President Donald Trump’s rally in Macon Sunday afternoon hit all the usual notes. At the Middle Georgia Regional Airport hangar, overflowing with thousands of Republicans, there were calls from the crowd to lock Hillary Clinton up in prison, digs at the “fake news media,” and disparaging comments about plenty of prominent Democrats. He also plugged Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s campaign for governor. A bit.
Of the roughly hour-long speech Trump delivered Sunday afternoon, he spent less than half of it touting Kemp’s accomplishments and gubernatorial ambitions. He praised Kemp for his “Georgians First” platform, which echoes the “America First” attitude Trump has flaunted since launching his presidential campaign. The commander-in-chief complimented the candidate for vowing to crack down on illegal immigration, protect the Second Amendment, and cut taxes. Then he talked more about the accomplishments of the federal government and the pitfalls of progressivism.
Of course, it comes as little surprise that Trump didn’t much expound on his reasons for backing Kemp. According to a transcript from a September interview conducted by conservative news outlet the Daily Caller, Trump opted to endorse Kemp as a favor to former Georgia governor and current Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “First of all, I have to really respect the candidate,” he said. “I have to like the candidate, otherwise I’m just not going to get involved.”
But the real action was taking place right outside the airport, where hundreds of people who were turned away from the sardine-packed aircraft hangar crowded around a portable jumbotron to watch Trump and Kemp speak.
The screen was stationed on a trailer on Industrial Park Drive, snuggled between the airport and Pactiv Corporation, a manufacturer of food-packing and food service products. Around 3:45 p.m., giddy whispers of “He’s landed!” could be heard from every direction as Air Force One arrived on the base. Red, white, and blue “Make America Great Again” hats dotted the crowd and, around 4 p.m., bobbed up and down with excitement as Trump took the stage. “We won Georgia very easily,” Trump said of his presidential campaign. “In just two days, we’re gonna elect Brian Kemp.”
“This is one of the most important elections of our lifetime. This is a very important election,” the president continued. “I wouldn’t say it’s as important as ‘16 but it’s right up there.” Then, in typical Trump fashion, he launched into a tirade about how big the crowd was and bashed TV news outlets for neglecting to turn their cameras around to show its immense stature at both this event and prior debates and rallies. (No doubt, the crowd in Macon was big.)
Trump also lamented that “radical Democrats,” if elected, would bring a “wrecking ball” to the economy. “If you want to see Georgia prosperity end quickly, vote Democrat,” he said.
Then, about 20 minutes into the president’s speech, a small protest broke out from within the crowd outside the airport. Police on site quickly converged on five activists shouting, “Trans Lives Matter!” The protesters were on the receiving end of an aggressive “U.S.A.!” chant after two of them bit down on fake blood capsules and began making out. Raine Blunk and Grey Qualls, who were escorted off the property, later told Atlanta magazine that the bloody demonstration was an effort to bring attention to the violence faced by trans and queer people every day.
“It’s pretty evident that most of the people—or all of the people—who are at an event like that have no interest in protecting . . . the lives of trans people or any marginalized people who are not like them,” said Blunk. “Our existence as trans and queer people is, in a lot of ways, violent. We were trying to show that visibly, while also showing something that was very compassionate and caring—kissing.”
Blunk and Qualls, who both came from Savannah on Sunday, said they’d also attended—and been booted from—similar conservative events, such as Vice President Mike Pence’s Thursday visit to Georgia for another Kemp rally.
All during this time, the PA system hooked up to jumbo screen was projecting only loud enough for the first few rows of people on Industrial Park Drive to hear—a train passing by less than a block to the east didn’t help. Occasionally chants of “Turn the sound up!” could be heard coming from the tail end of the congregation, although supporters in the back still roared with the rest as Trump repeated his favorite talking points.
But around 4:30 p.m., after one disgruntled, MAGA-hat-donning rally-goer demanded that the screen operator boost the sound, the PA speakers jolted up to 11 for all to hear. The timing was perfect: Trump was just about to introduce Vince Dooley, a former University of Georgia football coach, and then assure sports-loving supporters that ex-UGA star Herschel Walker was supportive of Kemp as well.
If that wasn’t enough excitement, some 10 minutes later, when the president was jabbing Kemp’s gubernatorial opponent Stacey Abrams for “wanting illegal aliens to vote,” a man fainted inside the crowd, causing an ambulance to be summoned and trudge through the hundreds-strong assembly. [Trump was referring to a widely circulated and criticized video of Abrams saying that the “Blue Wave” was made of “documented and undocumented” people in addition many other groups of people. She said during the televised debate with Kemp that she never encouraged anyone who’s not eligible to vote to do so. Fact-checkers from the Associated Press said it is a “mischaracterization to say [Abrams] asked people to break the law to cast ballots for her.”]
Then, a few minutes before Trump’s speech wrapped up, the speakers on Industrial Park Drive went silent. Trump and Kemp supporter Ashley Lewis told Atlanta, “President Trump is so loud that he blew the speakers.”
Others in attendance were unfazed by the technical issues. Ricky Speir, from Hawkinsville, said, even though he wasn’t able to get into the jam-packed airport hanger, he was glad to see the president in the heart of the Peach State. “This is more of a Trump rally for me [than a Kemp rally],” he said. “I think it’s a historical moment to have the president come into Central Georgia.”
And 16-year-old Connor Bialy, a high school student from Decatur, said, for him, attending the event killed two birds with one stone: He got to see some of his favorite politicians speak, as well as knock out an assignment for his social studies class. “If I could, I would be voting for Brian Kemp because his policies are what I agree with, and Stacey Abrams expands single-payer healthcare; she wants to expand gun-free zones, and I don’t agree with that,” he said.
“We had to drive two hours, but when I heard [Trump] was going to be in Macon, I thought it was a good opportunity,” Bialy said.