President Donald Trump struck a strong law and order theme at a rally before thousands at an airport in Winston-Salem on Tuesday night, seeking to draw a sharp contrast with his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
Trump said Biden is beholden to the left wing of his party and that a Biden administration would undo progress Trump claimed on the economy, trade and cutting down on illegal immigration.
Trump spoke for a little over an hour Tuesday on the tarmac at Smith Reynolds Airport, with thousands of people in attendance.
On Wednesday morning, airport director Mark Davidson, who watched Air Force One land from his offices in the terminal building, said he estimated that there were 7,000 to 9,000 people who turned out for the event.
A sea of red Trump hats and shirts greeted the president when he stepped off Air Force One and made his way down the stairs.
Trump called Biden a friend of “the extreme radical left,” and said that the left would control a Biden administration. Trump sought to bind Biden to violence that has erupted in cities over the summer in the wake of peaceful protests against the treatment of Black people by police.
“On Nov. 3 America faces a very simple choice,” Trump said. “Vote for the candidate backed by violent, left-wing rioters, or vote for the candidate backed by the selfless heroes of law enforcement.”
At the same time, Trump said that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and women have all prospered during the Trump economy, and promised more to come should he win a new term.
Trump’s message was one that resonated with a friendly crowd, who interrupted him at times with chants of “four more years,” and even “we love you.”
“They are coming after me because I am fighting for you,” Trump said.
Daniel Edwards, who came from Mount Airy to see Trump, said that Trump is the only candidate who has been saying things that many people always wanted to hear someone say.
“I think a lot of Americans have been Trump supporters, but they just never had one to vote for,” Edwards said. “He is the first one to say what everyone is thinking.”
One of the news items that Trump denounced as untrue was an allegation that he called fallen service members “losers” and “suckers.”
Edwards’ brother Matt Edwards was one of several military veterans who told a Journal reporter that he didn’t believe Trump ever made the remarks.
“I don’t believe it was taken out of context,” Edwards said. “I don’t think it was said at all.” Edwards went on to say that Trump has “faced a lot of hate” for speaking out, but that it hasn’t stopped him.
Another veterans, Robert Schweickert, drove in from Moravian Falls. He said he is working with a group of folks there to boost Trump, and that Americans “need this man real bad."
But Schweickert doesn’t think Trump dissed the veterans.
“He didn't make those remarks," Schweickert said. "His heart would not let him make those remarks."
People attending the rally faced a long wait as they made their way through a checkpoint where their temperature was checked and people were given face masks to wear if they weren’t already wearing one.
But many spurned the masks once they got inside, and it appeared that much fewer than half the people at the rally were wearing masks at any given time.
And people gave a full-throated roar of approval when Trump declared that the business restrictions in the state – put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 – should be lifted.
“You are in a shutdown, it is crazy,” Trump said. “North Carolina has to open up.”
Trump made the claim that restrictions are in place “for political reasons,” and appeared to be suggesting that Democrats in the state are keeping restrictions in place to cripple the economy.
One Trump supporter likened the reluctance of many to wear masks to the same reluctance many had to wearing seat belts.
“It is part of the freedom that we feel to be able to wear one or not,” said Debra Pullam, who was wearing a Trump-themed mask.
Trump used the occasion to boost GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest, who earlier told the crowd that he would “never tell a business they were non-essential,” and that people in the state need to “get back to life” and “get kids back in the classroom.”
Debra Pullam from High Point told a Journal reporter that she used to be a Democrat but is now a strong Trump supporter.
“I used to be a Democrat, but it is not the same Democratic Party I grew up in,” she said as she waited for Trump to arrive. “He (Trump) is pro-life, he is a Christian. When he says something he delivers on it.”
The president’s plane landed about 6:35 p.m. at Smith Reynolds, and as Trump made his way down the stairs he was greeted with cheers from the hundreds of people who lined the railing to watch him walk past.
At the podium, Trump predicted he would win North Carolina and the election nationwide, but darkly raised the prospect that he could lose the election through fraudulent mail-in ballots.
And Trump repeated his recommendation that anyone casting an absentee ballot also go to the polling place and check to see if they have been recorded as having cast a vote.
That’s something election officials here are recommending against, saying it could make Election Day more chaotic and increase the risk of people spreading the coronavirus.
Some people traveled quite a distance to see Trump. Linda Gravely drove down from Mercer County, West Virginia. She said she is a big fan of the president and this was the first time she would be able to see him in person.
