I had anticipated Burlington, Vermont, would prove an interesting place to photograph my first Donald Trump rally. I wasn’t wrong.
Next door to the theater where the GOP front-runner was to speak, a deli advertises its “The Donald” sandwich-made of bologna and white bread, of course. Another storefront’s sign reads: “Trump’s A Chump – Feel The Bern.”
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All of this is no surprise – just a block down is Bernie Sanders’ national campaign headquarters. Sanders, the democratic socialist competing against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries, was once a very popular mayor here. He still calls the quaint college town home.
It was also no surprise that hundreds of anti-Trump demonstrators had amassed across the street from the candidate’s destination this evening, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.
I heard them chanting, “Deport Trump!” and, “Don’t give in to racist fear, refugees are welcome here.”
Meanwhile, those in line to see Trump countered with “Build a Wall!” and “USA! USA!”
Anticipating the inevitable protesters that plague Trump’s campaign, his staff began to let people enter the 1,400-seat venue – but only after passing a loyalty test in which they had to profess support for the candidate.
I’m no Trump supporter but I did have a press badge, so after a Secret Service pat down, I got to join the rest of the news cameras at the back of the auditorium.
Trump arrived at the lectern a half-hour late and, despite the fact that his campaign did its best to engineer a friendly crowd, it had still been infiltrated.
Protesters revealed themselves every few minutes or so and were immediately escorted out. He takes the interruptions in stride, though, like a badge of honour: “You know, it’s sort of fun. Isn’t this more exciting? You go to a Hillary thing, and it’s like boring.”
By now the candidate’s supporters acted more like informers and seemed eager to be the first to spot the next imposter, shouting, “Out! Out!”
One woman was dragged out screaming, “I didn’t do anything!” The whole culture of the rally reminded me of that scene in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, when the rock star protagonist fantasises he’s a dictator and his concert is a neo-Nazi rally; then his followers proceed to attack minorities.
Also during his 70-minute talk, Trump addressed his poll numbers, his recent TIME magazine covers, and his now legendary promise to build a giant wall and make Mexico pay for it.
He pivoted to accuse Sanders of wanting to raise taxes to 90 percent. And then, he ratcheted up his now-familiar vow to eliminate gun-free zones by shouting his pledge: “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools … on my first day!”
He crested with his usual big finish, “We are going to make America great again!” Enemy territory or not, the crowd here roared its consent. “We are going to make America great again!”
Nate Gowdy is a photographer covering the US election campaign.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.