Thousands of protesters gathered outside the Phoenix Convention Center Tuesday night ahead of a speech by President Donald Trump, his first political event since the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va.
The demonstrations were largely peaceful as police kept the protesters and Trump supporters on opposite sides of the street behind barricades and a line of officers.
That didn’t stop the two groups from shouting at each other — in a few cases with offensive language — and some skirmishes broke out. At one point, a Trump supporter and protester shoved each other. In another exchange, the two groups shouted at each other before moving on.
At one point, a half-dozen people carrying military-style rifles and dressed in fatigues joined the protesters. Members of the group, who called themselves the Redneck Revolt, described themselves as an anti-fascist group who were offended by the president’s policies and comments in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence.
Local political leaders had urged the demonstrations to be calm, with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stantion saying he expected the protests to be “civil, respectful and peaceful.” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams added First Amendment rights will be supported but criminal conduct will be swiftly addressed.
Tucson Vice Mayor Regina Romero told reporters at a Tuesday morning news conference organized by the Mi Famila Vota organization that the groups “refuse to idly stand by while Trump destroys everything America stands for.”
“We need to raise our voices against Trump’s racism, assaults on civil rights, horrific border wall and attacks on public lands, our environment and working families,” Romero said.
Meanwhile, several hundred Trump supporters lined up at the Convention Center, with some arriving before dawn for the 7 p.m. rally.
“It’s been on a bucket list of mine, since he became the president,” said Kingman resident Diane Treon, who arrived at 4 p.m. “I wished I had attended one of his campaign rallies before he became president and I wanted to go to the inauguration. And truthfully it was the protests that kept me away.”
Treon said she wishes protesters “would be a little more peaceful instead of violently rioting, which is happening in so many places” but isn’t overly worried.
“I don’t think the Phoenix Police are going to stand down and throw us out in the wind,” she said. “I really think they’re going to keep us safe.”