"I love Trump," she said. "This is my first time to see him."
A lot of people carried signs passed out by the Trump campaign that read, “This is a peaceful protest.” Trump said that was done because, as he put it, protesters are allowed to violate coronavirus restrictions.
During his speech, Trump said a COVID-19 vaccine would be developed before the end of the year, and predicted a sharp rebound for the economy.
Trump took time during his speech to praise other GOP candidates, some joining him at the rally. Among those were Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who took one of the warm-up speaking slots while the crowd was waiting for Trump.
O’Neill criticized incumbent Democratic attorney general Josh Stein, whom he called “a radical left-wing liberal that spends every single day figuring out how to sue Donald Trump.”
O’Neill said it is “nuts, absolutely nuts” how “the radical left wants to eliminate (or) … reimagine the police.” O’Neill said that if he is elected “we will go after the rioters, the looters, the arsonists, the killers in the street.”
About 60 protesters loudly voiced their opposition when President Donald Trump spoke Tuesday night on the tarmac at Smith Reynolds Airport. And the protesters traded barbs and insults with Trump supporters outside the airport.
After Trump finished speaking around 8:10 p.m., throngs of his supporters walked from the campaign's venue to the airport's exit at Norfleet Drive and North Liberty Street.
As the Trump enthusiasts crossed Liberty Street, the anti-Trump protesters yelled at them, calling them "liars, and "losers," and chanting "No Trump, no KKK — no fascist USA." Some Trump supporters responded by saying, "Trump 2020, let's go," "Four more years," and "U.S.A."
Eight Winston-Salem police officers stood in Liberty Street and on both sides of the street, directing traffic and separating the two sides. Although both groups yelled and screamed at each other, sometimes face to face, there was no violence.
A man yelled "Build the Wall" at the protesters as he walked in the right lane of North Liberty Street. Two officers yelled at the man to get on the sidewalk. The man eventually complied with the officers' commands.
An officer had earlier yelled at the protesters and Trump supporters to stay on the sidewalks along North Liberty Street.
A woman wearing a Trump T-shirt said to her friend, "I'm going to get a video to see what ignorance looks like." A protester then yelled at her and other Trump supporters "to go back to your trailers."
A video screen in the airport's lower parking lot showed Trump speaking to the crowd on a tarmac. When they heard Trump speak, the protesters loudly yelled, "You're fired," "Dump Donald Trump," "Not my president," "Lock him up," and "Black Lives Matter."
A man carrying a U.S. flag said that "All lives matter," as he crossed Liberty Street. A protester responded, "They don't love you bro."
A tense moment happened just after 7 p.m. when protesters confronted a man and woman across the street from the airport's entrance. The man, who said he supports Trump, and the protesters exchanged angry words and taunts.
The protesters demanded that the man and woman put on masks. The man then accused at least one protester of spitting on him during their confrontation.
After several more moments of confrontation between the couple and the protesters, the couple walked away from the protesters.
Percell Newman of Winston-Salem watched the protesters from across Liberty Street near the airport's entrance.
"I think they are ignorant," Newman said of the protesters. "They are being rude to the people who are just crossing the street. They (the protesters) can just go home."
However, Jamaal Oti of Winston-Salem said that the anti-Trump protesters were expressing their First Amendment rights. The protesters are bringing awareness to the issues that some people may not know about, especially in the black community, Oti said.
A group of protesters drove to 4300 block of Old Walkertown Road, walked to the airport's entrance and joined other demonstrators who had already been standing at the site.
Many of the same protesters had earlier attended a rally called, "Ain't Happening Here: Community over Regime."
That event was held at Fairview Park, about two miles from the airport. The organization, Building WSNC, staged what it described as a civil, peaceful demonstration at the park.
Building Winston-Salem is a group of community activists whose mission is to overturn structures that do not serve everyone equitably, the statement said. The organization is a coalition of 17 local groups, including the Triad Abolition Project and Black Lives Matter-Winston-Salem.
Annalise Sattler, a founder member of Building WSNC, read a letter that the organization sent on Monday to Mayor Allen Joines of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr., District Attorney Jim O'Neill, Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson, the Forsyth Board of Commissioners, and the Winston-Salem City Council.
"On behalf of the constituents of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, N.C., we would like to express our shared disappointment in the empty words, regressive actions, and harmful inactions of our elected officials," Sattler said, quoting the letter.
