Presidential candidate Donald Trump packed the University of Central Florida Arena Saturday for a rally 10 days ahead of the Florida primaries. The event drew protestors outside and a number inside who disrupted his speech.
Several hundred protestors stood outside under a bright spring sun holding signs that read “Hate is not great,” “Make the Donald go away,” and “Let’s comb over hate,” protesting peacefully before Trump began his rally. Once the hour-long rally was underway, at least 14 protestors disrupted the Republican candidate’s speech.
At the tenth interruption, Trump took note. “Can the protestors stop for a couple of seconds so we can talk?” he said, as local timeshare magnate and supporter David Siegel and wife Jackie stood behind the podium.
Trump said he loved his protestors because it was the only time the TV cameras panned his huge crowds. He ridiculed Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders beause he let protestors take over his podium at a rally. “That’ll never happen to Trump,” the New York developer said.
Carlos Smith, a local activist and organizer who is running for State House District 49, said he was proud of fellow UCF alum who showed up in force. “The truth is all of us who are running in November, we’re all running against Donald Trump,” said Smith, who is part Hispanic.
One outside protestor, Full Sail University student José Carlos Villaveneuv, 19, waved a large Mexican flag. “I’m here to support equality,” said Villaveneuv, who conceded he was Puerto Rican not Mexican. He hoped to convince the rallygoers, saying, “Maybe something will click in their heads. Maybe when they see all the protestors here they’ll say or realize we’re not wrong.”
Luzelena Cruz, 46, a home health aide whose sign read “Latinos against Drump” [sic] said, “Everything that comes out of his mouth doesn’t represent Latinos.”
The importance of the I-4 corridor was not lost on protestors. “This is the I-4 corridor that has always represented the KKK mentality,” said Hope Champion, 51, a nurse, alluding to Florida’s history as fertile ground for hate groups, based on Southern Poverty Law Center data. “He refused to initially denounce David Duke,” Champion said of the Louisiana KKK leader. “He has the spirit of terrorism.”
People started arriving for the rally as early as 6:30 a.m. to get a good seat. The arena, which seats about 10,000, was full to capacity. At about 1:54 p.m., an hour before Trump took the stage, event organizers closed the doors, turning back perhaps 100 people still in line.
Among the early risers was José Maldonado, 29, member of the local sound crew. Asked what he had observed thus far, Maldonado said in Spanish, “I see that the protestors are young while the attendees are a little older. I see that these people here” – he said, pointing to a long line of people waiting to get into the arena – “lack respect for the protesters more than the protestors disrespect them.” He explained that some participants made vulgar hand gestures against protestors.
UCF security was able to keep the peace, separating the two groups with barricades. The loud music, chosen by campaign organizers, drowned everyone out. “It’s perfect,” said UCF Police Chief Richard Beary.
Trump’s speech was a not-so-perfect rambling. He called Republican rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio “Little Marco” a number of times, and ridiculed him as “a total lightweight.”
He nicknamed Ted Cruz “Lying Ted.”
“He holds up the Bible then puts it down and lies,” Trump said.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who ran unsuccessfully for president under the GOP banner in 2012, was “not a smart guy. What a dope.”
Trump sideswiped the press several times, calling the media “the most dishonest human beings on Earth. But not all of them.”
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor