Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Phoenix, Arizona when US President Donald Trump held a campaign rally on August 22, the first since his administration was engulfed by mass outrage following his remarks about the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, that included a far-right terrorist attack that left one peaceful protester dead.
Trump’s speech was filled with barn-storming campaign-style “America First” rhetoric. He touted his stringent anti-immigrant measures, made defensive comments toward the “fake news media” in reaction to his controversial statements equating neo-Nazis with “antifa” and “anarchists”, and expressed his support for law enforcement agencies.
He also made vague pledges to “terminate NAFTA” and possibly pardon notorious anti-immigrant ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was charged with criminal contempt last month for racially profiling Latino residents.
Up to 5000 protesters flooded the streets around the convention centre where Trump spoke, swarming parking structures and standing on electricity boxes. The protesters came from cities across the state and carried signs with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter”, “No Trump, No KKK”, and supporting other causes such as the immigrant rights movement.
About 1000 Trump supporters, including anti-immigrant and white supremacist groups, also amassed outside of the crowded hall.
A few small skirmishes and shoving matches broke out as neo-Nazis taunted local residents and Latino youth with white racist slogans and gestures, nearly resulting in fights.
According to some witnesses, as protesters were trying to leave the area, police blocked the route and used tear gas and less-lethal munitions on protesters after someone threw a water-bottle. Phoenix Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Jonathan Howard confirmed later that “police have responded with pepper balls and [oleoresin capsicum]” to the alleged “assaults”.
Earlier this month, Trump told Fox News that he was “seriously considering” granting a pardon to Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for having “willfully violated” a 2011 court order barring his officers from stopping and detaining Latino motorists on suspicion that they were in the country without authorisation.
The White House ruled out any such move shortly before Trump’s rally, Trump “predicted that [Arpaio would] be just fine” and hinted at a potential pardon further down the road so as not to cause any “controversy”.
Arpaio, 85, was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case, earning praise from Trump during his election campaign.
On August 25, Trump officially pardoned Arpaio.
[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]