Home Opinion What it’s like being a journalist at a Donald Trump rally: unsettling

What it’s like being a journalist at a Donald Trump rally: unsettling

The Collegiate Photo Editor John Rothwell (left) stands next to local photographer Paul Jendrasiak at a Donald Trump event at the DeltaPlex Arena in December 2015.

As an aspiring 50-year-old male photojournalist, I have been in some situations that have scared me.

There was the time I was on a photo stand at an indoor midget sprint car race and one of the cars crashed into the stand causing it to collapse with several of us photographers on it.

Another time I was up on a catwalk up in the rafters of an old arena trying to get an overhead shot. The catwalk did not have a secure railing and seemed to rock back and forth.

Another time I was strapped in the door gunner’s position of a Huey helicopter and the pilot kept making steep turns making me feel like I was going to fall out.

All of these situations were scary, but none of them caused the fear I felt covering the Donald Trump rally in Grand Rapids last December.

Walking into the DeltaPlex with camera equipment, I first had to go through metal detectors. My camera equipment was searched by Secret Service and then smelled by dogs. After entering the arena I was directed to a media pen about three-quarters of the way back from the stage. This area was fenced in and had risers in the front for photographers and a work area behind the risers for those using laptops and other devices.

Staking out my position on the riser I was placed next to a crew from NBC and two local photographers from Grand Rapids, covering the event for their respective publications.

As the building started to fill, I noticed that the crowd was not a representation of the America I see on a daily basis. It was an all-white crowd mostly middle aged, or older, males. Not even close to the mixtures of ages, races and genders I see around Grand Rapids.

The rally began with the singing of the National Anthem, a prayer, and a local Eagle Scout display.

The crowd was getting loud and rambunctious as the announcement was made.

“Grand Rapids please welcome our next president Donald J Trump.”

Looking through the camera lens, I snapped photos as Trump took the stage repeatedly saying, “We love Michigan, We love Michigan.”

Trump worked the crowd into a frenzy with his promise to build more cars in Michigan and talking about how we as a state are going to start winning again. He also talked about Lindsey Graham leaving the race.

“Everybody that goes against us should go down the tubes,” Trump said.

As Trump continued on he started talking about how Russia’s Vladimir Putin was saying nice things about him. Trump said somebody asked him if he was offended by Putin saying nice things about him.

“No, No,” Trump replied.

This is where it started getting scary for me.

Trump went on to talk about how someone brought up the fact that Putin has killed reporters.

“I don’t like that, I am totally against that. By the way, I hate some of these people but I would never kill them…I’ll be honest I will never kill them, I would never do that…” Trump said, pausing dramatically. “No I wouldn’t. I would never kill them, but I do hate them and some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true, it’s true.”

Taking in Trump’s every word, the crowd turned and looked back at us in the media pen cheering louder than they had all night.

It seemed like they, at any second, would erupt at Trump’s prompting. He didn’t say “attack!” Or “throw them out of here,” but I was truly scared for my life at that moment not knowing what was going to come next from the crowd.

Trump changed the subject to something about Hillary Clinton then as a protester raised his voice Trump started talking about how the media will only report about the protester being ejected from his rally and how the camera will only show that.

Trump demanded that the cameras show the audience and once again hundreds of his supporters turned and faced us in the pen.

For the second time that night I was fearful again, waiting for the words of attack to come from the mouth of Donald Trump.

I do not recall much more of the stump speech he delivered that night. There was one point he did called it a “love fest.”

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if anyone has ever felt like they were going to die at a love fest?


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