Supporters of President Donald Trump began to line up outside the gates at Great Falls’ Montana Expo Park before dawn, even though the campaign rally wasn’t scheduled to start until 4 p.m. Protesters also were on the grounds, but local officials kept them separated from supporters.
One of those supporters was Randal Thom of Lakefield, Minnesota. He was at the front of that line and energizing the crowd, leading chants of USA.
“This is my 35th rally,” he said.
When asked if he has always been interested in politics, Thom said, “no.”
“Not until I went to his (Trump’s) first rally,” he said. “I live close to the border with Iowa. I said, ‘My God. I can get behind this guy.’”
He said that’s because Trump spoke in his language.
“He wasn’t speaking politic. He was speaking American,” Thom said. “And spoke on that stage and said he was going to stand for me and he wasn’t going to be bought by big money that and no matter what he was going to be strong through it he just wanted us to be there to support him.”
He said other reporters have asked him if he blindly loves everything the president does. Thom says that’s a loaded question and the answer is no.
“Sometimes you have a big old steak you might have to eat a little bit of gristle to get to that best part of the steak and do you know what the best part of our steak is? America being first,” he said.
Thom wore a red, white and blue shirt and hat that was reminiscent of flag motif. Others wore Trump t-shirts and caps. Vendors on the grounds sold Trump shirts, hats, buttons, bags, and other items.
The event was billed as a Republican campaign rally in support of U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale and Congressman Greg Gianforte, who’s seeking a second term.
“We don’t need somebody from outside of Montana coming to Montana to tell Montanans how to vote,” said Laura Wight of Great Falls, the designated spokesperson for the group of protesters who stood in a roped off area near the FFA Barn on the Expo Park grounds.
Wight says they have a message for the President, “we don’t welcome hate in Great Falls.”
“We don’t want bigotry and discrimination in Great Falls,” she said. “The President is not a statesman. He’s not the kind of person that we feel should be representing America and that basically love trumps hate.”
While the number of protesters were far below the number of supporters, Wight says they were there because they too care about the country.
“We care about exercising our right to protest peacefully and to send a message that just because Montana carried Trump in the presidential election doesn’t mean folks haven’t changed their mind,” she said. “And it doesn’t mean there are folks there that always agree with his message because we don’t.”
The Great Falls Tribune estimated the crowd of protesters reached about 300 by the time the President arrived at the venue. Thousands of ticket holders were still standing in line when the presidential motorcade pulled in. Those people were turned away because the event was oversold.