At Donald Trump’s final rally of the 2020 campaign, thousands of supporters trudged through muddy fields and waited in endless lines to hear the president speak, on the eve of what could be his defeat – or the start of another four years.
Trump delivered his speech at midnight in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a critical swing state where the president is hoping for a repeat of 2016, when he unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton.
In the darkness, as temperatures dipped to 40F (4C), Trump’s supporters were upbeat and optimistic, but many also said they were expecting unrest in the wake of the election.
“There’s going to be violence either way,” whether Trump or Biden wins, said Angela Young, 43. As a gun owner from a small town in Michigan, she said, she was not worried about her personal safety. But the prospect of election-related violence in the United States was “straight-up unacceptable”.
It was less than a month after prosecutors foiled a rightwing plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan and put her on trial for treason, but rally attendees were more focused on the risk of renewed protests from the left in response to a Trump victory. “Lock her up!” the Grand Rapids crowd chanted early in the night, at a mention of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s name.
A 78-year-old woman, who declined to give her name, said it was her very first Trump rally. She came with her 48-year-old daughter, both from Byron Center, Michigan, and said they were both “optimistic” about Trump’s victory but anxious about violence from “the other side” if he should win.
Other Trump supporters echoed the concerns about what might happen after the election.
“If Trump wins, you know they’re going to be in the streets, rioting,” a 57-year-old man said. He was from an area north of Flint, Michigan, which had not seen a lot of unrest during the protests over the summer. He also declined to give his name.
“I’d hate to think there’d be violence and rioting from anyone on our side, but I can see it happening,” the man added.
Trump supporters were frustrated at the constant attacks on the president, but they had been “restrained” and “sitting back” for a long time, the man said.
“It’s been boiling for four years,” he said.
One seat over on the risers, Mark, 19, from Downriver, Michigan, was more optimistic. If Trump won, he said, he could imagine people with Trump signs in front of their houses getting their cars vandalized, but, he hoped, the “disruption out of the left” would be nothing much worse than that.
A group of men behind him in line for the Trump rally had been discussing the same thing, the 19-year-old said, with one man saying that he was afraid to put a Trump sign in his yard because he might be targeted.
An hour away, in Lansing, one of Michigan’s black state Democratic representatives had been preparing for an election day spent monitoring the polls in black neighborhoods for voter intimidation. There are fears of men with guns showing up at the polls, after a Michigan court overruled the secretary of state from banning open carrying of firearms at polling places.
“There is a little anxiety in our community over whether people are going to be able to vote safely,” state representative Sarah Anthony said in an interview Monday afternoon.
Some people were also concerned that if Trump lost the election, there could be renewed armed rightwing protests at Michigan’s capitol, such as the demonstrations against the coronavirus lockdowns this spring, Anthony said.
“As a leader, you know, you don’t want to fuel these kinds of theories and rumors and things, you want to create a sense of calm. But what we’ve learned from 2020 is that everything needs to be considered.”
More than 2.6 million Michigan voters have turned in their absentee ballots by Sunday evening.
Trump’s rally echoed the end to his campaign in 2016, which he also closed in Grand Rapids.
“You better get out and vote tomorrow,” Trump warned the crowd just before 1am. “I’ll be so angry, I’ll never come back.”