The evening is calm, quiet and the cold freezes one’s hands. A mere five minutes’ walk from the Southern New Hampshire University hockey stadium you can already hear the growing noise of a yet unseen crowd. And when you see them it’s a group of a thousands of people, the majority of them wearing the red hats with that emblematic phrase in white supporting their political idol, the man they want to carry to the White House: Donald Trump.
This is Trump’s third rally of the day, just before the end of one of the most contested and controversial elections in United States history. Fervor and anxiety is felt in the crowd although they never stop expressing their support to the New York billionaire businessman who pledges to bring the country back to what they believe is its rightful position: first in the world.
Curiously enough, many of the vendors that sell hats and shirts emblazoned with images of Trump and his rhetoric are the few African-Americans present at the event. “Buy your hat! Don’t be the only one without your Make America Great Again hat!” they yell as they march through the lines of people waiting to get in the arena.
“We’re fucked if Clinton wins,” Scott, who has come from Massachusetts for this event, tells me. This is the first time he has attended a Trump rally, but he tells me he has already voted for him. He has a necklace with two military dog tags. “My grandfather passed away about three weeks ago,” he says, with emotion in his voice. “I think Trump will make us and our armed forces strong again.”
It’s only a few minutes past eight when I hear the first collective cheer from the people already in the arena. The many voices turn into one, chanting expressions of support to fire up the crowd. Trump has encouraged this enthusiasm, repeatedly telling his voters that they are sure to win by the next day if they get out and vote.
Mike Pence’s voice is heard over the roar of the crowd. Pence knows how to use oratory to move the people. He expertly calculates the precise time in which to lower his voice, even almost whispering into the microphone, only to receive the avalanche of shouts of undying support from the people in the crowd.
The white spotlights and fog machine, the latter placed just behind the media box, create almost theatrical effects. Pence looks almost godlike as he delivers line after line from his shining pulpit. He observes the sea of red hats and arms that wave Trump signs up and down. At times the crowd will collectively boo Hillary Clinton or the political establishment in Washington: “Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!” is their chant.
The crowd is overwhelmingly white although I spot a few mixed couples in the stands. Two women walk next to me as I am looking for a seat, both are sure Trump is to win. They have their Trump hats on. They’re blonde, blue-eyed and tall. One of them has an accent—she has come from Denmark to the United States.
I finally find a free spot between Nick Anastasio, who has already voted for Trump and Hadley Dettemer, who has given hers to Clinton. Nick is a white man, wearing a camouflage hat and a football shirt, and sporting a short beard. He speaks perfect Spanish with me. “I lived in Spain for a while as well as in Aveiro, Portugal,” he tells me.
Rudy Giuliani enters the scene, ready to stir up the crowd even more. The crowd appears to be booing but instead they are “roo”-ing as a way to show their support for the ex-mayor of New York City. Nick smiles and joins in the cheer.
Nick wants to be a lawyer and is looking to starting at Suffolk Law School next year. “Although I know Clinton will win my state [Massachusetts], I want to exercise my right to vote. It’s a right that this country gives me and I will exercise it as a citizen,” he says.
Nick is a war veteran, having served twice in Afghanistan where he was injured in combat. “What I can’t stand from Clinton is her lack responsibility for what happened in Benghazi. Those soldiers died because of her and I could have been one of them. And what does she say? Nothing.”
Trump finally comes out, accompanied by his family, and the crowd goes wild—even wilder than before. The Republican candidate is broadcast on the various screens inside the arena. He looks confident and waves to his fans, smiling broadly. He walks slowly with his family through the catwalk that will take him to the speaker’s podium. “God bless the USA” is playing and the patriotism of the song is hard to downplay. The Trump signs move up and down with no particular choreography and all the voices become one: “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
The businessman who dreams of becoming president is at his third rally of the night. The previous two were in Sarasota, Florida, and Raleigh, North Carolina, and after this one he will fly to Grand Rapids, Michigan for his last one of the day.
Hadley hails from California and is here with her daughter. “She doesn’t get much red exposure there and I wanted her to see what ‘the other side’ is like. There is an intense divide in the country right now and I believe it’s important for her to see another perspective.” Hadley’s daughter smiles at me; she’s wearing a navy blue hoodie and has glasses that make her brown eyes appear even larger.
“I have a military side to my family so I can understand why they would vote for Trump. I don’t like his views but I can understand as to why he appeals to people,” she tells me comfortably. “We didn’t even know this event was a thing until today! It seems like an opportunity that we could not miss.”
Every time Trump mentions Clinton, regardless of whatever new attack he directs at her, the crowd responds with collective boos which are repeated over and over again. And when he brings up Clinton’s emails, thousands of voices cry “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
Trump makes use of his usual talking points: the corruption in Washington, the system that is rigged against him and when he gets to the famous wall he is going to build on the Mexican-American border, the crowd replies with “Build that wall! Build that wall!” The shouts make one’s hair stand on end.
Nick smiles and tells a friend that “the wall thing is just a metaphor, a metaphor that he will improve the system.”
The event nears its conclusion. Trump bids his goodbyes and disappears behind that black curtain. The crowd begins to turn towards the stairs and head for the exits. José García and Martina García, originally from Mexico City and janitors at the arena are chatting amongst themselves when I ask them if they feel nervous about a possible Trump victory on Tuesday.
“Fear? Why should I have fear?” is Jose’s reply.
“The woman will win,” Martina adds, in reference to Clinton. “I hope.”
“Nothing will happen to us,” José states, with a tone of indifference. “At the end of the day we will still be working here, day and night.”
And that appeared to be the case. After the rally ended at around 10 pm, José and Martina began their janitorial duties, picking up signs and other things left by the crowd, seemingly unaffected and indifferent as to who the future president of the United States will be.
Images by Humberto Rocha/HPR