Trump visits Great Falls, many turned away

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Yellowstone Newspaper photos by Charlie Denison

Some people hoping to see the president had to settle for listening to his speech on a cell phone outside the Montana ExpoCenter in Great Falls Thursday.

Red “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts stand out in the crowd of people waiting to get into the Montana ExpoCenter in Great Falls Thursday. Six thousand people were allowed inside; reports are that as many as 20,000 hoped to get in.

Access Denied

Sam Fulbright wanted to witness history Thursday.

Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, was making an appearance at Montana ExpoPark’s Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, and he didn’t want to miss it.

“Seeing the President isn’t something you can do every day,” he said. “If you get a chance, you better jump on it.”

Sam’s brother Greg, some of their friends and thousands of others felt the same, turning the northwest side of Great Falls into mayhem akin to Disney World or a Beatles concert circa 1964.

Trump was in town to thank Montana for carrying him in 2016 and to offer his support to U.S. Senate Candidate Matt Rosendale, a Republican from Glendive who started his political career in 2010 as a legislator. Last month, Rosendale won a contested primary race, earning him the chance to square off against Democratic Senator Jon Tester in November.

An estimated 6,600 took seats at the rally, but thousands more were turned away, no matter how far they traveled.

First come, first served. This went for the press, too. Unfortunately, Judith Basin Press editor Melody Montgomery and I were two of those unlucky journalists who did not make the 3:30 p.m. deadline.

We knew it’d be a circus, but– like Sam and many others – we underestimated “Trumpmania.”

The trouble started when Highway 87 was backed up like the L.A. Freeway during rush hour, leaving us no choice but to take an alternate route.

Then there was parking. The best spot we could find was at Sam’s Club, a 12-minute walk from the entrance on a typical day.

Among the supporters

Walking quickly through the traffic on Sixth Street Northwest, we took in the scene: “Make America Great Again” hats, flags, shirts saying “Suck it, Liberals,” “Make liberals cry again,” “CNN: Communist News Network” and “Adorable Deplorable.”

Across the street were the strongly outnumbered protesters, their voices drowned out by the sea of red.

By the time Montgomery and I got to the press entrance, we were told it was too late.

“We’re not accepting any more press,” the guard said. “In about 20 minutes, we’re going to close it off for everyone. A lot of people won’t get in.”

That’s when we turned around and took in the line for the first time, no longer rushing our way through. It went on for more than a mile, and it hardly looked like it was moving.

Phoning a friend

It was time for Plan B.

Therese and Mark Iwaniak – friends of mine from my days in Glendive – were amongst the thousands holding onto hope for entry. We found them across from Springhill Suites, a far cry from the gate.

We joined them in line.

It wasn’t looking good for us, but the line kept moving as the sun beat down. We got some water and kept inching our way forward, starting to think there was a chance we’d get in after all.

That’s when we ran into Sam and his friends, also optimistic. Sam, who is not yet of voting age, appeared more interested in witnessing the spectacle, the chaos created by a visit from the President.

No Dice

We didn’t get in.

Feeling a combination of defeat and heat exhaustion, Montgomery and I started to make our way back to the car, but before we got too far we saw a group of Hutterites gathered around an iPhone on top of a blue picnic table. They were watching the live stream of events inside the arena in front of us.

The main event

After the speakers blared Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” President Trump took the podium, shaking hands with people along the way.

“Thank you, Montana,” he said. “What a place, what a place.”

Trump went on to apologize to the thousands of “hard-working American patriots” who didn’t get a seat.

“This happens all the time,” he said. “We’ve decided we’re going to put up screens and loudspeakers so people can stay around. I said to my people, ‘why didn’t you get a larger arena? We can’t. But I’m inside, you’re inside, we love each other and it’s going to stay that way.”

Trump encouraged his supporters to vote for Rosendale, who he called “a very special person” and a “tough cookie.”

Rosendale was invited up onto the stage and enthusiastically thanked Trump.

“Do we have an incredible President or what?” he said. “We have a President who fights every single day for the people of this great nation.”

During his nearly hour-long speech, Trump started right in on the Montana senate race.

“You deserve a senator who doesn’t just talk like he is from Montana. You deserve a senator who votes like he is from Montana,” he said.

People in the audience screamed. Trump paused, smiled and carried on.

“That’s probably why I’m here,” Trump told the crowd Thursday. “I won Montana by so many points I don’t have to come here…it was ‘Crooked Hillary,’ but still. She gets special treatment under the justice department.”

This led to a “lock her up” chant, followed by boos for former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey.

“How about that FBI agent? How about that guy?” Trump said. “You think there was a little bias there? Oh, did we catch them in the act. It’s a rigged deal. It’s a disgrace.”

Trump also pointed to the media section (those who were fortunate enough to get in) and attacked their coverage, calling them “crooked” and calling them the “fake news media.”

“They are so damn dishonest,” he said. “Not all of them. Some are the finest people I know, but 75 percent of those people are fake, fake, fake.”

This also inspired a wild response from the crowd. Many supporters cheered and yelled, “fake news.”

The Hutterites watching outside with us laughed out loud.

Next week, Trump heads to Finland, where he will sit down with Vladimir Putin for a one-on-one summit. Unhappy with some of the press he’s received for making this decision, Trump defended his foreign policy.

“Getting along with Russia and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.”

Trump praised his administration and the accomplishments they’ve made so far.

As Trump continued to talk, two women walked by us.

“Is that the live stream?” one asked.

“Yes.”

She tuned in for a few seconds and then simply shrugged her shoulders and walked away, saying she might know where the President was going to dinner. Just being in his presence, just being part of Trumpmania, was enough for her.

Others felt the same.

“I had to go,” said Ray Pryor of Lewistown. “I shook [President John F.] Kennedy’s hand when he came in 1963. These opportunities don’t happen often. You have to take advantage.”

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