Boisterous protesters of Donald Trump packed the streets Thursday evening around Target Center in downtown Minneapolis for the president’s rally at Target Center, and the night was largely peaceful until disturbances flared in fits and starts as attendees left the arena and were confronted by agitated demonstrators.
Much of the day and early evening remained peaceful outside the packed arena before a string of incidents prompted police to form protective lines in an effort to keep the adversaries from going too far.
The protesters appeared to end up at an impasse with police at S. 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue. Officers on bicycles and horses held a line while officers marched through in riot helmets and batons. At the intersection, the tone of protesters’ ire turned away from Trump and toward the police.
Shortly after 9 p.m., protesters began burning Trump memorabilia in the street, including flags and “Make America Great Again” hats. According to the Unicorn Riot livestream, vehicles leaving the area were confronted by protesters and a flag was snagged from one car as it crept past. One man in an SUV calmly handed a protester his “MAGA” hat.
Police employed pepper spray in an effort to quell one disturbance, and members of a pro-Trump militia-style group a few blocks away were confronted by police as they left their hotel.
A brief period of relative calm seemed to take hold until shortly after 10 p.m., when officers at the corner of 6th and Hennepin used their bikes to push back protesters and at least one sent a full stream of pepper spray in the direction of the crowd amid a chant of “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Amid the use of pepper spray and other tactics by police, Mayor Jacob Frey expressed “full confidence in Chief [Medaria] Arradondo to address public safety needs,” said Mychal Vlatkovich, a spokesman for the mayor told the Star Tribune.
Departing Trump supporters made their way through the phalanx of protesters in small groups, often verbally or physically harassed before police intervened.
As a chorus of “Nazi scum! Off our streets!” rained down, a national correspondent for the Washington Post captured on video a man leaving the rally by himself and being trailed by a group of people before he was punched in the back of the head as one adversary yelled “There’s a Nazi over here!”
A Hispanic couple wearing Trump gear, along with what appeared to be their teenage daughter, made their way down First Avenue as protesters yelled.
“He hates you,” the protester said to the family, referring to Trump. The mother, in turn, repeated, “Mexicanos for Trump!”
As of 10:45 p.m., the Hennepin County reported one person booked into its jail in connection with the rally and the protesting.
“Nobody should be violent — cops or civilians,” said Emilio Medina, who voted for Trump in 2016 and now supports Democrat Andrew Yang.
The 29-year-old St Paul commercial security employee watched as protesters and police clashed. “When I say humanity, you say first,” he said into his megaphone.
“This is about showing the world that a whole bunch of people showed up to protest Trump,” said Zach Fagerness, a 26-year-old Minneapolis software engineer. “A couple people yelling doesn’t matter, but when you have an army of people screaming, that’s what matters.”
University of Minnesota students Mitch Kowalke and John Merkl, both from St. Michael, came to Target Center at 1:30 p.m. to get in line for nosebleed seats. Kowalke called the event a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
As they spoke, a young woman passed by, said she’s a Democrat but thanked them for coming out to support their candidate. On their way out of Target Center, Kowalke and Merkl were greeted with the middle finger from protesters.
Many of the president’s opponents carried signs ranging from calls for impeachment to supporting abortion rights, while others were dressed in rain jackets and, at times, costumes.
Others blew whistles to screeching levels and expressed their disgust with Trump in sometimes profane language and hand signs.
A few members of the Oath Keepers group were briefly detained after a bystander alerted authorities to men having weapons outside a hotel a few blocks east of the arena.
A couple dozen or more officers in squads and on bikes swarmed outside the Crown Plaza hotel and herded several men and at least one woman in fatigues to a street corner for questioning while holding a few others for searches.
Stewart Rhodes, speaking on behalf of the Oath Keepers, said it was “just a misunderstanding” because of their appearance that drew the police response. Rhodes said he and the others are in Minneapolis to protect attendees leaving Target Center after the rally ends, a service they have provided at other Trump events around the country.
Rhodes said some in his group are carrying guns but have not had them in view downtown and hold the required permits to carrying a firearm in public.
In one of the more contentious moments earlier in the day, two men on motorbikes revved their engines, argued with protesters and demanded to pass through the dense crowd. Minneapolis police intervened, and the men turned around.
Sara Witta, 50, of Edina, who runs a small graphic design company, was with her husband, Jay, and her mother, 75-year-old Bonnie Safe, as the three prepared to enter Target Center to support Trump.
“He’s a great president and has dealt with problems since day one,” Sara Witta said, adding that allegations of racism or collusion against him are “all unwarranted.”
“There’s a swamp and it needs to be drained,” she said. “He’s disrupting what’s going on, the status quo, and they will do everything to get him out of the way. Look at Minnesota, we’re standing in the middle of a protest situation now, and we’re close to making Minnesota red.”
The three quickly became a target of protesters as they walked through the crowd on their way inside Target Center.
“Shame on you!” the protesters screamed, many of them blowing whistles. “How does it feel to be a racist and a bigot?” another asked.
After making their way through the group, Sara Witta said: “I think that was the worst of society imaginable. ... All are welcome here, unless you’re on the opposite side, then you’re not welcome.”
“I’m the least racist person you’ll meet,” Jay Witta said. “They’re vulgar and gross.”
Bob Stach, 47, a software salesman living in Savage, opposes Trump. His sign was a résumé of sorts, noting he’s a lifetime Republican, military veteran and NRA member, but “I think when you see something wrong, you need to say something. ... He’s unfit, and he’s unhinged.”
Lifelong Republican Scott Harvath, 47, of Hopkins, who got in line outdoors at 4:30 p.m. under the steady drizzle, said, “Trump is the man because he does what he says. He’s not afraid.”
Harvath, who works at Chick-fil-A in Bloomington, said the president is “trying to save the country from chaos and another World War III. ... He’s trying his best to help prevent crime and give people jobs.”
Early in the day, Trump protesters spanning many decades in age filled the streets, some chanting “Lock him up!” and “No Trump, no KKK no fascist USA!,” yelling “Shame on you!” and occasional expletives at the president’s supporters who passed through in red “Make America Great Again” hats on their way inside Target Center.
On the flip side of verbal cadence, a chant of “Send her back,” in reference to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minneapolis, could be heard at the corner of 1st Avenue and 6th Street.
Melissa Meyer-Thompson, 54, of Cannon Falls, Minn., held a sign that read “Trump is not Minnesota nice.” She said, “I made the sign because when I was thinking about why I wanted to come, I thought this president doesn’t represent what I really feel like America is about, caring about other people, so it kind of dawned on me.”
Sentiments about Trump were even evident miles from downtown, including at an overpass on Interstate 394 in St. Louis Park, where two people stood on each side of an “IMPEACH” sign and waved to the motorists below.
Star Tribune staff writers Chao Xiong, Rochelle Olson, Andy Mannix, Matt DeLong, Libor Jany and Maya Rao contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 @walshpj