They prayed. They sang “God Bless America.” They railed against Obamacare and faced a crowd of counter-protesters about half their size. But then the Trump supporters gathered across from Independence Hall hesitated.
The Make America Great Again March organizers delayed the actual march because of counter-protesters.
Kevin Efaw, the event’s chief organizer, cited concerns about the safety of the police officers and the pro-Trump supporters because of the anti-Trump crowd as reasons for the delay, which he had at first announced as a cancellation. A few dozen MAGA supporters did end up marching down Market Street.
Efaw said he made the decision to originally cancel the march after consulting with police officers.
“We’re following law and order,” he said. “They suggested we don’t do it.”
It’s unclear exactly what happened — if individual officers made a suggestion, if they were formally told not to march or if they were told anything at all. Lieutenant John Wood told Billy Penn no such recommendation had been made.
“We’re just trying to make sure that everybody’s safe and gets to exercise their free speech,” Wood said.
A spokesperson for the police department did not respond to a request for comment. Anti-Trump protesters, numbering perhaps near 50, marched down Market Street and around City Hall before the pro-Trump group took off on its delayed march.
The Trump supporters had booked the event nearly three months in advance, Efaw said, lining it up with other Make America Great Again marches that had been coordinated across the country. About 100 people showed up for a rally that started at 11:30 a.m. and featured talks from Pennsylvania GOP chairman Val DiGiorgio and political commentator Kevin Martin, among others. DiGiorgio called Governor Tom Wolf the “most liberal governor in America.” He also said Trump voters had “literally saved the Republic” because of their hard work.
The crowd was a mix of some Philadelphians and many others from nearby areas outside the city. Efaw recommended people stay and socialize after he explained the decision to not march.
“We gathered as a peaceful rally,” he said. “We’re going to leave as a peaceful rally only because of the leftists.”
The counter-protesters showed up at the beginning of the rally and increased in size after about 45 minutes. As someone was singing “God Bless America,” a large group of them, most wearing masks, turned the corner at Fifth Street onto Market and began chanting “Fuck Trump, fuck Pence, organize for self-defense.” Some of them set off smoke bombs in the street.
Efaw still considered the event a victory for the pro-Trump crowd.
“Am I upset” he asked. “Absolutely. But do I feel like we’re winners? Absolutely.”