WASHINGTON ― On the eve of the Fourth of July, President Donald Trump’s supporters gathered outside the White House and behaved just as he would have liked: They screamed at, cursed out and physically intimidated one of his critics.
Waving U.S. flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, dozens of people, mostly white men, came together Wednesday for a rally to celebrate the president ahead of his military-themed Independence Day event on the National Mall. And then there was Bruce, a homeless man who regularly hangs out near the White House and loudly condemns the president.
It was an inevitable, ugly clash.
“Trump is a dick!” shouted Bruce. “Trump supporters are the STD!”
“No, I’m a motherfucking American patriot, you piece of shit!” responded Terry Pennington of Charlotte, North Carolina. “You are a piece of shit!”
“Take your fucking medication!” chimed in a second Trump backer.
“Blah blah blah blah!” rambled a third Trump supporter in a “Blacks make racial slurs & commit hate crimes too!!” T-shirt. “You’re just a loud-mouthed whore!”
The yelling went on for at least 10 minutes. It was tense. One Trump supporter got in Bruce’s face and shoved him back with his shoulder. Someone threw a plastic bottle at Bruce. Even with Secret Service officers nearby, it was a bit scary, especially since Bruce was outnumbered by men who seemed worked up enough to throw a punch.
“You can’t knock him out without going to jail,” Pennington growled to bystanders, walking away.
Somehow it just sort of dissipated on its own. Maybe all the shouting men got it out of their system. Maybe the black woman who suddenly appeared and inserted herself between Bruce and the angry mob eased the tension. Trump’s supporters regrouped about 40 feet away, and Bruce eased up with his shouting, though he didn’t leave.
And then everyone carried on as if nothing had just happened.
“I feel like I’m amidst jackals who don’t speak English,” Bruce, 60, said later as rally attendees sang “Happy Birthday” toward the White House, presumably referring to America’s birthday. “I’ve never met Trump supporters who do not run away from facts. We need to save our country, but this is not the path to go. This is the path to extinction.”
“He’s a traitor,” Pennington, 53, said of Bruce.
Pennington, dressed in a T-shirt with the words “F*ck off, we’re full” over an image of the United States ― “it means we don’t need no more illegal immigrants” ― said he came to D.C. because Trump invited him to his July Fourth event, which will feature tanks on display and includes a ticketed VIP section for Trump’s friends, family and Republican donors.
Asked if he meant he was invited to the president’s VIP event, versus just attending the public festivities, Pennington laughed.
“I wish,” he said. “We’re going to be walking around like everyone else.”
“We’re here for Trump,” added his wife, Carrie, who was carrying a U.S. flag and wearing a shirt that said “Adorable deplorable for Trump” in hot pink. “He said he was going to be here. He wanted patriots to show up. Here we are.”
The rally itself was relatively calm, if odd. An older man solemnly tapped on a snare drum. A guy dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier led a singalong of “You Are My Sunshine” and then “Hey Jude,” but urged the group to sing “hey dude” instead, with said dude being Trump. Another man waved a pro-Trump flag along with a rainbow flag, which was curious.
“I’m gay, and I support Trump,” explained Brian Talbert, 49, of Charlotte. Asked why he backs the president given his awful record on LGBTQ rights, he said Trump has done more for the LGBTQ community than any Democratic president. (This is very false.)
“I just explain the facts,” Talbert said. “Trump is the first president in history to accept gay marriage on day one.” (That is true, except Trump is also the first guy to become president after same-sex marriage was legalized. So, yeah.)
The gathering was about over as the group halfheartedly sang “This Land Is Your Land,” with the Revolutionary War-themed emcee changing the lyrics in a way that would have made Woody Guthrie roll over in his grave.
“As I was walking, that ribbon of highway, I came across a man, the President Trump,” belted out the emcee.
“Treason!” shouted Bruce from the sidelines. “Treason!”
“He inspired our hearts, to make America great again,” the emcee continued singing, undeterred. “This land was made for you and me.”
Standing nearby, Paul Day of Mountain Home, Arkansas, pressed me to say which news outlet I represented.
“Where you from? CNN? MSNBC?” he jeered. “Come on!”
“I don’t care where she’s from,” Pennington told Day. “She’s willing to talk to us.”
″Pretend you are CNN, say there’s tens of thousands of people here,” Day said, motioning to the few dozen people standing around. “Fake it!”