The line at Briar Woods High School (BWHS) Tuesday morning nearly encircled the Ashburn school. Some four thousand Donald Trump supporters vied to get through security at the front doors and claim one of the coveted 800-plus seats in the school auditorium. Many came as early as three hours before the Republican presidential nominee took the stage for his first rally in Loudoun County, and most were happy to be there even though they could not get in.
Trump stepped on stage after 11 a.m. for a free-wheeling, unscripted attack on his Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton, that lasted more than one hour, and was repeatedly interrupted with shouts of approval, calls to “lock her up,” and chants of “USA, USA”.
His energy and swagger grew as he railed against bad trade deals, lost manufacturing jobs, China, Mexico, and his trademark calls to “build about a thousand mile wall between us and Mexico” and “make America great again.” The audience responded enthusiastically each time.
About half way into his speech, a mother holding a crying baby in the fourth row got Trump’s attention. He motioned to her, told her not to leave, and said he that he loves babies. Then, a few minutes later as the crying got louder, Trump again paused and said maybe the baby and mother should leave. He quickly made clear it was not a serious suggestion, and continued with his speech. They stayed, and the crying stopped.
The Trump event was scheduled with less than 48 hours notice, which almost caused its cancelation. While the timing was something the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshall were prepared for, Briar Woods apparently was not, as it had sports tryouts and other student activities scheduled. School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin District), a Trump supporter, credited incoming BWHS principal Chris O’Rourke for making the wise decision to cancel all activities for the day. DeKenipp also said he would push for the public schools to have a clearer notice policy for the scheduling of non-school events.
Loudoun County Officials, Residents Show Their Support
Virginia Republican Party chairman John Whitbeck, a Leesburg lawyer, opened the rally with an animated call to arms aimed at all Virginia voters, and the candidate’s son Eric made a brief appearance during his father’s speech to talk about the family’s golf investment in Loudoun County.
State Senator Dick Black (R-13th), a leading supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz now aligned with Trump, sat in the front of the auditorium and applauded throughout Trump’s remarks.
“I’m deeply concerned that Hillary Clinton’s policies will aide the violent jihadists who want to unleash a bloodbath in America and around the world,” Black said.
Ashburn supervisor Ralph Buona, Algonkian supervisor Suzanne Volpe and County treasurer Roger Zurn were among the local Republicans sitting up front. Loudoun Republican Committee chairman Will Estrada made pro-Trump remarks after Whitbeck, and Republican Sheriff Mike Chapman led the audience in the pledge of allegiance.
Many area residents not affiliated with local politics also were in attendance to show their support for the Republican nominee.
“His comments may be controversial, but they resonate with me,” said Reston resident Harry Lolock. “If he wants to crack down on illegal immigration so we actually have a border and a nation and know who’s actually in the damn country, and if he wants to reduce the size of spreading government and the administrative state and he wants to cut taxes… those are things that appeal to me.”
There was also a sizeable portion of young event attendees in the audience, including many younger than 18.
“I don’t agree with all of his policies, of course, but when I heard there was a rally I had to come,” said 17-year-old Broad Run student Brendan O’Brian. The Ashburn resident said he disagreed with Trump on immigration policy and proposals to ban all Muslim immigrants, but sided with him more than with Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton.
The non-political highlight of the morning was an acapella rendition of the national anthem by BWHS English teacher Nina Payton, who then rejoined her mother in the audience.
Nearly 80 protesters also showed up and positioned themselves along Belmont Ridge Road at the school entrance waving anti-Trump signs. Matthew Kinnebruw of Ashburn held a sign saying “IDK Not Trump THO”, and said he was there to show his opposition to “bigotry and hate.” He found the protest to be the perfect opportunity to voice his opinion and stand with the community.
Zachary Hoffman of Ashburn, the organizer of the protest, waved a sign saying “Trump is a Fascist”. Hoffman said he wanted to make sure people saw that not everyone in the state supported Trump.
“Virginia will not come as easily as he thinks it will,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman started planning the protest on Facebook around 3 p.m. Monday because of the little notice given by Trump.
Most protesters looked like they were in teens or twenties, but the group was diverse. The small crowd remained animated despite being yelled at by Trump supporters walking or driving by, and cheered those honking in support.
About 15 representatives of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) arrived near the end of the event, and held their own rally. See related story.
Ryan Butler, Veronike Collazo and Tom Julia contributed to this story.