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Pro- and anti-Trump groups converge on harbor front: Rally draws large crowd

Courtney Carlson (back row, left) poses with family and friends as they head into the fourth hour of their wait at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Carlson was in Duluth Wednesday, June 20, to hear President Donald Trump in person for the first time. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Throngs waited in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Wednesday, June 20 -- many for four hours or more -- in humid 80-degree temps. Travelers braved congested roads and packed walkways to see Trump -- and even weathered a lengthy power outage to boot. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

DULUTH—It wasn't easy getting into the Trump campaign rally Wednesday, June 20, at the Amsoil Arena, situated on Duluth's harbor front.

But they came, thousands of of them—Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters alike; throngs of red Make America Great Again hats and white Guy Fawkes masks, with a whole spectrum of human beings in between.

They fought their way through clogged thoroughfares despite the closed exits. They wove their way into limited parking spots throughout downtown, then they took the detours by foot when "the blue bridge" (a pedestrian lift bridge spanning Minnesota Slip) closed down. And they waited—many of them for more than four hours—in 80-degree temperatures, packed together like canned sardines in the confines of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which lost power for a couple hours.

During a speech in the lead-up to President Donald Trump's own address, Minnesota Republicans Chair Jennifer Carnahan said it is now time for Minnesotan conservatives to follow the example of their fellow Midwesterners—in places like Idaho, Michigan, Wisconsin and others where Republicans have seen surging gains in recent years, particularly during the 2016 presidential election.

"It is now our turn to make Minnesota red," said Carnahan, who noted Minnesota remains the only state in the nation refusing to back a Republican presidential candidate for nearly 50 years—not during the height of the Reagan years in 1984, not since Richard Nixon's bid in 1972.

Packed arenas are typically a good sign—irrespective of political affiliation—and the bombastic event smacked of similar rallies in the days leading up to Trump's improbable win Nov. 8, 2016. So they came—from just down the road on Duluth's waterfront or after a five-hour drive across state lines—to hear the president give one of his patented raw, spontaneous and unfiltered monologues.

Outside, protesters gathered—many carrying signs comparing Trump's controversial no-tolerance border policy and its "tender age" shelters to concentration camps. In a phone interview with the Dispatch, Democratic-Farmer-Labor assistant communications director William Davis said there were groups forming across the city—some by the DFL, but many more by unaffiliated, informal grassroot movements, he said.

HollyRose McKnight—who traveled from Brainerd to take part in protests at Duluth City Hall about 4:30 p.m—said the accumulation of national controversies during Trump's presidency led her to speak out.

Ultimately, it was events surrounding the Trump administration's border policies that brought her to Duluth—inspired in large part by her two children, a 7-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.

"My son asked why we were going to go and I first introduced briefly what was happening to children and their parents at the border. He said 'I hope that never happens to me,'" said McKnight, surrounded by chanting supporters of varying political stripes. "I think that was the moment where I was like, 'Oh my God, who's next?' It was so sad and hurtful. If we don't do something now, how far will things go?"

At the same time, protesters decked out in black regalia and Guy Fawkes masks crowded the corner of South Lake Avenue and West Superior Street—many of them holding signs with bold messages printed across their surfaces, alongside one holding a Mexican flag, another with his mask tipped back on his forehead and a mic in his hands.

One man—shirtless, wearing a Primo helmet, glasses and an orange bandana around his face—said the protests represented an eclectic group of people, many of whom disagree with each other on other issues, but gather together in their opposition to Trump.

"We have water protesters here, we have anti-gun people here, we have people from all walks of life," said the protester, who noted he's lived in Duluth his entire life. "It's not any one thing—it's a counter movement, I guess."

As for Trump's supporters? The bedrock of his presidency—and, in this case, his candidacy for 2020—remains much the same: rural folks, blue-collar individuals and Second Amendment proponents concerned with the fate of America's lower classes.

Edward Benoyt, a 26-year resident of Duluth, said he was there to see the president—who he wasn't shy to heap praise upon and criticize at different turns, especially in light of, he said, a crippling shortage of jobs in the Duluth area.

"I don't see no jobs happening because the city is screwing people, taxes are way too high," Benoyt told the Dispatch, jockeying for elbow room as the line surged forward into the arena. "The people of Duluth need jobs. The thing I don't like about Trump is that he promises more jobs, then he doesn't get things done."

On the other hand, Courtney Carlson, a resident of Warroad, traveled to Duluth for his first Trump rally—a rally that amounted, he said, to a display of working class pride and support for their president.

"It's not business as usual, this guy has endless energy—good ideas, good progress," said Carson, grinning broadly as he searched for his MAGA hat among his family's belongings. "It's good to see the excitement. It just goes to show he brings the average Joe out here."

And so they waited. Amsoil Arena's max capacity sits at 8,500 and nearly that many came Wednesday afternoon for Trump to make his appearance—Carson and Benoyt, just two faces among them.

This story was updated to fix a misspelling in Courtney Carlson's last name from Carson to Carlson and correct his city of residence, from Lowell to Warroad.

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