Thousands of people surged into downtown Fresno on Friday to attend a rally hosted by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Most were there to voice their support during a boisterous speech. A few said they were skeptics who attended to hear what Trump has to say in person. Others led spirited protests outside. Some who opposed Trump interrupted his speech inside and were quickly removed by the dozens of Fresno police and U.S. Secret Service agents roaming the floor.
Whatever their purpose, they kept the atmosphere electric inside and around Selland Arena.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer estimated the attendance at 7,000; others said there were fewer.
John Etherton of Clovis sat in the front row of section 6.
I’m excited to have someone here who cares about our country, not just himself.
John Etherton, Trump supporter
“I’m excited to have someone here who cares about our country, not just himself,” Etherton said. “Someone who speaks his mind and has a backbone – has no fear of protesters.”
Etherton said the United States was founded by successful businessmen who felt the need to serve their country temporarily. “It was never intended to be a career,” he said. “Now you’ve got people in office for 20 years who don’t care about the people they serve. They only care about keeping their power.”
Some supporters arrived Thursday night.
Cheryl McDonald and Liz Ritchie of Granite Bay were at the front of the line at 5 a.m. They said they arrived at 10 p.m. Thursday.
“This is important to us,” Ritchie said. “We want our president to be Donald Trump.”
Lauren Gil and her friends stationed themselves near the rear of the crowd standing in front of the stage.
“We don’t support Trump, but we want to hear what he says,” Gil said. “We are not here to protest, just respectfully listen.”
Gil, a Fresno City College student, said she supports Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders.
Wait for Trump filled with speakers
The doors to Selland opened at 7 a.m. for the scheduled 10 a.m. Trump appearance. (He was delayed about 40 minutes.) Ray Appleton, Brooke Ashjian and Trump’s senior policy adviser, Steve Miller, handled the warmups.
Appleton, the KMJ 580 AM/105.9 FM talk show host (and father of Bee reporter Rory Appleton), served as emcee. Ray Appleton refused to call Trump the “presumptive nominee” – “He’s the nominee. It’s done.”
Ashjian, a Fresno Unified School District trustee, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“This is the most important thing you’ll do today,” he said. “We’re going to salute the flag of the greatest nation in the history of the world.”
The crowd roared.
“With your help, we’re gonna make it great again,” Ashjian said, gaining more applause.
Appleton ended the first address by telling the crowd “Be patriotic, keep your cool, and when Mr. Trump gets here, scream like hell.”
Miller gave a rousing speech touching on many of the Trump campaign ideals, then left the stage empty for a few minutes before Trump emerged from behind curtains and walked to the dais.
Singling out protesters
Trump spoke for a little more than an hour, pausing several times to direct authorities to remove anyone yelling loudly during his speech. At least 35 people were removed in this way, and a few dozen others trickled out of the arena voluntarily as he spoke.
Those thrown out were brought to Trump’s attention by his supporters in the crowd. Many would stand up, shine cellphone flashlights, point or yell things like, “This one!”
Police and Secret Service also responded to several groups without Trump’s direction.
Early in the speech, a man ran down the section 8 staircase yelling, “You’re an idiot!” A Secret Service agent and four Fresno police officers immediately moved toward him as he reached the bottom. He put his hands up, acknowledged that he would be removed, and walked out with the officers.
About 30 people were marched out of section 6 after Trump directed police to “get them out of here.” Secret Service and police sprinted up the stairs and forced them out. No one appeared to have been hurt. One carried a white sign that read: “Love Your Neighbor.”
A man and a boy were escorted out a few minutes later. Officers did not touch either of them as they left the floor.
One man was standing outside the media area holding a small camera when a Secret Service agent approached him.
“It’s time to go, buddy,” the agent said.
“Why? I’m not doing anything,” the man said.
“You’re going to get locked up,” the agent said, grabbing the man’s arm.
The man pulled away from the agent, and two Fresno police officers approached them.
“It’s time to go,” the agent repeated in a louder voice.
The man nodded and began to move with the agent and two officers toward the door. The agent released his arm. He did not appear to be hurt.
$20 hats, $5 buttons
As the speech ended, the throng spilled onto the streets and into the nearby parking structure. A few clashed with protesters.
Some people flocked to the Trump merchandise stands outside the north exit for $20 “Make America Great Again” hats or campaign buttons: $5 each, or three for $10.
Chad Towe of Sacramento managed to get his father, Carl, of Fresno, to help him sell Trump T-shirts, hats and buttons outside Selland Arena. Towe has traveled to Trump rallies across the country since September selling his wares.
He creates the shirts and buttons that say, “I’m a Trumpateer,” and “Get Crazy Vote Trump” in his Sacramento shop.
“It’s awesome,” Towe said about promoting Trump. “He’s going to make America great again.”
Siala Taito, 18, of Fresno and three of his cousins attended their first Trump rally together. Taito is the family’s first Trump fan and now has converted his cousins to become supporters, too.
What’s going to hurt giving a businessman a chance?
Siala Taito, a Trump supporter who attended Friday’s rally
“The country has been in the hands of politicians too long,” Taito said. “What’s going to hurt giving a businessman a chance?”
Taito and his cousins said they could feel Trump’s energy inside Selland Arena as he spoke. They said they like Trump’s brutal honesty.
The group narrowly missed a scuffle between anti-Trump protesters and police officers as they exited Selland using an alleyway on Inyo Street.
“They hate him because of what they know of him from the media and YouTube,” Taito said as protesters walked by.
At the southeast corner of M Street and Inyo, some protesters and Trump supporters got into a shouting match.
A man – one of hundreds wearing Trump caps – asked one of the protesters: “Why don’t you get a job?”
“I’m retired,” a woman holding a “Dump Trump” sign responded. “What about you? Why aren’t you at work?”
“I’m a student,” he responded.
As she began to respond, a Fresno police officer ordered the group to disperse. He said the area had been declared an unlawful assembly, and everyone standing there had to leave immediately.
The protesters resisted at first, but they eventually left without incident.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said the event was declared an unlawful assembly after several groups got into fights after the rally.
The streets around Selland were mostly cleared by 2 p.m.