Trump supporters outnumber protesters near where president was speaking
MANDAN, N.D.—Mandan isn't Charlottesville. Or Standing Rock. The crowd gathered along Mandan Avenue outside the main gate of the refinery where President Donald Trump spoke here on Wednesday, Sept. 6, was small, largely quiet and mostly polite.
Trump supporters outnumbered protesters 2-to-1 in the block closest to the gate by the time the president spoke mid-afternoon. Marty Beard of tiny Stewartsdale southeast of Bismarck was the first to arrive at 8:30 a.m. He wore a bowler hat and a long beard befitting his name.
"I want to show my support for the president and let him know that there are still states left that believe in freedom," he said. "You might as well leave the country if you don't want to make it great again."
Trump supporters gathered on the east side of Mandan Avenue, waving American and "Don't Tread on Me" flags. One man set up tables and was selling Trump T-shirts, hats and posters. They carried homemade signs. One said "Deport Antifa, BLM, Illegals, Muhammad Lovers."
Mandan police put placards in the grass that lined the road, designating the east side of the street for Trump supporters and the west side for protesters. But at first there were no protesters in the designated spot and they were hard to find anywhere on the street until later in the day.
Farther down Mandan Avenue, a woman stood in the shade wearing a Heidi Heitkamp T-shirt, but even she said she wasn't a protester.
"We have to support our president," said Linda Amseth of Mandan. "I'm praying for him and I hope he does well." Asked if she expected conflict between pro and anti-Trump forces along the street, she said, "No. That's not a North Dakota thing." Others in the crowd on both sides of the political spectrum echoed that view.
The crowd was largely good-natured and respectful of people on the opposite side of the street. There was little mixing, perhaps reflective of the polarized mood in the country. Occasionally, someone from one side of the street would wander to the other side, stirring tensions. One protester said some bikers, Trump supporters, had moved near her "to intimidate her."
As late as 2:30 p.m., 45 minutes before the president was scheduled to speak, there were still only five people in the designated area for protesters.
Gradually, more protesters arrived. A dozen or so mostly American Indians, some veterans of the Dakota Access pipeline protest, arrived as a group. They were more vocal than earlier arrivals. The signs they carried were more strongly worded.
One protester held a sign saying "Free Red Fawn," a reference to a jailed Dakota Access pipeline protester. Another said, "Your mom was illegal." A third called Trump "the drying breath of white supremacy." One had a sense of humor, saying: "We shall overcomb."
"Trump is a racist, sexist, elitist, crybaby," said Wastewin Young of the Standing Rock tribe. "He's a joke."
Tension in the groups began to build. When a woman showed up wearing a T-shirt with profanity aligned with Trump's name, supporters of the president yelled at her across the street, calling her disrespectful. Briefly, a shower of insults flew back and forth, but died quickly.
By 3 p.m., there were 62 people in the Trump section and 30 people in the protester area.
The crowd grew anxious as word spread that Air Force One had landed at the Bismarck Airport. But a few minutes later, someone in the crowd noticed the motorcade drive across the bridge over Mandan Avenue. The president was taking a different route and the motorcade wouldn't pass by the crowd that had gathered.
Michelle Wood of Bismarck, who held two signs, one announcing that it was her birthday, wouldn't get her hoped-for hug from the president on her big day.
The crowd began to migrate to another gate on Old Red Trail Road, which runs in front of the refinery, hoping the presidential motorcade might come down that street, but that didn't happen either.
By the time Trump was done talking, many had been standing in the sun for two hours or longer and tempers began to fray. The two sides largely stayed to their sides of the street even as they moved, but Old Red Trail Road is narrower than Mandan Avenue, which made it easier to shout insults at the other side.
The scene grew tense for a while with numerous people on both sides yelling back and forth, with plenty of racist taunts coming from both sides. At one point, a small group of protesters crossed the street and held their signs in the face of Trump supporters. Insults flew back and forth. Threats were made. Fingers were raised. But nothing came of it.