Reporter's Notebook: When an Anti-Donald Trump Protest Becomes a Mob

It was a scary night for some Donald Trump supporters.

ByCandace Smith
June 03, 2016, 2:34 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. — -- At this point, I have covered a year’s worth of political rallies, first following Jeb Bush and now presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

I know all too well the hallmarks of a Trump rally, including the ubiquitous protests: Opponents coming out to express their discomfort, usually disgust, at his policies, which they view as divisive, offensive and hateful.

On the best days, protesters express themselves in a respectful way, appreciating that freedom of speech is one of the bedrocks of this country and should be celebrated.

But Thursday evening, in San Jose, California, was the worst of nights. What began as a gathering of young people and labor rights’ groups outside of Trump’s rally here, turned into a raucous, bloody, dangerous affair. The crowd of hundreds became disorderly as a large group broke off with seemingly pernicious intentions; to seek out anyone they suspected of being a Trump supporter and intimidate, harass or even beat them into submission.

I watched an elderly couple get their “Make America Great Again” hats snatched off their heads, their signs ripped from their hands, their bodies shoved and their movements trailed by the angry agitators all the way into a parking garage. It did not end there. One young man stalked a Trump supporter shouting obscenities, threatening him.

The dimly lit garage provided the perfect setting for the next wave of terror; agitators surrounded a car where presumed Trump supporters sat parked, trying to make their way out. Suddenly, we heard the sound of breaking glass; their tail-light had been smashed right in front of me. It became a rallying cry, and the rest moved in toward the car and began to shake it violently. The terrified passengers finally were able to speed off.

I watched a lone woman holding her Trump sign in the middle of a horde of people. I wished she would leave but she stood her ground. Sure enough, a young woman spat in her face, another pushed in her face, ripping her glasses off.

PHOTO: Anti-Trump protesters confront Trump supporters as they try to leave a parking garage at the convention center where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held an election rally in San Jose, Calif., June 2, 2016.
Anti-Trump protesters confront Trump supporters as they try to leave a parking garage at the convention center where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held an election rally in San Jose, Calif., June 2, 2016.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

A Trump supporter who protesters told me had shoved a young girl was surrounded by the mob, pushed, punched, and he was rearing for a fight before police finally allowed him behind their skirmish line.

Throughout the night, I saw a woman egged, a couple trailed and pummeled while heading to their car, a man chased and tackled...and more blood than I expected.

Trump likes to make the case that the protesters who attend his rallies aren’t genuine, merely organized efforts by his political opponents. Thursday didn’t have that feel. These were kids who seemed to be out for the thrill of the brawl. Gang hand signs were thrown in abundance.

I’ve covered both sides. When anti-Trump protester Shiya Nwanguma attended one of his rallies in Louisville, Kentucky, she was harassed, spat at, called racial epithets and physically assaulted. We tracked down one of her harassers, who turned out to be a prominent white nationalist. That was an injustice and deserving of our coverage, just as any violence directed at Trump supporters does, whatever Mr. Trump might think of the motivation.

Earlier in the day in San Jose, the crowd of anti-Trump protesters shouted to “Stop the Hate!”

The irony.

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