"In a time where our community is healing from the neglect and distrust, it was your duty to protect your citizens from the irresponsible rhetoric spewed by the president," Sattler said. "Yet, you have once again chosen to be silent and neglect the community that elected you.
"Winston-Salem is no stranger to silence from our leaders," Sattler said.
Benjamin Spencer, who lives near Pfafftown, criticized Trump at the Fairview Park rally.
"We have a fascist as president," Spencer said. "He's in a city where he shouldn't be in. He doesn't act like a real American."
The warm-up acts wasted no time Tuesday getting amped for President Trump’s rally at Smith Reynolds Airport.
State Sen. Joyce Krawiec led a prayer. State Sen. Donny Lambeth followed with the Pledge of Allegiance. District Attorney Jim O’Neill — candidate for state attorney general — in a near-yell attacked ... something.
The headliner, though, stole the show.
Curiously, though, there was no mention of COVID-19 or the 189,000 lives (and counting) lives lost other than a short riff about the “China plague that came in and forced us to close the greatest economy ever.”
The first line, near the top of an e-mail about President Trump’s MAGA-rally, set the tone.
“INFORMATION IS FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY.”
Excellent. Who doesn’t love a good plan?
The pertinent, and far more important details, were buried down below the information about parking satellite trucks.
“Once media have passed a temperature check, they will proceed through additional security and into the venue,” the e-mail reads.
Check, temperature check. No official word on mask requirements, social distancing or whether the Secret Service would be snatching hand-sanitizer.
Still, disposable masks were offered, even if relatively few took them, and temperatures checked.
Baby steps but steps nonetheless.
Besides, Team Trump can’t have another Herman Cain situation. (Cain, you might remember, died earlier this year, from complications related to COVID-19 after he attended a rally in Oklahoma).
And in case the danger wasn’t obvious, the campaign helpfully spelled it out in its liability waiver.
“By attending President Donald J. Trump’s Make America Great Again Rally in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; Smith Reynolds Regional Airport; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”
Small print, at the bottom. Who reads the small print?
Hundreds could have, but most likely didn’t. Lawyers count on it getting skipped.
Red hats outnumbered masks and face coverings by at least a 100-to-1 ratio.
COVID-19 is, on alternate days, overblown or a pandemic well under control with an effective vaccine just around the corner.
The families of more than 2,900 dead North Carolinians — closing in on 190,000 nationwide — might beg to differ.
Still, with cases COVID-19 cases clocking in about 45,000 per day, one cannot be too careful.
And so my planned arrival at the rally Tuesday was rushed by the day’s other big event: paid participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.
What better place to test its efficacy than surrounded by a few thousand people — 98 percent of whom opted against wearing a face covering.
If the President of the United States visits town, it’s news.
With this particular president, it’s a guarantee. He speaks off the cuff, unscripted, whatever pops into his head and without a net.
Inject bleach? Why not. Worried about mail-in ballots? Vote twice. I like guys who weren’t captured.
And so on. Love him or loathe him, Trump is impossible to ignore.
He showed up on time, as billed, and delivered what the appreciative crowd came to hear.
Law and order. Far-left rioters. Greatest economy ever “until the China plague came in." Rebuilt the military. The border wall.
A few greatest hits/grievances leavened with some light name calling.
Sleepy Joe. Kah-ma-la. Crazy Bernie. The usual suspects.
There was one crack about Nancy Pelosi not wearing a mask for a haircut. “Gotta wear that mask all day and all night. Indoors. Outdoors. When you go to bed at night.”
Irony died Tuesday at Smith Reynolds Airport.
He didn’t say anything outlandish. By Trump standards anyhow.
Toward the end, he did mention a previously floated possibility that a vaccine would be ready by Election Day.
“By the end of the year. Probably sooner, much sooner. Totally safe.”
Thank you, Dr. Drink Bleach.
After sitting through two-hours worth of questions and information gathering from an actual doctor working on a vaccine trial for COVID-19, I have my doubts.
Yes, the study is in phase three, which means that the odds of sprouting a third eye or turning purple has been greatly reduced.
But the scientists still have to compile and study the results. Then the winning company (or companies) have to manufacture and distribute it.
That’s going to take some time, patience and money.
The process — the science — shouldn’t be rushed or pressured by politics.
“It is a race,” said the nice rep who signed us up. “Everybody is trying to get there first. You want it to be safe. Money has a lot to do with it, too.”
Of course it does. Now there’s something upon which we can all agree.
Make America Great Again? Let’s start with Make America Well Again.