Protesters Turn Out For Trump's Great Falls Visit
As President Donald Trump spoke at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls Thursday evening, a few hundred people protested his policies and general demeanor a parking lot away.
The main protest site was peppered with handwritten signs with slogans like, “Make racism wrong again” and, “Build a wall around Trump.”
Laura Wight of Great Falls organized the protest, which law enforcement confined behind yellow caution tape near the Montana Expo park’s west entrance.
"Our primary message is that Montanans don't need somebody coming from the outside to try to sway our votes," Wight says.
She says Montana isn’t open to discrimination, bigotry, anti-union rhetoric and a host of other complaints. Wight says she received threats on social media leading up to the protest, but said the protest's first couple hours were pretty civil.
"We've had some amazing dialogue going on along this line. And again, to me, it's very easy when you're online. You can make insults, you can hurl threats at people, you can big talk when you’re anonymous or online. But when you're face to face with another human being, it's such a better interaction."
The 200 plus protesters were there for many reasons. Elise Swan of Great Falls encouraged Native Americans to use their swing power and vote to keep Democratic Senator Jon Tester in office over Republican challenger Matt Rosendale.
"I’m enrolled in the Little Shell tribe," Swan says. "We're fighting for federal recognition right now and Tester has been a huge supporter, and we're going to lose one of our only allies if Rosendale wins the seat."
Larry Steimac held a sign that read, “Free the children, close the Trump concentration camps.”
"I mean, this is like what Hitler did," Steimac says.
He doesn’t want Trump’s wall, but he does want radical action.
"The wall wouldn't work. If they don't want this influx of migrants, they need to declare war on the gangs in Central America, is what they need to do" he says.
Steimac is also worried about Montana’s public lands remaining in public hands.
Randy Morger’s sign read, “65 years old, Veteran, normally vote Republican. First protest ever!!”
"I’m protesting because anyone who has Donald Trump's back has only my complete disdain," he says.
Morger served for 22 years in the U.S. Air Force under multiple presidents with whom he sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed.
"And for the first time in my life I can no longer respect the presidency of the United States, because to my mind, this man is not really a president," he says.
Morger hasn’t voted for Tester in the past, but Rosendale’s commitment to Trump’s agenda is reason enough for him to trade party loyalties.
"Rosendale, I see as a lapdog for Donald Trump; and that's not the person I believe we need in the Congress right now. We need people who can collaborate like Tester, and not Rosendale," he says.
When Trump’s motorcade pulled in at 4 o’clock, protesters at the gates and in the caution-tape area congregated around a giant yellow banner that read, “Jon Tester stands up for Veterans."
Speakers like Angie Rolando urged protesters to get out the vote in November.
"It's gonna take more than us," Rolando said. "Get your friends, get your families, get your neighbors, get people out to vote and shake some hands and make some friends."
Organizers had advertised the protest as multiple speakers holding out as long as Trump, but they wrapped up after about 20 minutes. Laura Wight says a lack of stage space and an unwieldy crowd caused them to change plans, but she’s still happy.
"It's more important to me that people are using their voice and out," she says.
Using voices went both ways. Some 6,600 people made it into the arena to hear Trump, but thousands more were turned away at the door, even though they had tickets. As they left the Expopark, some exchanged heated words with the protesters, still held back by the yellow caution tape.
"Why don’t you traitors go home," someone yells.
Some people squeezed past the three contracted security guards to actually talk to the protesters, but their dialogue was quickly drowned out by chanting and oppositional singing.
"You losers," another person yells.
Most Trump ralliers walked past quietly. Some yelled comments about the small size of the opposition. A man waving what some consider a neo-Nazi flag hung around as close to the protesters as security would allow. As Trump’s speech wrapped up the roadway was flooded with people.
At this point, everyone was chanting 'U-S-A'. Both the people leaving the rally, and the protesters.
Some supporters shouted, “Build the wall” or "Fake news."
At the peak of the outpouring, a man lunged past security into the line of protesters.
They tangled for a moment before the SWAT team took him away in handcuffs. Otherwise, the ralliers and protesters remained at arms’ length until the park emptied out.
MTPR's Nora Saks contributed reporting for this story.