Scenes from Janesville's Trump rally

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Gazette staff
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

JANESVILLE--A rabbit, a squirrel and a chicken.

T-shirts and buttons.

Masks, signs and bullhorns.

The atmosphere at the Donald Trump rally—attended by about 2,000 people at the Holiday Express Tuesday—was almost festive.

Perhaps it was that and the beautiful weather than kept tensions from boiling over into violence.

More likely it was the police presence, with 350 officers from 20 agencies keeping peace.

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore reported no arrests, although one investigation remains open after a 15-year-old protester and a Trump supporter got into a screaming match. She claimed he touched her inappropriately, and then she threw a punch. Someone sprayed her and a companion with pepper spray.

Both victims were treated at a local hospital. Police are searching for the sprayer and the person who groped the girl, Moore said.

Police also investigated an abandoned car, suspicious packages and four people legally carrying weapons.

“We think this is a successful event, and our goal was to have a safe event and one where people could exercise their (rights of) speech and assembly,” Moore said.

Protesters mostly paraded down Wellington Drive in a growing line that peaked at about 150. Onlookers and Trump supporters lined one side of the road. The two groups started interacting about 2:30 p.m., calling each other some nasty names, booing and chanting.

Still, when one protester's sign fell off her stick, nobody stepped on it or ripped it up.

After a while, everyone seemed to lose energy. When Trump's speech was broadcast into the parking lot at about 5 p.m., his supporters joined others closer to the Holiday Inn. With their audience gone, the protestors left or wandered over to listen with the crowd.

Interviews showed that less than one-quarter of the attendees were from Janesville.

Following are some scenes from the day:

-- A man wearing an American flag cowboy hat and a shirt that reads, “Make America great again!” offered chocolate candies to protesters. No one accepted any.

-- A Bernie Sanders supporter with a Guy Fawkes mask offered free bottles of water to those lined up for the Trump rally. Devin Warburton, a UW-Whitewater student said, “I don't feel that just because they support something different than me that they should suffer and possibly get dehydration.”

-- A young man wearing a “Make American great again” hat and a female protester debated on the street about illegal immigration. A crowd gathered around them, and a few others interjected.

Voices rose, but the debate remained civil. At the end, both the Trump supporter and the protester shook hands and parted ways.

-- Even Trump supporters admitted some of the signs were inventive.

Some included:

“Let's comb over racism,” referring to Trump's famous hair.

“No room for small hands,” referring to his spat with Marco Rubio.

“Trump Deez Nuts” (explaining the squirrel costume).

“Dadaists for Bernie.”

“Cat butts or Trump.”

-- Luke McGowan-Arnold, a Rockford, Illinois, high school senior, played a guitar and harmonica and sang songs such as “This Land is Your Land” and Bob Dylan hits for the protestors. At one point, he interrupted himself while playing to exclaim, “I broke a second string!”

-- Aariella Steele, a Janesville native and Kenosha resident, said she spent all day waiting in line to enter the rally with her “Love Trumps Hate” sign and having civil conversations with Trump supporters before “Trump security” denied her entry to the Holiday Inn. Furious and crying, she questioned why she wasn't allowed to see a presidential candidate speak at a public venue.

“Where is the freedom in this country when … you don't get to hear a presidential candidate speak now? What they're doing is completely breaking our Constitutional rights as citizens, and I don't understand why it's being allowed.”

Three black people in line behind Steele also were kicked out “just for being black,” Steele said.

“I'm not racist enough to get in, guys, so try to represent for us, OK?” she shouted at Trump supporters.

A man with a shirt and sign reading “Free hugs” embraced Steele as she wept.

He then offered hugs to Trump supporters. Several took him up on his offer.

-- Tyler Baggins, a Janesville native and Madison resident, did a back flip for a group of Trump supporters, claiming the entire show was a circus.

He was on the fence about whether he was going to vote for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump and came to the rally to see if it was as bad as the media portrayed it. After only a few minutes in line, people started saying racist things, and Baggins bailed, he said.

“I've been trying to convince myself that he's not Hitler for like six months,” Baggins said. “I've been trying to convince myself that he's not all bad. I wanted to come out here and see that it's not that bad, but it's worse than I thought.

“These people are delusional. They're crazy,” he said.

Baggins said he'll abstain from voting this election.

-- A man sporting a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, a leather vest and a guitar with a Trump sticker played songs for Trump supporters standing in line. He repeated the lyric “Trump for president” while playing.

-- A man was escorted out of the room where Donald Trump was giving a speech. The man was  holding a sign with a photo of Trump and a clown face placed over it. The man left peacefully while holding the photo in the air.

-- Several people during Trump's speech yelled, “We love you,” as they held their phones in the air capturing his speech and the crowd's cheers.

-- Frankie Kleczka of Milwaukee said he's an undecided voter who has been hopping from various candidates' rallies to add names to his list of famous people he has seen. If he had to vote for a candidate now, Kleczka said, he would probably vote for Trump “because he wants to make America great,” he said.

--  One woman was guarding a field planted in winter wheat along Wellington Place. The owner was worried about the crop being trampled by onlookers.

She was quick to say she had no political opinions.

“I'm pro-crop,” she said.

--  Denver Schroeder wielded a bullhorn every time a lull fell over the crowd.

“Here's a good one,” she murmured to herself before raising the megaphone and chanting, “Build communities, not walls.”

Turns out Schroeder, 19, of Rockford, Illinois, lives in an “anarchical communist collective community,” like the old hippy communes from the 60s, she explained.

She said Trump is using his freedom of speech to spread harmful ideas. She said she was using hers to put the power back into the hands of the people.

--  Sisters Grace Lequia, 68, and Linda Cook, 66, traveled from Two Rivers to show their support for Trump. They booked a hotel room and were looking forward to eating out that night.

“It's a bucket list thing,” Lequia said. “Neither one of us knows if we're going to be here for the next election.”

“And we're not happy with the last election,” Linda added.

But Trump “thinks like we do and talks like we do,” she said.

Last updated: 8:30 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2016

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