Photos and analysis: Trump visits Wilmington, double-voting, supporters and protestors
All of Port City Daily's coverage from President Donald J. Trump's visit to Wilmington this week, including the president's arrival, controversial remarks on double voting, supporters lining the highway to watch the president's caravan, and protestors in downtown Wilmington.
Editor’s note: This article was awarded first place in general news photography in the North Carolina Press Association’s 2020 editorial contest.
WILMINGTON — President Donald Trump stood before an exuberant crowd of supporters who braved a hot, humid few hours on the Wilmington International Airport tarmac to see the Republican president. One threw a star-spangled cowboy hat in his direction, but Trump was unfazed as he held up four fingers and the crowd chanted, “Four more years!”
The sound engineers at the event drew from a collection of pop hits, like Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As Air Force One neared the gathered crowd, a dark techno song played. An event coordinator went to the soundboard and had the song switched to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”
“Awkward,” he said, as the engineers muted the techno song and queued up the classic rock.
Cheerful Trump fans wandered through the gated airport area with their attire of choice. One woman wore a ball cap that bore the words “Deplorable and proud of it,” while one man’s shirt proclaimed “Defund the media.”
[Note: Full photo gallery below article. Click any image to scroll through]
After acknowledging the official reason for his visit — “I’m going to a battleship. Did you ever hear of a battleship? The North Carolina … ” — Trump praised the crowd size before focusing the majority of his speech on oft-repeated grievances, accusations, political attacks, and stock market and poll updates that have become trademarks of his public appearances as president.
“I have to say this: This is the most important election in the history of our country; I really believe that. Because we’re running against people that have got some big issues. They’ve got some big, big problems. They’re stone-cold crazy and we’ve got to keep our country. And as you know, Joe Biden, he doesn’t have a clue,” he said of the former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee.
The Village People’s “YMCA” blared from the speakers as Trump took a break from his remarks and walked slowly along the metal fence separating himself from the packed-in crowd of hundreds of supporters, several of whom wore face masks in the oppressive heat.
It wasn’t long before Trump made a series of comments regarding mail-in ballots that made national headlines later in the afternoon and into the evening. After teeing up several softball questions about the upcoming designation of Wilmington as the nation’s first WWII heritage city, WECT anchor Jon Evans then asked a more pointed question, asking Trump about the expected surge in mail-in ballots this fall due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Six hundred thousand people could vote by absentee in this state. Are you confident in that system?” Evans asked.
“Well I — they’ll go out and they’ll vote and they’re gonna have to check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way,” Trump answered. “Because if it’s tabulated, then they won’t be able to do that. So, let ‘em send it in, and let ‘em go vote, and if the system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote. So that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do … But send in your ballots, send them in strong, whether [they] are solicited or unsolicited. The absentees are fine. We have to work to get ‘em, you know, be something. And you send them in but you go to vote, and if they haven’t counted it, you can vote. So that’s the way I view it.”
According to North Carolina voting laws, it is illegal to vote twice in one election.
“Today, President Trump outrageously encouraged [North Carolinians] to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election,” N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said afterward in a tweet. “Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice! I will do everything in my power to make sure the will of the people is upheld in November.”
By Thursday morning, the North Carolina Board of Elections website included a banner warning against double voting. State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Bell also issued a statement to voters on Thursday.
“It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” Bell said, adding that it is a Class I felony for a voter to “register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time” in the same primary or election.
When U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr was asked to explain the president’s comments during a CNN interview Wednesday afternoon, he said he could only guess the president’s meaning, but his own interpretation was that his remarks were intended to highlight the vote-by-mail system’s insufficiencies.
“I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but it seems to me what he’s saying is, he’s trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good. And if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time, you would be caught if you voted in person,” Barr said.
After the tarmac interview, Trump thanked Evans for “being a gentleman,” then discussed recent polls that showed his campaign leading in North Carolina by two percent. “But I think it’s probably 10 [percent],” Trump said.
He also encouraged members of the crowd who receive unsolicited mail-in ballot forms to send them in, but also vote in-person to ensure their vote is properly counted. For months, Trump has attacked the mail-in ballot system, one he says is ensnared by fraud and abuse but has not provided evidence when pressed to explain his claims. In response to a federal judge’s order in mid-August to produce such evidence of vote-by-mail fraud in Pennsylvania, Trump’s campaign filed 524 pages to further its lawsuit against the state.
But according to the Guardian, which reviewed the documents, the Trump campaign “turned over little evidence of pervasive fraud in its partially redacted response,” and “offered no evidence of fraud specifically linked to dropboxes or mail-in ballots.”
