarked, "Well, that's what happens."
Things were occasionally frenetic at a protest just outside the arena organized by local activists groups United We Stand and Indivisible Northern Kentucky. More than 100 people showed up chanting "close the camps" — a reference to immigrant detention camps on the southern U.S. border plagued by overcrowding and lack of basic necessities — and other anti-Trump slogans.
The crowd gathered in the swampy heat around the arena churned with pro and anti-Trump demonstrators. Sometimes, they traded friendly jabs and conversation. Other exchanges were less cordial.
Mike Alter of Hyde Park dropped by the protests after work and found himself on the receiving end of a barrage of punches after a man jumped out of a red pick-up truck near the intersection of East Pete Rose Way and Broadway, squared up and hit him in the face multiple times.
Scott Fantozzi, a bystander, caught the incident on video. Fantozzi says he saw protesters exchange words with the passenger of the truck about political matters, but did not believe the anti-Trump group was provoking violence.
"They pulled up and were yelling at everybody, whatever," Alter said afterward, a large knot growing on his forehead and an abrasion on his cheek. "So I was just like, 'come on, buddy,' and he jumped out and started swinging."
Cincinnati Police immediately arrested a man named Dallas Frazier for the incident. Alter says he will press charges.
A few anti-Trump protesters wearing bandanas and holding PVC pipes with flags were at the protest confronting Trump supporters aggressively, but otherwise demonstrators mostly just chanted and sang.
Info Wars and several independent conservative video bloggers were at the protest interviewing demonstrators of all stripes. A man in a plastic Hillary Clinton mask sold "Hillary for Prison" T-shirts. A large RV parked under an overpass adorned with banners featuring Trump as Rambo pumped out the president's speech. A man with dyed white hair yelled, "Bitch, I'm the president" to advertise T-shirts with that slogan.
Bicycle police lined up between Trump supporters lining the sidewalk outside the parking garage and anti-Trump protesters on the other side of the street.
Mohamed Banoun and his daughter, Hannah Banoun, stood at the edge of the street facing Trump supporters holding signs reading "Immigration Makes America Great: Generation One" and "Generation Two."
"I'm a first-generation Libyan-American," the elder Banoun said. "We love America, of course. This is why we're here. We can voice our opinions. It's basic. I disagree with everything. I don't agree with (Trump's) immigration policy, I don't agree with his policy in the Middle East. And I don't agree with him attacking the four congresswomen who represent us."
Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that four Democratic women of color in Congress should "go back to where they came from" — even though all four are American citizens and all but one were born in the United States.
Banoun said he's watching the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nominee closely, but doesn't have a favorite yet. His daughter says she's leaning toward Warren.
"I think her and Bernie (Sanders) should team up," she said.
Billie Mays, one of the event's organizers, said Trump's statements and policies on issues like immigration represent hate and must be opposed.
"Every time hate comes to our city, we have to come and show up in love and peace," she said. "Every time. Whether it's Trump or Pence or the KKK. Anytime hate comes to Cincinnati, we have to show up."
Trump supporters streaming into the arena, meanwhile, stressed the president's economic agenda and tried to downplay his inflammatory rhetoric. The mood around Great American Ball Park — where the line to eventually get into the arena next door wound circuitously — was more relaxed and festive.
Eric Young of Lexington said that he doesn't always agree with Trump, but likes his judicial appointments, his policies on immigration and his economic approach.
Trump Aug. 1 announced his administration would seek to impose 10 percent tariffs on some $300 billion in goods from China.
"That's kind of unheard of for a conservative, but it seems to be working," Young said as he waited to get into the arena. "As a long-standing policy, that's probably not a great position, but as a means to an end to bring China back to the table and bring balance back to trade, absolutely. I don't think anyone is intending it to be a long-term policy."
Young is less enthused about Trump's tweeting.
"I'm not always real keen on the bombastic stuff he throws," he said. "I can't agree with everything he says or does... No one can do what he does and get away with it. They'd be done politically. It would be suicide. I don't know how he does it, and I don't necessarily endorse it, but it seems to be working for him."
Kimberly Smith of White Oak had a similar take.
"I've always supported him," Smith said as she walked toward Great American Ball Park to get in line for the rally. "I just think the same way he does, I suppose. Trade, borders, those things. He's more of a businessman and a person who relates to the general population, rather than long-term politicians. Sometimes he says things that make me mad. I don't always agree with him, but he's more relatable."
North of the arena at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, organizers affiliated with the Democratic Party were setting up their own protest, which drew about 200 people. Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, local activist and DACA recipient Heyra Avila and others spoke.
DACA, an Obama-era policy, deferred immigration enforcement for people who came to the U.S. undocumented as minors. Trump has made efforts to end the program. Avila says she is worried the status allowing her to remain in the U.S. could be "stripped at any moment."
"I crossed the border when I was 4 years old," Avila said. "If I crossed the border at 4 years old today, I would be locked up in a cage. That is something that we will not stand for. We will not stand for the injustices that are happening right now. Not just at the border, but right next door."
The Freedom Center event closed with attendees singing along to the song "Imagine" by John Lennon, after which attendees gradually dispersed.
Some Trump supporters began streaming out of the arena shortly before the president's remarks were over. As the rally wrapped up, a hard rain broke out, scattering remaining protesters and campaign rally attendees alike.
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