MANCHESTER — Only a strip of asphalt and a temporary metal barricade separated them outside SNHU Arena, but the devoted followers and passionate critics of President Trump were literally worlds apart Thursday night.
Several groups, from Granite State Progress to Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action, joined the Democratic Party for a three-hour counter-protest to Trump’s second trip to New Hampshire since the 2016 election.
Seated in her wheelchair, Linda Bouldin of Epsom was attending her first anti-Trump protest, speaking behind a sign that read, “Pissed off grandma and I vote!”
“He’s killing us. He is ruining our country, our international standing. There are an unlimited number of reasons not to like this President, let me count the ways,” Bouldin said.
Robbie Grady, a retiree from Hooksett, said Trump is incapable of telling the truth.
“Anybody who tells as many lies as he does has no business running our country,” Grady said. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not how incompetent he is.”
Meanwhile, Steve Cegelis of Raymond, a part-time laborer who cares for his disabled wife and mother, arrived at 5 a.m. Thursday to see Trump for the first time.
Cegelis spoke in front of a pro-Trump sign that read, “Reelect Trump. Make Liberals Crazy Again.” Other pro-Trump signs read “Bearing Arms is Not a Crime” and “I’m a Deplorable and Proud of It.”
“We did a dry run yesterday and there were hundreds of people here yesterday afternoon,” Cegelis said.
“Both my grandparents were Lithuanian. I was schooled all my life about socialism and that’s what the other party is going to offer this country and it would be the end of America as we know it.”
By noontime Thursday, the line of people waiting to get inside to see Trump was over a half-mile long and stretched more than four city blocks.
John Smith said he works in the security field and lives in Springfield, Mass.
“We are in a better position economically than under Obama, and Trump deserves some credit for it,” Smith said. “I also think we are much more respected abroad because America is feared again.”
The personal politicking by both sides was mostly respectful as anti-Trump forces chanted, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Donald Trump has got to go,” which occasionally sparked a Trump activist to yell “lock her up” referring to 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
As the event approached there were a few shouting matches, but a heavy local police presence appeared to help keep the peace.
Initially the anti-Trump protest was planned right outside the arena, but Manchester police decided it had to be moved next door, on a section of closed street at the corner of Lake and Elm streets.
Officers took into custody an adult male anti-Trump protester who refused to move, but it was not known if he was arrested.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, said he was grateful the two factions stayed civil but described the mood as “tense.”
“I talked with many people who stayed away because they did fear for their safety. I thought about that, but if this isn’t going to motivate you to do something, then nothing will,” said Volinsky, who is exploring a Democratic run for governor in 2020.
Sam Searles of Merrimack said she’ll be going into the journalism field and said Trump’s intolerance bothers her the most.
“If it’s not a straight, white, wealthy, old white male, he wants nothing to do with you,” Searles said.
Brenna Prince of Nashua just graduated from Nashua North High School.
“It’s awful we have had to change our safety practices because of so many school shootings. This country isn’t as safe as it used to be and he has to bear some responsibility for that,” Prince said of Trump.
Steve Simmer of Northampton, Mass., turned heads with his “puppet dictator,” a life-sized paper puppet of Trump giving a “Heil Hitler” salute. The device was strapped to his legs.
Bernard Lesueur of Washington, D.C., said he goes to all of Trump’s rallies; his business of selling bobble heads for $10 was doing a robust business.
“The people at the front of the line are the most powerful ones because at the average rally, 8,000 to 10,000 people are turned away,” Lesueur said. “I’ve seen people cry when they got the door shut on them.
“This is my first trip to New Hampshire and it’s beautiful here, but I kind of got freaked out when someone told me to make sure not to hit a moose with my car.”
While state Democrats have made Trump’s “broken promises” a major theme, many of his supporters said they have remained supporters because Trump has followed through on his campaign rhetoric on immigration, tax cuts and foreign policy.
“He keeps his faith with the voters and I really love that about him,” said Pam Walkiewicz of Chatham Mass.
Frank Sapareto of Derry, a former Republican state legislator, said the national media’s constant criticism has fueled passionate support for Trump.
“I wasn’t originally a Trump guy in 2016 and then I saw him speak at Pinkerton Academy,” Sapareto recalled. “I rushed home and watched on CNN and they had twisted around everything he had said. That’s when I was sold on him.”
Earlier Thursday, Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley hosted an anti-Trump news conference in Veterans Park.
On Thursday night before Trump’s speech, Democratic front-runner Joe Biden’s New Hampshire team hosted an anti-Trump reception at the Portland Pie Co., just north of the SNHU Arena on Elm Street.
NH Organizing Director Pete Daugherty addressed the boisterous, pro-Biden crowd.
“We are standing up to hate just down the road,” Daugherty said.