MANCHESTER, NH — Leah Wolczko, 53, and Deborah Linett, 70, arrived at Southern New Hampshire University arena Thursday afternoon, on polar ends of the political spectrum.
“I’ll vote for anyone but Trump,” said Linett.
“He’s our guy,” said Wolczko.
The women, both residents of Manchester, who met for the first time at the rally, started talking and came to the conclusion that what this country needs is for Republicans and Democrats to talk to each other.
They say their goals are the same: gun safety, end the corruption, get money out of the political system.
In the end though, both held firm to their beliefs.
Linnet was horribly offended Wednesday by the comments of Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, acting director of citizenship in the Trump administration. He changed the words on the Statue of Liberty, which says “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to “Give me your tired and poor who can stand on your own two feet.”
“It actually moved me to tears,” she said. She is a granddaughter of an immigrant and is Jewish She said she is appalled that the Trump administration is holding thousands of asylum seekers in prisons turned into detention centers and separating children from their parents. It reminds her of Jews being rounded up in Nazi Germany.
She carried a sign that said, “What have we become?”
Both women agreed they want gun safety but don’t agree on how to go about it. Wolczko believes the problem with the semi-automatic weapons being used in mass shootings is not the rifle but the high-capacity magazines.
Linnet believes military weapons have no business in the hands of civilians and should be banned.
Wolczko doesn’t think “red flag” laws, a law that permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves, are needed. She said it would have the opposite effect on a veteran suffering from PTSD and he would not seek treatment.
She carried a banner that said: No Red Flag Laws — Except Fredo. He’s Nuts!” a reference to CNN anchor Chris Cuomo whose profanity-laced tirade in response to being called “Fredo” (a derogatory “God Father” movie reference) has gone viral. The President Tweeted: “Would Chris Cuomo be given a Red Flag for his recent rant? Filthy language and a total loss of control. He shouldn’t be allowed to have any weapon. He’s nuts!”
Those in line for the “Keep America Great” rally were mostly decked out in Trump attire and many were more than happy to shell out another $10 for a red MAGA hat or a Trump flag. “Guaranteed for five years,” one hawker yelled out, bringing fits of laughter.
Eric Jackman, dressed as the President, entertained people in line and posed with them for selfies. Jackman of Peterborough said he has been impersonating the President for the past three years and usually does two to three gigs a month, to supplement his income.
He said he’s met the president three times and on the eve of the 2016 election, when Trump was last in Manchester, the President called him to the stage.
“He’s a good sport,” Jackman said. “I think he has a good sense of humor about it.”
Fire Chief Dan Goonan said the Emergency Operation Center opened at headquarters at 100 Merrimack Street early in the day. He said Secret Service requested the fire department put two boats in the Merrimack River since the President’s motorcade would be crossing it en route to the arena. The boats, Goonan said, would remain in the river until after the President left.
Police have not given an estimate of the crowd size but one official said the Trump campaign had said the event was sold out. Capacity at the SNHU Arena is officially 11,000.
By 3 p.m., the line waiting to enter Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) arena had stretched from Lake Avenue south on Elm Street past Market Basket.
Because of the crowds, Manchester police closed that section of Elm Street about 12:30 p.m.
It was rare to see anyone in line without Trump accouterments; generally, those without the Trump identifiers were protesters. They were positioned on Lake Avenue with a barrier between them and the Trump supporters.
MAGA hats by the scores were everywhere. Red-white-and-blue were the colors of the day, those wearing them proudly displaying their patriotism.
An hour before the rally was to begin, Biden supporters were planning to stage their own event titled “Stand Up To Hate,” outside the Portland Pie Co., a couple of blocks north of the arena.
Long day for rally-goers
By Thursday morning the crowd of boisterous Trump supporters had multiplied by the hundreds if not thousands and surrounded the venue. Tents were pitched, concession stands were erected, memorabilia was bought and sold, and pro-Trump signage was everywhere to be seen, with a vibe more in line with a Pats’ pregame or a rock concert than a presidential rally.
Many chanted, “Build that Wall,” and “Four more years,” as media cameras and microphones took it all in.
Due to the growing throng, Manchester Police decided at 12:30 p.m. to close traffic on Elm Street between Auburn Street and Lake Avenue earlier than announced.
“The line of people is growing and for everyone’s safety that area had to be shut down. There will be more closings throughout the afternoon, the majority starting at 2 p.m.,” police said via a Nixle alert.
Just before 3 p.m. police made their first arrest — a counter-demonstrator who refused to move away from the rally crowd to where fellow demonstrators were segregated just beyond the arena — was removed by police, said MPD spokeswoman Heather Hamel.