Featured Perspective

Was it really full of hate? She went to see a Donald Trump rally for herself.

Ruth Onyirimba posted this on her Snapchat account from the Donald Trump rally in Fairfield, Conn. Saturday night. (Ruth Onyirimba/YJI)

FAIRFIELD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – I’ve watched footage of Donald Trump rallies, appalled at the treatment of protesters. As a black American, I never thought I would be one of them.
Then a friend invited me to join him and a few others to protest when the Republican candidate held a rally in our state. I had a big decision on my hands.
Under the impression that these rallies were hostile towards non-white Americans, I was immediately intimidated.
First I worried. Then my fears turned into genuine questions. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that my curiosity could not be satiated secondhand.
I had to experience this rally for myself.
Soon we were on our way. I sat solemnly as the lighthearted banter filled the car.
Although there were others in the car, I felt like I was alone with my thoughts. Do I even know enough about politics to be here? Will someone try to hit me? What if Trump supporters are as racist as they seem on television?
I looked down at the protest signs to try to distract myself. One read “Ballots Not Bullets,” and another read “Guns Are For Losers.”
Their messages were in response to a recent comment Trump made: “Hillary wants to abolish… the Second Amendment. By the way… if she gets to pick her judges, [there’s] nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
I read the signs over and over again. Then I hid them. We knew that if rally organizers saw our signs, we wouldn’t be allowed inside.
We arrived hours in advance, but cars were already parked everywhere. There were no open parking spots in sight, and we ended up parking streets away from the campus of Sacred Heart University, which hosted the rally in a recreation center there.
The engine stopped and the car doors opened. We were on our way.

Even from two blocks away, the tension was beginning to build.

Protest sign outside the rally. (Ruth Onyirimba/YJI)

The comments started flying upon our arrival in Fairfield. One man rolled down his window as we were leaving the car  and asked, “Are you all here for the Trump rally?”

As we walked, another man rolled down his window, looked at me and said, “Don’t forget to chant ‘Lock her up!’”

The pattern continued as more drivers rolled down their windows to shoot intimidating glares or obscenities our way. Would my friends have been treated this way had I not been here?

A Snapchat photo posted upon arrival in Fairfield. (Ruth Onyirimba/YJI)

On the way, vendors were selling buttons, shirts and the infamous red baseball cap bearing the phrase, “Make America Great Again.” One vendor attracted buyers by yelling, “Hillary is the devil! Support Donald Trump!”

On our way to the campus, we crossed paths with a group of protesters who were standing outside the arena. They held signs and chanted, “Love Trumps Hate!” as the attendees walked in.
As we grew near, I grew more conscious of the unapologetic stares I was receiving. The pointed fingers, the snickering and the whispers intimidated me as we approached the rally.
I soon realized that the vast majority of the hundreds of Trump supporters were white.
I am not.
The only two women I saw that looked like me were walking the opposite way. This wasn’t what I’d call a good sign.
Although the demographics of the event did not surprise me, the threat of danger began to set in. I’d already seen videos of Trump supporters harassing protesters before, some of whom looked like me.
I knew that Trump encouraged violence towards people who so much as thought differently, and there was a very slim chance that I would be an exception.
We got in. The four of us passed through the metal detectors and into the arena. We were far from the front, but surrounded by crowds of people who were excited to see the Republican nominee.

Protest sign outside the rally. (Ruth Onyirimba/YJI)

I did my best to stay out of harm’s way. Being even five feet away from our little group made me feel naked, exceedingly vulnerable to my surroundings.

I soon acquainted myself with the notion that even the color of my skin was a political statement. It was protesting far before our mouths did.
As I looked around the room, I saw many supporters staring back at me. Some grimaced and scowled while others grasped their chins in concern, eyes locked on my bag.
Two women nearby were mocking the protesters, thinking I wasn’t paying attention. When they noticed I was, they shifted their focus to me and lowered their voices.
Others marveled at my presence at the event with wide eyes. One man even came up to my friends and me and asked, “You aren’t protesters, are you?”
Several chants and cheers broke out throughout the stadium in anticipation. “We want Trump!” “Lock her up!” and “USA!” could be heard far before Trump approached the podium.

