Although there were no violent clashes at Sunday's rally in Bloomington for Donald Trump, there were nonetheless some angry exchanges.
"Trump and Hitler," shouted one woman who held up a sign likening the Republican presidential candidate to Adolph Hitler. Another protester called out, "Black lives matter." A Trump supporter shouted back at the two women, "That's racist. All lives matter. Respect the police, get a job , contribute to society, stop being a criminal. What's your problem!”
That exchange took place outside the Synergy Center on the site of the old Bloomington airport where Trump was speaking. Inside the center, the crowd reacted with boos and shouts of "USA! USA!" when a young man who was hoisted onto his friend’s shoulders unfurled a Mexican flag. The young man began shouting obscenities at Trump as the candidate criticized Mexico’s former president, Vincente Fox, and reiterated his pledge to make Mexico pay for construction of a wall at the U.S. border.
Most of the protesters refrained from directly engaging Trump’s supporters. They instead let their signs do the talking. One of the protesters, Darcy Greder, stood silently in the rain holding a handmade sign that said, “No Hate.”
“I abhor the demagoguery and xenophobia that is inherent in what Trump and and his supporters espouse, but I don't think the answer to that kind of speech is to limit it. I think the answer is more speech. I want to see more speech on both sides."
Many of the protesters said they were not there so much to show support for other candidates as they were to express their opposition to Trump and his positions. Sarah Eccles and Shyam Lakshmin held a sign that said, “We all belong to one another.”
"I'm concerned about the way Donald Trump promotes human rights violations. When I found he was going to be in our community, I felt the need to come out and protest the ideology he stands for or tries to incite in others," Eccles said.
"Trump has maintained plausible deniability with regard to some very controversial comments, and I'm not even convinced myself that he is as much of a demagogue as he is being made out to be," Lakshmin said. "But he seems more than willing to cater to that and incite people to that level, and that's something I can't stand for."
Many Trump supporters emphasized the protesters' right to express their opinions, as long as they kept things peaceful. Jackie Beyer, a Unit 5 school district teaching assistant from Bloomington, said she disagrees with Trump supporters who have pushed, shoved and in one case even punched protesters at other rallies across the country.
"That bothers me a lot. Both sides need to use words and not become physical. I think we need both sides to be safe, respect each other's viewpoints and be peaceful," Beyer said.
Still, many of the Trump supporters said they were upset by angry protests that broke out in Chicago Friday night resulting in the cancelation of a Trump rally there. Joe and Lauren Cece were among those who attended the Chicago rally. The Ceces drove from Chicago this weekend and stayed overnight in a hotel with their seven year-old daughter so they could catch Trump in Bloomington.
"What’s scary is the fact you go to an event like this because we want our daughter to understand what our civic, political process is like and you have people come and interfere with that process, and they leverage their first amend rights to prevent us from going through this process with our daughter and having a good experience. It's horrible," Cece said.
“They’re out there flying the Mexico flag and I feel this is the United States, you're flying the wrong flag. So that was really sending the wrong message," Lauren Cece said of the Chicago protesters.
Christopher Rauls, an African American ex-Marine, was one of the protesters inside the Bloomington hangar. He said he was troubled by Trump’s recent call to have protesters arrested.
"That’s their first amendment right, that’s what I fought for," Rauls said. "But we can be civil [and] if he can’t take the criticism then he should not be president."
Rauls said the overwhelming white crowd of Trump supporters treated him with respect.
"Actually someone gave me a Donald Trump button," Rauls said, noting that he declined to wear it.
Zipporah Hicks, a social service agency worker from Normal, was one of the few African American women in the crowd. She came with her infant daughter, Olivia. She limited her protests to shaking her head when Trump criticized initiatives of the Obama administration or spoke ill of immigrants.
“I’m actually here as peaceful protest," Hicks said. "It's actually been very interesting to be in the line with everybody else and hear their differing views. It's a good thing I'm not offended. I think everybody is entitled to their own opinion and I appreciate that people came out to express theirs."
Trump supporters prove hard to define. There were Christians who said they didn’t think Trump is a good Christian, but they like him anyway. There were people who support his anti-immigration rhetoric, but say he probably shouldn’t try to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. There were women who say they aren’t put off by his insults to women, and people in wheelchairs who laugh off his ridicule of a wheelchair- bound reporter.
A Bloomington woman who led a spontaneous prayer with strangers in the crowd, and asked to be identified only as Julie, said of Trump, “He doesn’t have to be a Christian to be a good president. "
Sherry Nevius, a retired art teacher confined to a wheelchair, said she thinks a Trump presidency will prove beneficial for people with disabilities.
“I think he’s a lot more sensitive and caring than he’s portrayed in the media," Nevius said. "I do think he cares about people.”
The crowd was notable for the number of young people in it like James Morris, a 17-year-old wearing a T- shirt that said “Obama You’re Fired.” Morris disagrees with Trump on whether illegal immigrants currently living here should be deported.
“I don’t think that he could deport 11 million illegal immigrants," Morris said, as someone in the crowd nearby shouted, "You can try." Morris said he does not think it is appropriate to separate families by deporting the members who are here illegally while letting others remain.
Whatever Trump’s perceived flaws or inconsistencies, many supporters seemed to feel like Chad Benjamin of Saybrook.
“There is no one perfect candidate in any person or party. The president needs to be able to define the vision and scope of where we need to go," Benjamin said. "You may not have all the details worked out, but if you have a vision painted and can pull together a qualified team of people, that's what we need, good leadership."
Trump supporters seemed to agree that Washington also needs an outsider, and as one college student put it, Donald Trump is not your typical politician.