Cleveland square magnet for zealots

By Wesley Lowery, Joel Achenbach, Chris Cillizza, Louisa Loveluck

Humourist Dave Barry: ‘There’s got to be a lunatic shortage in the rest of the world’.
Protesters clash with police in Cleveland, during the second day of the Republican convention. Photo / AP
Protesters clash with police in Cleveland, during the second day of the Republican convention. Photo / AP

The big rallies and marches in Cleveland have been relatively orderly this week, but a simultaneous proliferation of ad hoc protests, milk-crate zealotry and freelance fanaticism has featured ideologues who espouse a bewildering number of causes - and invariably draw a crowd, just like break dancers or jugglers.

The action is centered on Public Square, just a few short blocks from the arena hosting the Republican National Convention. It has a speaker's platform where people with a message can show up and speak in 30-minute slots. The square has been a magnet for people exercising their "open carry" firearms rights under Ohio law.

"This is a Bushmaster AR-15," James Campbell, 22, of Dayton, told reporters. He said it was loaded. "Being a person of colour" - he's African American - "I am out here to show that open carry does not just apply to white men." His companion, Micah Naziri, had two Glock handguns as auxillary weapons. Both men said they opposed Donald Trump. Meanwhile, a few metres away, a man in a Trump cap gave interviews with a handgun strapped to his waist.

Nearby, heated debates between pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions boiled up across the square.

"There's got to be a lunatic shortage in the rest of the world, because there's an awful lot of them around here," humourist Dave Barry said as he surveyed the scene.

An hour earlier, religious fundamentalists shouted "Repent!" at a small gathering of onlookers. One demonstrator held a sign saying "Every Muslim is a jihadist". A man in the crowd shouted: "This is hate speech! Jesus would be ashamed of you!" The religious protesters then marched away, with police on bicycles framing their movements.

One police officer said the force's main concern are the anarchists who have been running around wearing black clothing and black masks, unnerving convention-goers. "They tested the water yesterday. We'll see if there's any more to come." The officer said at least one man was found with three bags of urine in his backpack. He was allowed to keep it, because there is no prohibition against bags of urine.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said police fielded roughly a dozen calls from anxious convention-goers and citizens who had seen the masked anarchists, whose black garb and use of masks are typical at major conventions.

So far, the GOP gathering has been relatively smooth. Three protesters were arrested for climbing a flagpole at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and hoisting a banner reading, "Don't Trump our communities". Fire officials used a ladder truck to bring down the protesters and the banner, according to Reuters.

The anarchists are a wild card.

"The real test will come if a significant weight of anarchists turn up," said Sam Rosenfeld, chairman of the Cleveland-based Densus Group, which consults on risk management and crowd security. He said a goal of these masked protesters is to push the police hard, in some unexpected way, and get them to overreact - potentially against all the protesters, even those who had been holding peaceful marches.

Trump supporters and protesters alike seem to agree that mass chaos is unlikely.

"The police know how to handle this stuff," said Mark Spence, 62, of Dallas, who painted his face red, white and blue for a Citizens for Trump rally. "I love a good protester or two. I hope more show up!" he said.

"There aren't enough people for there to be any violence. There's like 20 protesters," said Ron Hillyard, 52, a street vendor of Trump merchandise who set up a cart near the convention centre. "I've never seen more cops in my life."

Winners, losers from the second day

Chris Cillizza

Winners

Donald Trump jnr: Trump's eldest son didn't just play it safe with a testament to his dad being a good guy and then beat a retreat. He delivered a broader address that not only cast his dad effectively as someone willing to get his hands dirty in pursuit of business success but also went after Hillary Clinton as an out-of-touch bureaucrat who is out of her depth. (I found Don jnr's retelling of his dad's affection for and association with blue collar workers particularly effective.) This was a big speech with a high degree of difficulty. And, Don jnr stuck the landing.

Donald Trump: A year ago the idea of Trump easily winning the 1237 delegates he needed to formally become the party's nominee was considered absurd. Three months ago, there were still lots of doubts. Trump did the unthinkable. And, whether you like him or hate him, he deserves a massive amount of credit for that.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate Majority Leader has made no secret of his doubts and worries about Trump as the Republican nominee. But ever the savvy pol, McConnell found a way to thread the needle. McConnell focused on the ideas that unite he and Trump, and that separate he and Hillary Clinton. The Supreme Court. Obamacare. Defunding Planned Parenthood. And so on. It was a Reagan-esque attempt to point to the 80 per cent of agreement rather than focus on the 20 per cent of disagreement.

Losers

Paul Ryan: For some very smart people, the Speaker delivered a meaty, substantive address about the Republican Party he wants to lead. For me, the speech felt flat - filled with attempts at reaching rhetorical heights that the Wisconsin Republican never came all that close to. It may have been the fact that Ryan was committed to delivering a speech that touched people far outside the convention hall filled with anti-establishment, Trump supporters. It didn't work.

Ben Carson: The convention crowd responded warmly to Carson. But, the brain surgeon quickly went off script - and not in a good way. He dropped a "Lucifer" reference! Then he did it again! Time and again, Carson seemed to start a sentence and then, halfway through, head in an entirely different direction. The result was, too often, a word salad.

Political rhetoric: Remember when President Barack Obama, after targeted shootings of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, implored both parties to take it down a notch at the party conventions? Yeah, not so much. For the second straight day, chants of "Lock her up!" rang through the convention hall. (The "her" is, in case you have lived on another planet for the last year, Hillary Clinton.)

- Washington Post

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