Minneapolis is bracing for a chaotic scene, with President Donald Trump set to speak Thursday in the heart of the city that overwhelmingly rejected him in 2016.
Two dozen disparate groups plan to protest the visit, from civil rights advocates to labor unions and self-identifying antifa or anti-capitalists. Some estimate more than 10,000 people will flood downtown to oppose the president’s visit.
They will be confronted by counterdemonstrators supporting the president, some of whom follow him across the country such as Bikers for Trump, along with the Minnesota-based Three Percenters militia. That’s in addition to the Trump fans who plan to jam the 19,000-seat Target Center.
Trump's rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. The daily schedule distributed by the White House says he is expected to arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 5:55 p.m.
Mayor Jacob Frey has been meeting with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo since Trump announced the visit to strategize how the city will respond to what could be an impassioned confrontation. Though an ardent Trump opponent, Frey says keeping everyone safe is the city’s priority.
“Our police officers in the city of Minneapolis will be enforcing the law,” said Frey. “We’re going to be looking out for the safety of every single person present — whether you are protesting in opposition or attending in support. That is our responsibility.”
Arradondo has asked anyone gathering downtown Thursday to leave their weapons at home, though some of the pro-Trump groups are known for carrying firearms. Frey called this a “prime example” of the need for gun reform in America, but he said the city can’t stop people from carrying legal weapons. “I don’t have the ability to change the law at the state or federal legislatures for the purposes of the rally,” he said.
Permits are not required to protest, said city spokesman Casper Hill.
Bracing for impact
Holly Laberge spent part of Wednesday staring at a blank sign in Powderhorn Park.
Her local arts supply store had sold out of anti-Trump signs, she explained, so Laberge decided to make her own. She settled on “Love Trumps Trump,” resisting the urge to join the negativity that so often accompanies the president’s public appearances. “I’m mad, but I’m not going to go to that level,” she said.
Across the city, a group of Trump supporters gathered at City Hall to protest against Frey, who clashed Tuesday with Trump on Twitter over who will pay the cost of security for the rally and the city’s decision to bar off-duty officers from wearing their uniforms at the event.
“We support our police. Frey, do you?” chanted the group, many decked out in gear bearing Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” one wearing a lighted Trump cape. “Trump, Trump, Trump!” they shouted.
For security in and out of the event, the FBI and Secret Service will join hundreds of Minneapolis police officers. Public safety expenses are expected to be about $400,000, mostly for police overtime, and another $130,000 for lane closure fees, traffic control and other costs, according to Frey.
Police spokesman John Elder said the department will follow the same playbook as it did for the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four. Most officers on the scene will be wearing standard uniforms, but SWAT teams will be at the ready, so “don’t be surprised to see long guns,” Elder said.
He said officers will be on hand to provide directions, while “the cordoned-off and secure areas are going to be very well-marked, so there won’t be any questions.” In some areas, he said, the skyways will be cleared.
If protests spill outside the designated zones, Elder said it will be a “wait-and-see” situation for officers. He declined to specify the number of officers that will be on hand but said it will be “all hands on deck.”
“We hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said. “We don’t know what befalls us, but we do have a pretty rich history of planning for major events, and we will work to provide a vibrant, safe atmosphere that will still respect the right of people that wish to protest.”
Inside the department, officers have been told to bring their gas masks, riot helmets and batons to work — standard procedure for large-scale events ripe for violent protests. Some officers grumbled this week that they’ve received little to no direction on how to handle protesters who may block a busy intersection, a preferred tactic of some groups.
In recent years, the department has used a hands-off approach during large demonstrations, even at a time when lawmakers in Minnesota and elsewhere are pushing for harsher penalties for disruptive protests. Department sources say police are monitoring potential protests. They are particularly wary of the far-left antifa movement and the Proud Boys, a “Western chauvinist” group that the FBI has linked to white nationalists, who were involved in a series of high-profile clashes in Portland, Ore., and New York City last year.
Protesters gearing up
Stewart Rhodes is among those coming to Minneapolis from across the country.
Rhodes is the founder of Oath Keepers, a group that counts former military and police as members, with the stated mission of protecting the Constitution against antifa agitators. Though some call him the leader of a dangerous and well-armed militia, Rhodes says he will be there solely to protect the peace.
“We’re only there to keep people from being assaulted,” he said. “We’re not there to interrupt anyone’s protest. We believe in free speech for everyone.”
Rhodes stopped short of saying his group would abide by the police chief’s call for demonstrators to leave their guns at home. “One thing we’re not going to do is send a message … that we’re unarmed,” he said.
In a Facebook post, the Oath Keepers called on “capable patriots” to join them Thursday, referencing another protest, titled “America is canceled!” organized by anti-capitalists, according to the event page.
“Bring yourself, bring your friends, bring your crew and come prepared to disrupt the nightmare that is Trump,” reads the description of that rally.
Others planning to protest say they’re not looking for a fight. Giselda Gutierrez, organizer for the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, said protesters in her group have appointed marshals to keep the peace and de-escalate confrontation.
Gutierrez said she’ll be there to protest the hatred for immigrant, Muslim and LGBT communities that Trump has come to represent for some.
“It’s not so much about Trump and impeachment, but it’s about opposing what he stands for for a lot of people right now — which is hate against our communities,” she said.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.