Even out-of-towners could have found the protest outside the Trump rally in Minneapolis on Thursday night. All you had to was follow the baby Trump balloons.
Attendees approached the Target Center carrying bouquets of them—smaller mylar versions of the famous diapered blimps floating elsewhere in the city. Occasionally, one would slip from someone’s fingers and drift skyward, twisting in the wind.
Spirits were high at the top of the night, even if the weather wasn't. The sky was overcast, and a persistent on-and-off drizzle made everything cold and hazy. Still, a brass band kept chanters energized, organizers with megaphones rallied the crowd, and runny, handmade signs were springing up like weeds.
Some went highbrow, with slogans like “No country for old men” and a careful drawing of a uterus to represent reproductive rights. Others were happy to declare, pithily, “Fuck you, Cheeto Voldemort.”
“Donald Trump has a mushroom dick!” one protester chanted gleefully, brandishing a sign that declared the same.
The most common element was the peach emoji, used to indicate “impeachment.” The U.S. House’s inquiry was keeping the assembled crowd cheerful. Everywhere there was the shrill twee of people blowing plastic whistles, invoking the anonymous whistleblower who revealed that Trump had asked a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political rival.
“Giuliani, for once, had no comment!” one older man said to his companion. They both laughed, as though sharing a corny old joke at the bar. As the number of protesters swelled, countless people muttered apologies and thanks as they sheepishly shuffled past one another. This state has a reputation for politeness. They certainly weren’t going to ruin it now.
Not in front of the enemy.
Overhead, from the windows of the Target Center, small clusters of people wearing red hats and carrying “Trump–Pence 2020” signs looked down on the rabble. Some pointed. Some held up their phones to record. Some held up signs to the glass, to make sure the people below could see where they stood.
The protesters could see them, of course. And many of them—some already in hoodies with bandanas over their faces—were anticipating what the Trump supporters probably weren’t. They were all safely behind glass for the moment, but they had to come out sometime. And a few members of the crowd weren’t going to make it easy on them.
“These are the true patriots right here,” a protestor in a leather vest said, giving a cluster of bandanaed strangers high fives all around. A line of cops stood behind barriers and watched the proceedings warily.
As the night wore on, there were a few scuffles, and a bit of posturing diplomacy. A young man in a MAGA hat stood by the police barrier holding a sign that said “Gay Muslim Latinos Support Trump.” Yes, he said, he was a gay Muslim Latino—half Colombian and half Lebanese. A protester in braids squinted at the sign, shook her head, and gave the man the finger rather than stop to ask him about it.
Another MAGA wearer with a waxed mustache picked out protesters in the crowd and tried to strike up conversations. He didn’t understand all the hate. He didn’t feel like he fit in the contemptable box these protesters were putting him in. Sure, he was a Trump supporter, but there was plenty of stuff Trump said that he didn’t agree with.
When pressed for what that might be, he hesitated, faltered, and said it was really Trump’s tone he disagreed with—the “way” he said things. And when pressed further on his common points with the president, he made references to diplomacy with China and North Korea, and admitted he really struggled with the whole “transgender thing.”
When arguments arose, the tension was almost visible. Both the Trumpsters and the protesters were trying to avoid being the first to be uncivil and lose the high ground. When a MAGA-hatted reveler climbed atop a utility box and proudly brandished a Trump banner, it was quickly yanked away and spirited into the crowd.
The Trumpster picked up a nearby “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign and tried yelling that they too believed black lives mattered—that they’d been uncharitably shortchanged by the crowd as rabid bigots. That sign got snatched away, and eventually the Trumpster climbed down and stopped making a fuss.
But eventually, the time for politeness was over. Rally attendees were emerging from the Target Center and trying to slip past the crowd while being harangued by people with signs. A few stayed to harangue them back, or stood around and provoked the angrier protesters. Almost imperceptibly, the number of cops had swelled over the course of the evening, and now a few were readying gas canisters.
Everything started happening at once. A few fights broke out. Masked protesters pursued Trump rally attendees to the end of the block and demanded the “Nazi scum” get off their streets. The first canister of hot, peppery gas sent them scrambling back before they slowly trudged forward again, red-eyed and coughing. One bystander helped an afflicted protester cover his face with his hoodie to ease the stinging.
“Don’t touch your eyes with your hands,” she warned. “Take deep breaths. You’re going to be okay.”
A plume of smoke erupted near the police barrier, and the crowd surged toward it, some yelling warnings about a “fire.” A few protesters had found a discarded box of Trump hats and set it aflame. Police doused it with a fire extinguisher, but the acrid smell of burning fabric clung to the air. Long after the flames were out, protesters stomped and spit on the ashes.
Gradually, attention turned to the parking lot across the street, where a few rally attendees were trying to drive away from the commotion.
“They want to go home!” One protester yelled. “They want to go to bed! Fuck that!”
Members of the crowd proceeded to block the parking ramp, even throwing traffic cones at departing cars. They bounced off windshields with rubbery thumps and landed in the street. A phalanx of police pushed them back from the scene.
Little by little, the crowd bled away. Flocks of rally attendees were shepherded through the skyways. Protesters below booed and flipped them off. Trumpsters and protesters alike made their way through the chilly streets, sodden and shivering. They avoided bumper-to-bumper, honking traffic and boarded crowded trains to their destinations. They were tired and raw. Even the signs had turned to soggy pulp by the end.
Almost nobody spoke on the Green Line heading east. After all that, most had nothing left to say.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Thursday's Trump rally