I overheard conversations about the perceived aggressiveness of the protesters who stood outside, the excitement of hearing Donald Trump’s speech and, most commonly, the scalding heat.

Ruth Onyirimba at the Trump rally. (YJI)

After about 45 minutes, I heard through the murmurs: “… the next President of the United States…” and a monstrous, ground-shaking ovation broke out across the room.
“It’s my honor,” Trump said to his supporters. “I’ve always loved this part of the world.”
According to Trump, a Make A Wish request from a teen warranted his arrival to the state of Connecticut yesterday.  In regards to the young man who made this request, Trump said, “Now that’s a problem because he’s really, really smart – but in this case, maybe he could have done better.”
My stomach turned.
Trump reused lines from old speeches. He said he’d build a wall. The crowd cheered.
He asked, “Who’s gonna pay for it?” The crowd responded, “Mexico!” He said “Crooked Hillary.” They booed.

Protest sign outside the rally. (Ruth Onyirimba/YJI)

The rally had turned into a politicized game of Marco Polo before my eyes. It was as if all the members memorized the lyrics to a duet that I had only heard on television.

Trump continued to speak for a few more minutes when my friend told me to get out the signs. Adrenaline began flowing through my bloodstream. My hands began to shake.
I bent down as if to tie my shoe, but instead I rolled up my pant legs on my black skinny jeans, one by one, and unwrapped the signs from around my calves. I passed them up to the two guys with me, slowly rose to my feet and turned on my cellphone camera.
They looked at one another, turned to face the crowd and lifted the signs above their heads.
At first, the people surrounding us backed up slowly. Soon, one man approached my friend and started yelling at him and the other guy.
I kept my camera on.

Protest sign outside the rally. (Ruth Onyirimba/YJI)

Soon, a man approached the other woman in our group and attempted to grab her phone from her hand, calling her a “dirty Jew.”

A man looked at me and remarked sarcastically, “Yeah, Trump rallies are so violent,” completely ignorant of what had just happened to my friend a few feet away from him.
Men yelled profanities at all four of us from every direction. My body began to tremble in the midst of the calamity.
Confusion, terror and anger overwhelmed me.
As soon as I thought everything was dying down, I heard the infamous words: “Get ‘em outta here.”
The Fairfield police approached my friend, grabbed him by his arms and proceeded to drag him out of the arena. As I recorded the scene, I felt hands on my back pushing me towards the exit as well.
On our way back to the car, we came across a large sign which read, “Diversity = White Genocide.” Fear and anger struck me as the others urged me to just keep walking.
In retrospect, it was frightening to see my friend being whisked away. It was frightening being surrounded by people who supported a man who encouraged violence. It was frightening not knowing what those people were willing to do to me and my friends.
But I learned something important: Some things are exactly what they seem on television.

Outside the Donald Trump rally in Fairfield, Connecticut Saturday night, four white men stood with this banner saying, “DIVERSITY” = WHITE GENOCIDE.” (Kiernan Majerus-Collins/YJI)

Editor’s note: Ruth Onyirimba, a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International, attended the rally with her friend Kiernan Majerus-Collins, a Senior Correspondent for YJI, and two non-journalists. Majerus-Collins protested Trump not as a YJI student but as a citizen.

Here is Ruth Onyirimba reading this piece:

Students don’t pay anything to participate in YJI.
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You can be one and make a real difference! Thank you.

1 Comment

  • I'm so moved by your courage and that of your friends. It must have been terrifying. I read about these rallies and the hatred that drives them and I feel afraid. You put yourselves right there. This is what real journalism is about. You put the large media outlets to shame.