Hanging with Protesters at Donald Trump’s OC Fairgrounds Rally

Donald Trump, the orange spray-tanned Republican presidential candidate, kicked off his California primary campaign yesterday at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Costa Mesa’s Pacific Amphitheater seemed like the perfect venue in a county that’s right-wing as hell, no? The city, no stranger to anti-immigrant policy at the local level, had to be a good fit for Trump’s “build that wall,” Mexi-hating mantra, right?

Wrong! Waves of protests rolled out the unwelcome mat for the Donald blocking freeway entrances, taking over an intersection, vandalizing property all while bumping YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” throughout the day. 

At the onset, it seemed like Trump made the right call. As early as 4 p.m., the line of hopefuls trying to get seats for his stump speech stretched far back. Only a handful of protesters gathered at the park across the street from the fairgrounds entrance. “Fuck you!” Trump supporters yelled at the group when they drove past complete with one-finger salutes from rolled down windows, following with an oh-so-original “Make America great again!”

“Trump’s rhetoric is powerful and it’s often rooted in hate, xenophobia and misogyny,” Dr. Nina Reich told the Weekly from the protest line. The Loyola Marymount University professor of communication studies is also a Costa Mesa resident “It’s no accident that he chose Costa Mesa, and his rhetoric of hate resonates with many groups here.” 

But then cars started passing by with supportive honks. “Fuck Donald Trump, yeah, nigga, fuck Donald Trump!” Drivers cranked up the chorus from “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” the indisputable anti-Trump anthem of the night. Reinforcements arrived when Latino youth from Union del Barrio joined the protest. Nearly an hour later, the crowd swelled to about 50 people when an impromptu march headed straight for the Trump supporters waiting in line. 
OC Sheriff Deputies on horseback quickly established a skirmish line to separate the two groups (taking notes, Anaheim police?) but that didn’t stop the ensuing shouting matches. “Build that wall! Build that wall!” Trump’s legion chanted. Nestor Medrano, a Santa Ana resident who raps with the SanTana group Salvajes, wore the Mexican flag like a cape, when he spotted a racist in line wearing a Raiders jersey. “Say something about Mexicans at a Raiders game and see what happens!” Medrano shouted. “Trump doesn’t hate Mexicans, only illegal ones!” the man responded. 

Protesters kept moving down the line ahead of the equestrian units. A brief scuffle broke out when a Trump supporter shoved a Latina, but things only slightly came to a simmer. Far from seating 31,000 people like Trump claimed, the Pacific Amphitheater only holds 8,500, which meant throngs of supporters who waited for hours didn’t get to see their hero. Longtime activist Naui Huitzilopochtli made it inside with a ticket but got kicked out when Trump fans recognized him from the Anaheim protests on Tuesday!

Near the entrance, the two crowds spilled into each other, trading more insults and heated arguments. Hundreds of mostly Latino youth joined Bernie Sanders supporters and other Trump protesters. Portable speakers blared “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” with everybody jumping in, singing along! The protest turned more militant when a splinter group blocked traffic first at the fairgrounds entrance and then to the 55 freeway northbound on-ramp. As people began to leave, anti-Trump folks revved their engines, spinning wheels until plumes of smoke (Smell the Burn!) lingered in the air. They peeled out while bumping—you guessed it—YG and Nipsey Hussle!
By 8:30 p.m., the crowd of protesters swelled to about a thousand people. They took over the intersection of Fair Drive and Fairview Road waving the Mexican flag. Deputies in riot gear arrived but were badly outnumbered. Anti-Trump “FDT” graffiti vandalized poles, cars, and the big OC Fairgrounds sign. A Costa Mesa patrol car got its windows smashed in. Cars continued revving and peeling. One even did donuts around the intersection (like in the YG and Nipsey Hussle music video) while deputies could only sit by idly and watch.

Backed by reinforcement, deputies and local police regained control of the intersection. They declared an unlawful assembly and pushed the crowds back with equestrian units, a SWAT vehicle and mass arrest vans. Despite small skirmishes, no major injuries were reported. By 11 p.m. about 20 arrests had been made. 

When it came to the grand history of Orange County protests, the Fracas at the Fairgrounds actually was pretty tame. While online trolls and good-hearted libs blasted the protesters for their profanities, for waving Mexican flags and for playing smashy-smashy with black-and-blues (quick aside: over/under on the Costa Mesa police union putting the blame on Mayor Jim Righeimer?), it was a logical conclusion to Trump’s speech. When there’s a candidate who wants to deport folk like you, who undoubtedly picked Costa Mesa for its symbolic hate the way Ronald Reagan used Philadelphia, Mississippi for his 1980 post-convention kickoff, what did people expect protesters to do? Knit sarapes?
Besides, the true test of mayhem came later that night, when protesters grubbed at a nearby Norms next to booths filled with Trump lovers who just came back from the rally. All the chaos from the political clashes outside the fairgrounds disappeared inside the restaurant. Who knows about Trump, but one thing’s for sure. Honey-mustard chicken tenders will make America great again! 

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