Donald Trump’s visit to Greater Exodus Baptist Church on North Broad Street was winding down by mid-afternoon Friday. Guests were trickling out. The crowd of protesters and the small barricade of bicycle cops were still there. Then: “We got another negro preacher coming,” shouted Asa Khalif, a Black Lives Matter organizer, sounding the alarm.
It’s not just that many activists, who had gathered down the block from Greater Exodus, wanted to make known that those who attended the strictly private event didn’t represent the black community. They wanted to address those who accepted the invitation from the Republican presidential candidate, the one who famously asked of the African American vote in front of a mostly white crowd: “What the hell do you have to lose?” And so Renee Amoore, deputy chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, had gotten an anything-but-warm reception from protesters a bit before.
Things were calmer hours before Trump arrived. Demonstrators included members of the Philly protest scene veteran groups: Juntos, Black Lives Matter, the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice and the Fight for 15, the movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
According to KYW reporter Cherri Gregg, Trump met with African-American supporters for an hour, but hung around outside the church for some time before leaving. An Instagram photo showed Trump smiling with a dozen new friends in all.
During the roughly two hours while he was in the vicinity, traffic on North Broad slowed to a crawl. The demonstration was heavily attended by press, but had an even deeper police presence. Dozens of officers on bikes and on foot were spread throughout nearby blocks, some from the local Homeland Security Unit.
“Trump is not welcome here in Philly,” Erica Mines of the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice told the crowd. “We don’t support this demagogue.”
She said the pastor of host church Greater Exodus, Dr. Herbert Lusk, brought “a crook into our community.”
“He thought that he was going to leave (Lusk spoke to Philly Mag yesterday from vacay in Mexico) and the black community was not going to hold him partially responsible if not fully responsible,” Mines said. “We are not stupid.”
The protesters, Mines said, would be “fools” to allow someone who spreads messages of hate to come to Philly silently.
Bearing a slight resemblance to the angel costumes demonstrators have sometimes worn to block Westboro Baptist church followers, and more recently the “Wall of Love” counter-protest staged around the church during the DNC, members of immigrant rights group Juntos wore draped robes. Some protesters held a long brick-patterned banner.
Outside, “We’re here for the long haul,” one activist said from the wall. “We’re not leaving until he’s out of the city.”
It’s fair to characterize many of the activists, as Philly Mag reporter Dan McQuade did on Twitter, as the “usuals.” Possibly unexpected though was a Bucks County man who came with multiple signs, including the one that began his one-man show: It read “I LOVE WALLS.”
BLM’s Khalif took the sign from the man and a scuffle ensued, but was quickly broken up by police.
Jerry Lambert, the Bucks resident, says he lives in Andalusia. He’s a stockbroker, who’s previously voted Democrat, but has registered Republican quite recently. He’s dead set on voting for Trump. He says he respects the protesters’ rights to speak their minds, he just doesn’t think they “have the facts.”
Trump a misogynist? “If you get married three times, that means you love women!” A bigot? “He just gets a little overheated sometimes. He’s not a racist.”
Aside from appreciating Trump’s economic stances, Lambert adds, “I don’t like the way Mexico is infiltrating our country with the cocaine.” Another man, Rich, (Rich declined to tell us his last name) joined him in protest. He hadn’t planned it entirely, he showed up to check it out at first.
Same for the third pro-Trump protester: John Maffei.
Maffei, wearing a Korean War vet hat, says “the country I fought for has disappeared.” He’s an independent voter, but Trump has swayed him. “Exactly what he says is what I want.”
“All I do is speak the truth, I mean that too,” says Maffei, who runs and sells documentaries through the site CatholicCounterpoint.com. His “investigations” are what matter to him. “Six million Jews were gassed to death? No,” he says of the Holocaust. “I have the evidence.”