On Thursday, Attorney General Stein filed a preliminary injunction as part of a lawsuit he filed against the U.S. Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who had been the CEO of a Triangle-based logistics company and a Trump donor before his appointment in May. The injunction seeks to “immediately halt unlawful operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service that have delayed mail delivery and threaten to harm North Carolinians’ ability to conduct free and fair elections.”
“You can’t let them take your vote away. These people are playing dirty politics, dirty politics,” Trump continued on the tarmac.
Tax cuts, ‘law and order’
He then touted the “largest tax cut in history” on his watch — it is not the largest tax cut in U.S. history, as measured in GDP percentage or by dollar value, but it is the largest corporate tax cut in U.S. history — his rebuilding of the military, increasing support of military vets, and “rounding the turn on this China virus” with medical advancements in vaccines and therapeutics. He suggested Biden wants to “raise our taxes by 3 to 4 times.” According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, Biden’s tax policy agenda would raise taxes by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade, with roughly half of that amount paid by households with incomes exceeding $400,000 and the other half by raising business taxes.
Trump also discussed his visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin in the wake of the police shooting death of Jacob Blake, which reenergized Black Lives Matter protests across the nation.
“[We] left Wisconsin yesterday; we straightened out that mess. What a horrible situation. We sent in some incredible people, and within less than an hour it was all over with,” Trump told the crowd.
Trump visited the Lake Michigan city on Tuesday after its mayor and the state’s governor asked him to stay away to avoid further divisiveness in a city that has reacted to Blake’s death with looting, arson, and the killing of two protestors by a 17-year-old Trump supporter armed with an assault rifle. The night before his visit, Trump defended the shooter by agreeing with his attorney’s account that he had acted in self-defense.
The vast resources of the federal law enforcement apparatus, Trump argued at ILM, were necessary to combat anarchists, agitators, looters, and rioters. He said Biden, on the other hand, does not support law and order or the police establishment.
Trump then handed the microphone to an assistant, climbed into the Presidential limousine nicknamed the ‘Beast’ (another black limousine was parked nearby with an identical incense plate), and his motorcade exited the tarmac on its way to the battleship. Trump’s motorcade included approximately 30 vehicles, ten of which were white vans carrying staff and the White House press pool. Two New Hanover County Sheriff vehicles led the group — which included around ten unmarked Chevy Suburbans — and two N.C. Highway Patrol cars followed at the rear.
During the speech and outside the airport, multiple people were seen laying or sitting on the ground, attended by EMS crews from the New Hanover Regional Medical Center and other regional agencies. According to a NHRMC spokesperson, the hospital’s EMS crews “interacted with 30 people [Wednesday] at the Trump event.”
Wilmington turns out
Reminiscent of a Fourth of July celebration, hundreds of fans lined up along 23rd Street, hoping to catch a glimpse of the president’s silhouette from behind tinted glass as he made his way to the U.S.S. North Carolina.
Turning the impromptu event into a tailgate of sorts, supporters packed lawn chairs, coolers, and umbrellas as they waited hours in the sweltering 93-degree heat outside CFPUA’s Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The otherwise unpleasant combination of heat, humidity, and the unmistakable smell of processed waste did not deter Trump supporters; when it finally passed around 2:20 p.m., the president’s motorcade was greeted by a joyous crowd donning Trump regalia and American flags.
With limited masks and a heavy law enforcement presence on both sides of the river, there were no arrests or citations related to N.C. Governor Roy Cooper’s standing Covid-19 mass gathering restrictions, according to a Wilmington Police Department spokesperson.
A group of about 50 counter-protesters gathered along Market and Water Street as the president conducted his ceremony across the river. Dozens of members of the local Democratic party chapter showed their support for Joe Biden while the local Black Lives Matter movement held an apolitical anti-racist event along Third Street. Dozens more demonstrators unaffiliated with any particular established organization protested police brutality and racism.
Two protestors were arrested downtown, one 18 and the other 31, and charged with resist, delay, or obstructing a public officer. A warrant is out for a third protester’s arrest who fled after dancing in the middle of a crosswalk and impeded traffic, according to WPD.
Trump declared Wilmington the nation’s first World War II Heritage City, commemorating the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender. Speaking in front of at least his second towering backdrop of the day, Trump addressed an invitation-only crowd of veterans, honoring Wilmington for building more than 240 ships over a five-year period during the war and for local efforts to preserve the U.S.S. North Carolina, permanently moored as a museum on the Cape Fear River since 1961.
In Photos: Trump arrives
In Photos: Supporters welcome Trump
In Photos: The counter-protest
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