In August, Steve Mumford attended two rallies for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president of the United States. Mumford went to Portland, Maine, and Fredericksburg, Virginia, to draw the crowds, the fans, and the candidate himself as the election season drew to a close. The rally in Portland was held just over a week after the Democratic convention, when Trump trailed Hillary Clinton by 8 points in national polls. By the time of the Fredericksburg rally, two weeks later, Trump had begun closing the gap.
Though these two rallies proceeded without major incident, Trump events have been marred by dozens of violent clashes between his supporters and his opponents. At a single rally in September, in Asheville, North Carolina, five people were arrested, and a warrant was issued for a man who assaulted a sixty-nine-year-old woman using an oxygen tank. Trump himself has tacitly endorsed such violence throughout his campaign — in February he promised to pay legal fees for anyone willing to “knock the crap” out of hecklers, and expressed his desire to “punch [a protester] in the face.” Violent and bigoted language is widespread among his rallygoers; it’s not uncommon to hear calls for Hillary Clinton, Muslim Americans, or Mexican Americans to be put to death.
Trump continues to draw massive audiences, far surpassing the attendance at Clinton’s events. And while the Democratic candidate has opted for lower-profile fund-raising events, Trump’s rallies, with their fuming, overblown rhetoric and inclination toward violence, have helped generate billions of dollars in free media coverage.