Ann Marie Cosgrove, a 59-year-old educator and lifelong northeast Minneapolis resident, is tired of the near-constant protests directed at President Donald Trump. So on Saturday, she joined about 400 people who packed the Minnesota State Capitol rotunda to voice their support for the new president.
"I want to support him and show Minnesota that he has support here," Cosgrove said. "We're traditionally a blue state, but it's changing."
The rally was punctuated by shouts and scuffles when about 50 counterprotesters showed up. The two groups were quickly separated, but taunts and dueling chants reverberated through the rotunda before the counterprotesters dispersed.
Six people were arrested — five by St. Paul police and one by the State Patrol, which polices the Capitol, authorities said. All were from the counterprotesters' group.
The rally was one of several held around the nation Saturday by a loosely organized group called March4Trump. Word about it was spread largely via social media. Many at the Capitol expressed deep mistrust of the mainstream news media, with some livestreaming the event on social media.
Cosgrove said she was heartened to see the enthusiasm for Trump. Many people wore Trump's distinctive red hats reading "Make America Great Again." Others held U.S. flags and signs that read, "United we stand, Divided we fall."
Cosgrove expressed disappointment that the country has become so polarized along partisan and racial lines, a dynamic she blames partly on former President Barack Obama.
"There's no middle anymore," Cosgrove said. "There's no middle. And Obama did very little. I don't recall him doing a great effort to bring people back together. I see a lot of division."
She said Trump supporters are often unfairly maligned as racist or misogynist. "I think there's more hostility towards Caucasians, because we're now being called racists if we don't agree with the liberal agenda," she said.
Steven LaMont, a 30-year-old plumber from Rush City in Chisago County, came to St. Paul with a group of friends. He, too, blasted negative characterizations of Trump supporters, saying voters like him backed Trump because the middle class has been squeezed by policymakers in Washington.
"I'm sick of the hard left always putting a label on individuals, like you're a racist, you're homophobic, you're this or that, and they don't even know who we are," LaMont said. "People voted for Trump not just because of who he is. We voted for him because we're the squished middle class."
Scuffles and chants
LaMont described himself as a disillusioned Democrat who had twice voted for Obama. But the American dream has drifted out of reach for many, he said. He blamed Democratic policies and trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement for the decline of well-paying manufacturing jobs and the rise of low-wage work in retail and fast-food restaurants.
"Being 25 years old … and still living at your mom and dad's is not the American dream," LaMont said. "If we don't have factories, textiles, industries that pay a livable wage, America is doomed. The jobs we have now — McDonald's, retail — will never feed anybody."
Shortly after the event began, scuffles broke out. Counterdemonstrators carried their own signs, including one that read "Love Trumps Hate," and some chanted expletives against Trump.
Officers quickly separated the pro- and anti-Trump groups, allowing the latter to gather on a broad stairway, where they continued to chant and wave signs.
The groups continued to trade taunts — "Get a job!" was one volleyed at the counterdemonstrators — and chants and shouts echoed through the rotunda. Someone — not police — sprayed a chemical irritant, causing some scattering and coughing on both sides.
Eventually, all of the counterdemonstrators left the building, and the pro-Trump group continued its rally. Although the event had been scheduled to run until 4 p.m., it was over by 2 p.m.
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said afterward that officers arrested five people who were fleeing the Capitol for allegedly setting off fireworks and smoke bombs and spraying chemical irritant inside the building. State Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Tiffani Nielson said her officers arrested a sixth person who was cited for disorderly conduct.
A similar gathering planned at the Olmsted County Republican Party office in Rochester did not proceed because organizers had not gone through official channels, local GOP officials said. About 10 protesters turned away from the office held a brief rally on a pedestrian bridge over Hwy. 52.
The Associated Press and staff writer Patrick Kennedy contributed to this report.