President Donald Trump will be in town this evening, and dozens of his supporters have already lined up in anticipation, some having arrived days in advance.
The doors open at 3 p.m., but attendees were not allowed on the grounds until this morning. So on Wednesday afternoon, they waited on the sidewalk instead, lounging in a line of camping chairs under portable tents.
In interviews, they trafficked in right-wing conspiracy theories and a shared fervor for a man they believe is fighting for their interests — not those of shadowy Washington power brokers. Many claimed to be lifelong Democrats and compared the appeal of Trump’s populist rhetoric to that of past presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
But Angelo Susini of Arlington had no qualms about being quoted, saying that he’d grown up in New Jersey and credited Trump with revitalizing Atlantic City and beating out a series of political “con artists” who have controlled national politics for decades.
“He's not a Democrat. He's not a Republican. He's a patriot,” Susini said.
Trump’s lies and crude behavior appeal to voters like himself, he said. “Wow, he’s one of us,” he added, before ripping off his T-shirt to reveal slogans referencing popular right-wing conspiracy theories.
For many in line, this was their first Trump rally and possibly one of their final opportunities to witness what they described as a historic event.
Trump is the target of a congressional impeachment inquiry. House committees are conducting an investigation following whistleblower allegations that Trump pressured foreign leaders to investigate his political rivals. Trump has denied he did anything wrong, calling the inquiry a “witch hunt.”
Rallies like this one provide a platform for him to return to his favorite campaign themes while excoriating his political rivals in front of a sympathetic crowd.
They have also ignited violence. The Guardian has cataloged over 50 incidents of actual or threatened violence against Trump protesters and the political and racial groups Trump has singled out. It includes an incident in August when a 29-year-old Trump supporter repeatedly hit a 61-year-old protester in the head outside a rally in Cincinnati.
Just last week, Minneapolis police fired pepper spray on the crowd after fights broke out in the wake of his most recent rally.
The Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group made up of armed veterans and retired law enforcement officers, have confirmed that their members will be in Dallas for the rally.
“ALERT: Security volunteers needed!” read a Monday posting on Ammoland.com. It called on “Oath Keepers, veterans, bikers, three percenters, and other capable patriots,” to station themselves outside American Airlines arena to protect attendees as they return to their cars, citing the success of similar “security escort teams on the ground in Minneapolis this past Thursday.”
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Supporters waiting in line said that they appreciate the protection but expect no violence.
Horacio Lopez, of Corpus Christi, arrived in town Tuesday and has been waiting since 5 a.m. Wednesday with his wife, Ylda. Lopez, a veteran, said that life had improved for him and his family under Trump. His disability payments had been approved in only two and a half months, he said, far faster than he’d feared.
He’d never been this involved in politics, he said.
“This is the first time I voted, and I really got into it," he said. "I never knew how it is in this country until now."