Donald Trump Instructed 400 People to Shout Insults to My Face

It’s an eye-opening experience, walking down a winding street in suburban Pennsylvania on a Friday night toward the Newtown Athletic Club, where Republican candidate Donald Trump is slated to speak soon. The street is lined with fallen leaves and a dozen or so “Make America Great Again” signs, and as my colleague and I lug two large bags full of media equipment toward the sports center, it becomes abundantly clear that we look out of place. A man in his late 50s takes a keen interest in our presence. 


“What do you think they’re doing here?” he asks his companions in a gruff voice, clearly vying for our attention. We ignore him. He tries again. “Where do you think they’re from?” he continues.

Fed up with our disregarding his not-so-subtle calls, the man speeds up behind us. My heart skips a beat.

“What’re you moving in or something?” he grumbles. “Why all the bags?”

“We’re media,” my colleague replies.

“Oh, well then,” he says. I glance back and see him glower at us as he rejoins his companions. I feel a sense of relief.

It's just a preview, though. The only thing Trump's supporters despise more than a Clinton supporter is a member of the press.

***

The press entrance at the athletic club is located on the south side of the building; direct access is blocked off by yellow caution tape and a line of rowdy Trump supporters shouting “get a job” at a lone black protester holding a "Love Trumps Hate" sign.

I ask a police officer if he knows how we can access the press entrance. “No,” he replies without making eye contact. I ask if he knows anyone who would know how we can access the press entrance. “No,” he says, turning away to take a picture of the crowd lined up outside. Point taken.

We finally make our way around the building to the press entrance and pick up our credentials. Outside the security checkpoint, two men are smoking cigarettes. Brian, a Bucks County resident clutching a rolled-up Trump sign, tells me this is his first political rally. He doesn’t so much like Trump (whom he mocks several times throughout our conversation), but he despises Hillary Clinton and what he describes as a sense of “entitlement” she represents. Things like free health care or free college are not high on Brian’s list of priorities.

“Maybe this is going to sound selfish,” Brian says. “But I want to take care of myself before I take care of other people.” He compares it with getting married; at 27, he’s just not interested in settling down and finding a wife until he “figures [his] own sh*t out first.” He thinks America should take the same approach. 

Brian also hates Clinton’s “grandma laugh” and says she just looks untrustworthy, though he assures me he doesn’t mean that in the same way Trump once told his supporters to “look at [Carly Fiorina’s] face.” 

Like many Trump supporters, Brian dismisses the Republican candidate’s disgraceful and demeaning rhetoric as “entertainment” that he says he doesn’t technically “support” and can’t really “defend.” Sure, what Trump says is bad, but it’s the elitists in Washington and New York who are actually bad. They’re the ones who turn their noses up at blue-collar workers like himself. They’re the ones who got us into this mess, he says.

I tell him I’m from New York.

“Well,” he says, “You’re cool to talk to.”

***

Inside the rally, Trump is rattling on about the size of his crowd and all of the time and effort and money he put into his campaign. The Republican nominee currently faces diminished enthusiasm among his supporters, but you wouldn’t know it from the sheer intensity of the crowd inside the NAC. “We’re gonna win,” Trump says. “We’re gonna win big league.” The crowd goes wild.

In recent weeks, Trump has adopted a new favorite attack line during his rallies. At some point during his stump speech he instructs the crowd to “look at” the “dishonest” media. The crowd almost always obliges, turning their attention to the “elite” group of people studying them from the press pen. 

In Newtown, this attack line comes during a riff on “the African Americans” and violence in America’s inner cities. “You don’t hear about that from these dishonest people back here,” Trump says. “Meaning the media. Look at 'em, look at 'em.” 

A wave of angry faces turn their attention to the press pen. Some people have their thumbs down, others have their middle fingers up. Nearly all are booing or shouting in our direction.

“They are the most dishonest people,” Trump continues as the chorus of boos grows louder.

Scattered among the crowd, a dozen teenagers jump up and down for the chance to be captured by panning cameras. A little boy wearing an NRA cap waves his thumb angrily in front of the press pen. An older man standing next to him yells at the camera, “Tell the truth, tell the truth!”

Slowly, the crowd launches into a chorus of “CNN sucks!” The little boy joins in.

This surreal experience lasts almost a minute before Trump reclaims the attention of the crowd. “We’re living in a rigged system, and believe me, they’re a big part of the rigging, those people. Believe me. They don’t tell the truth.”

It’s an incredible and jarring thing to be on the receiving end of 400 angry, shouting people, and to consider that a candidate for president is leading the chorus of vitriol. “Look at them” isn’t Trump's invitation to turn and wave at the camera; it’s an invitation to hurl insults and derision at an institution that is a vital component of American democracy.

And as Trump amps up his anti-press rhetoric, his supporters are following suit. As Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray reported Saturday night, Trump supporters have found a new, all-inclusive phrase to encompass their hatred of the media. Lügenpresse—which translates literally to “lying press”—is a Nazi-era smear that’s seen a resurgence among neo-Nazis as well as Donald Trump supporters.

It’s evident, walking through the Newtown Athletic Club, that the media is viewed not as an entity whose job it is to uncover the truth and serve the populace, but one that manipulates and controls public perception. To Trump supporters, as one sign reads, journalists and reporters are “biased media rats.” And in an election that pits "elites" vs. "regular Americans," "establishment" vs. "outsider" and "them" vs. "us," the media are the enemy.

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