The melee in the streets outside Donald Trump’s Costa Mesa rally Thursday could mark the beginning of many large, turbulent demonstrations against the controversial Republican presidential front-runner.
There have been protesters at Trump events since the early days of his candidacy. But as his campaign moves into heavily Latino California and the state’s pivotal June 7 primary race, the urgency and size of the protests could grow, some political analysts predict.
“It’s a total whammy effect,” said Peter Ditto, a social psychologist at UC Irvine specializing in political behavior. “You have a lot of people who are dissatisfied – pro-Trump people and anti-Trump people. Coming to Orange County, you have a mix of the conservatives and the growing Latino community that is particularly volatile.
“I would expect to see this throughout Southern California.”
And beyond, as an unruly crowd of several hundred anti-Trump demonstrators in the Bay Area showed Friday, less than 24 hours after the larger Orange County disturbance.
Protesters gathered outside the California Republican Party’s weekend convention in Burlingame, where they forced Trump’s entourage to find an alternative entry to the hotel and delayed the candidate’s luncheon speech. Later, members of the crowd attempted to storm the hotel, but were turned back by police in riot gear.
As at the Costa Mesa event, protesters had a range of objections to Trump. But there was a strong Latino presence and Mexican flags in both cases, reflecting perhaps the most persistent concerns at the two California protests.
Trump’s anti-illegal immigration stance, including plans to build a massive barrier the length of the Mexican border, is among the most divisive parts of his political platform. And that theme was on full display at the Thursday rally, where he portrayed California as a leading victim of those who enter the country illegally. He roused 8,000 supporters at the Pacific Amphitheatre into a chant of “Build that wall.”
Many in California’s large Latino population have taken offense at the candidate’s characterization of those crossing the border as criminals. And that community, including many second- and third-generation Americans, has shown an ability to mobilize large numbers at rallies in support of legislation to aid those here illegally – especially in Los Angeles.
In California, “we have a density of Latinos you don’t see in other places,” Henry Vandermeir, chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County. “And tensions are running high because they’re being made scapegoats by Trump.”
Trump supporters reject such characterizations, although some say they expect more big demonstrations at their candidate’s events.
“I think it will continue, but I think Donald Trump will stay the course and talk about the things Americans care about,” said Costa Mesa’s Eric Beach, founder of the Great America super PAC set up to help Trump get elected. “I think the people you see coming together (for Trump) are worried about our national security first and foremost. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to protect our border.”
Beach said Trump has the support of many legal immigrants, and made an appeal to U.S. Latino citizens demonstrating against his candidate.
“If they care about jobs and they care about the economy, they should look at the last 20 years and what needs to be done and who can do it,” Beach said.
Outside of Trump’s Costa Mesa rally, hundreds of anti-Trump demonstrators gathered, at first peacefully, holding signs, before taunting began.
As the evening progressed, the demonstration took on a party atmosphere at times as large numbers of young men milled about and police were called from neighboring cities to help control an escalating situation.
Before the night was over, a police cruiser window was smashed, a Trump supporter’s face was bloodied and 18 were arrested.
“I’ve been living in Costa Mesa all my life and this is the craziest thing I’ve seen here,” said Ivan Carcamo, 20, while watching the last of the demonstrators thin out just before 10 p.m. “Some of my friends were protesting, and I just tagged along. … When I heard Donald Trump was coming, I knew something would happen but I didn’t think it would be like this.”
Art Montez, a longtime activist who works on voting and civil rights issues for the League of United Latin American Citizens, expects to see more large anti-Trump demonstrations. The path to political change is most effectively pursued through peaceful protests, he said.
“But people aren’t mature, and Trump brings out the worst in people – and he can bring out the worst in our community,” said the Buena Park resident and Centralia school board member. He added that when students are bullied on the playground, “we teach them to walk away. But there’s no principal on the political playground.”
The Democratic Party of Orange County and the O.C. Young Democrats set up a Facebook page that encouraged demonstrators to attend Thursday’s rally, emphasizing the need for nonviolent protest.
“With these kinds of events, there are always a few who are aching to cause some kind of trouble and they don’t reflect the feelings and approach of most demonstrators,” Vandermeir said.
Ditto, the UCI psychologist, said highly charged demonstrations fuel misbehavior. “People get worked up and they tend to do things that they wouldn’t do on their own,” he said. “It’s a party atmosphere mixed up with anger and two groups facing off.”
Violence and lawbreaking by protesters can hurt the cause of those opposing Trump, Ditto said.
“Trump can say, ‘Look, we’re not the ones causing trouble,’” he said. “And when there’s violence by the protesters, it almost excuses any violence by Trump supporters.”
Jimmy Camp, a GOP strategist working on Republican efforts against Trump, said the predominantly left-leaning protesters at Friday’s Bay Area event also hurt their cause by burning American flags and waving Mexican ones.
“They’re pushing people toward Trump,” said the Orange resident, who witnessed the Bay Area demonstration.
How much tensions rise before the June 7 election could also be up to Trump, at least in some measure, Ditto said.
“Part depends on whether he decides to play with that anger,” he said. “It’s a powder keg.”
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