Politics & Government

Hickory braces for Donald Trump rally

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as he speaks during a campaign stop at the Savannah Center, Sunday, March 13, 2016, in West Chester, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as he speaks during a campaign stop at the Savannah Center, Sunday, March 13, 2016, in West Chester, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) AP

As Donald Trump readies his remarks for a campaign stop in Hickory Monday morning, the small city an hour northwest of Charlotte is bracing for demonstrations – and even for the possibility of violence, which has marked recent Trump appearances.

Trump’s campaign announced Friday that it would hold the event at Lenoir-Rhyne University at 10 a.m. Monday.

Adding to the logistical hurdles of a campaign rally, the Republican frontrunner’s events have been interrupted by protesters for months. Last week, the protests sparked physical violence.

At a rally in Fayetteville last week, at least 14 protesters got the crowd’s notice, including one who authorities say was sucker-punched as he was being escorted out by police. Trump had previously offered to pay the legal bills of rally attendees who get physical with protesters. On Sunday, the candidate said he has “instructed my people” to explore the possibility of paying legal bills for 78-year-old John Franklin of Linden, who is charged with assault.

And on Friday night in Chicago, an organized group of protesters clashed with Trump supporters before the candidate spoke, resulting in the event being canceled over security concerns.

In a statement from Lenoir-Rhyne University, organizers said they were working with the U.S. Secret Service and local law enforcement to provide security but wouldn’t go into details. Catawba Sheriff Coy Reid said his agency was assisting the Hickory Police Department, but he declined to provide specifics. “I really can’t go into that,” he said.

It’s unclear if Hickory police have called in more help. The department has about 150 total employees. The Catawba Sheriff’s Office has fewer than 50 patrol deputies, and half of them work nights, according to an organizational chart.

Meanwhile, several protest groups were gearing up to attend Monday’s rally. A Facebook group for people looking to protest Trump in Hickory had garnered interest from nearly 500 people.

Asheville Showing Up For Racial Justice held a conference call Sunday night in response to the rally. The group’s plans were incomplete late Sunday.

Lutheran Bishop Timothy Marcus Smith said he plans to attend the rally wearing his clerical collar and his bishop’s cross.

“I would be deeply honored to be the one escorted out or even punched out as the heckler that Trump so condescendingly points out at each rally,” Smith said in a post on Facebook. “I will stand there, pray, sing, march, chant, wave signs, whatever I need to do and with whatever consequence to say, ‘This is not who we are. …’ 

The Trump campaign rally starts at 10 a.m., and the doors to Lenoir-Rhyne’s P.E. Monroe Auditorium will open at 7 a.m. Tickets are available online at www.donaldjtrump.com.

Staff writer Tim Funk contributed.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson

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