WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Rain did not deter the enthusiasm for President Donald Trump’s rally.
A line of people began to wrap around the Mohegan Sun Arena two hours before doors were set to open at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Many of those in line carried umbrellas for shelter from the mid-afternoon rain, but chants of “USA! USA!” could still be heard.
Trump was in town to support Congressman Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, in the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bob Casey, a Democrat from Scranton.
Among those in line were Timothy and Christine Florio, of Shenandoah. The two were dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with pro-Trump messages.
They both were seeing the president for the first time and expected the rally would be “life-changing.”
They were there with their grandchildren, Joseph and Jeremiah Paulino.
“We’re here to support our president,” Mr. Florio said, adding that he’s also in favor of Barletta’s candidacy for Senate.
The Florios support the “hardline” stance on immigration touted by Trump and Barletta, saying they’ve been supportive of Barletta’s immigration policies since his time as the mayor of Hazleton.
While the Florios love and respect everyone, they said Congress needs to fight for Trump on immigration, stressing the importance of people “coming in the right way.”
Immigration done the “right way” seemed to be a theme among Trump supporters Thursday.
“I’m the proud son of immigrants, but they came legally,” said Dave Morda, who came from Mocanaqua to see the president. “If at a grocery store or a market, if there are not enough cashiers, you don’t simply let everyone bum rush the coolers.”
Morda came outfitted with a “Make America Great Again” hat, along with a cardboard cut-out of the president. Interestingly, Morda had been a lifelong Democrat.
“He’s working to take America back,” Morda said of Trump.
When pressed on who Trump is taking the country back from, he said: “From the lawlessness that’s known as the Democratic Party.”
Morda also supports Barletta, saying Casey is “nothing.”
‘I’m embarrassed he’s president’
However, not everyone who came out Thursday was supportive of Barletta and the president.
Laura Teal, of Plymouth Township, stood outside the arena carrying a sign that read “Trump for Prison.” While reporters were attempting to speak with her, a man came up to her and began filming her, asking if she watches “CNN Fake News.” He added that her sign should read “Hillary for Prison.”
Teal, who had been stationed there for about an hour by the time reporters spoke with her, also said many people had driven by, giving her the middle finger.
Despite this, Teal wasn’t worried, even though her husband and daughter were.
“I’m embarrassed that he’s president,” Teal said, explaining why she’s there. Teal said she was unable to get to Washington, D.C., to protest Trump’s inauguration, so this was “making (her) feel better.”
“Anybody can come out and do this, and they should,” Teal said.
Protest against hate
A formal protest was set to begin at 5 p.m. at the Starbucks on Highland Park Boulevard.
Dwayne Heisler, board member of Action Together NEPA, said the group couldn’t let Trump’s appearance pass without an acknowledgement.
“We tried to narrow down the issues, because there are so many,” Heisler said with a sad laugh.
According to Heisler, the issue Action Together NEPA chose to rally against was an abstract one: hate. Heisler said many of Trump and Barletta’s policies are built around “othering” people, by making the president’s supporters feel as though other people are not part of their group.
“We’ve gotten to a point where children are in cages, and that’s OK to a certain percentage of the population,” he said. “Somehow that’s American.”
Heisler said the majority of Action Together NEPA’s members were not usually politically active, but became so in the age of Trump.
“Because, gosh, it seems like every day it gets worse. And we think every day it can’t get worse,” Heisler said.
The group’s main hope with Thursday’s protest, Heisler said, is to let people know they aren’t alone in their feelings about the president, and to remind them to get out and vote.
“The ultimate protest is voting,” he said.
Flash points at protest
As Trump’s visit neared, protesters lined the road along Highland Park Boulevard, using various means to voice their displeasure with the president.
In the strip of grass between the sidewalk and street, protesters lined dozens of children’s shoes. According to a representative from Action Together NEPA, the shoes represented children separated from their families in the wake of recent immigration policy changes. The shoes will be donated to Volunteers of America.
Around a dozen women donned outfits from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a Hulu show which depicts women in slave-like roles for men. Emma Kaplan, from the website refusefascism.org, explained that she believes Trump and Barletta’s conservative views on things like reproductive rights mirror the subjugation of women in the show.
With Highland Park Boulevard closed to traffic, protesters congregated in the street, until they were pushed back onto the sidewalk by Pennsylvania State Police mounted on horses. At least one protester, an elderly woman who the crowd yelled was a grandmother, was arrested at this point, but she was later released. Attempts to identify her were unsuccessful, as the woman refused to speak with a Times Leader reporter.
As Trump’s motorcade approached the arena, the protesters exploded into chants of “Lock him up,” booing the president’s limousine. Protesters then gathered around several speakers, many of whom spoke about the importance of voting in the upcoming midterm elections.
Toward the end of their speeches, protesters were interrupted by Trump supporters who had been turned away from entering the arena after the president arrived. The president’s supporters began heckling the protesters, chanting “Build the wall” repeatedly, while the protesters countered with “Humanity first.”
Before the confrontation got out of hand, the mounted state troopers rode over to the area. Slowly, both protesters and supporters began to drift away, leaving only the most hardcore of each group left attempting to catch a glimpse of the president at the end of the night.