The scene outside the Arsht Center last night was, predictably, a circus. As part one of the 20-candidate Democratic presidential debates got underway, the Proud Boys, a Q-Anon guy, and several proud "deplorables" mingled with Twitter castaway Laura Loomer on one side of Biscayne Boulevard. On the other side stood the Miami Democratic Socialists of America, climate activists in swim goggles, "Hands Off Venezuela" folks, and a guy with a sign comparing abortion to the Holocaust. The groups were mostly drowned out by a street preacher yelling that only Jesus can save America — something the Trump people didn't like.
There were no real clashes between the various groups during the evening, although some on the progressive side had trained for just that. Volunteer "peacekeepers" donning bright orange vests chaperoned protesters as they made their way from Freedom Tower to the Arsht Center. One of those peacekeepers, David Laws, said protesting had taken on a new dimension under the Trump administration, often ending in violence and requiring police involvement.
"My wife is here tonight, and she's pregnant. Busloads of Trump supporters are going to be right next to us, and that's scary," Laws said. "But it's not going to stop us. Our mission and our message are too important."
David is volunteering to help with crowd control and is marching on the Arsht Center with the progressive coalition. pic.twitter.com/N1qxvZ9lKV— Manuel Madrid (@manueljmadrid) June 26, 2019
Progressives made their way up Biscayne Boulevard, staying on the left-hand sidewalk. A few blocks ahead, a MAGA flag could be seen waving on the right-hand side. Progressives lined up across the street from the Trump crowd, chanting, "No Pence. No Trump. No KKK. No fascists!" Climate activists, holding a green "DECLARE CLIMATE EMERGENCY" banner, joined in the protests. Progressives crossed the street and passed by Trump supporters gathered at the corner of 13th Street and Biscayne, trading insults and continuing their chants. Among the pro-Trump ranks was none other than Michael the Black Man, flanked by two men holding "Blacks for Trump 2020" signs.
Michael the Black Man is here with Blacks for Trump. pic.twitter.com/Nvqb0GYQ4O— Manuel Madrid (@manueljmadrid) June 26, 2019
Police made sure to keep the progressives moving. The group took a left on Bayshore Drive before settling on the grass near the corner of Bayshore and 14th. There they joined activists protesting the Homestead migrant children's camp and throngs of progressives clutching #GreenNewDeal signs crowded around the Young Turks' Cenk Uygur. The demonstration against the Homestead shelter was the most elaborate of the night: a chainlink fence with protest signs peeking over from behind, meant to replicate the barriers around the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children.
The Homestead facility is quickly becoming a de facto campaign stop for Democratic presidential candidates. Activists say the attention the shelter is receiving from national politicians means everything to them.
Anti-Homestead protestors here. Multiple Dem candidates have gone by the detention center this week. pic.twitter.com/Q5fI4HyuN5— Manuel Madrid (@manueljmadrid) June 26, 2019
Some Trump fans eventually crossed the street to snag free, blue ice cream from the Biden campaign, which had been given the absurd name of "Joe Cones."
At one point, Laura Loomer and InfoWars "reporter" Jacob Engels — an all-but-admitted Proud Boy — lined up face-to-face with progressive coalitions. Loomer bemoaned having been "blacklisted" and asked why liberals hate free speech. The progressive group was larger than the alt-right contingent, and the two groups eventually dispersed after Uygur finished his speech. Engel had tried his best to disrupt it by with taunts of "Orange man bad," but was largely ignored.
Laura Loomer joins Jacob Engels and the pro-Trump group, who are now lined up face-to-face with progressive coalitions. “You’re so brave online! Let’s go! Are you brave now?” asks Engels. pic.twitter.com/qpt0iPO4rm— Manuel Madrid (@manueljmadrid) June 27, 2019
More than a hundred Trump supporters came to Miami on the Brightline, which they'd dubbed the "Trump Train." One woman said the group took up four cars. They carried signs blasting socialism, calling for the wall to be built, and declaring Democrats the "party of corruption."
There were predictable chants of "Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!" and "No Sharia law!" In an odd flourish, one man strummed a guitar while another ranted into a microphone about socialism.
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Trump side has a guy playing the guitar while another guy talks about socialism pic.twitter.com/Erb73XZlEV— Brittany Shammas (@britsham) June 26, 2019
Fermin Vazquez, who held a flag emblazoned with a gun and the words, "Come and take it," told a New Times reporter that Trump is the best president "in the history of the United States." Melania Trump is the most beautiful woman "in the history of the First Lady," he added, and Barron Trump will be president in 2052. He said he likes everything Trump is doing.
Fermin Vazquez says Trump is the best president in history and Melania the most beautiful First Lady pic.twitter.com/3L8Wl0wg0c— Brittany Shammas (@britsham) June 27, 2019
By about 9:30, with the debate underway inside the Arsht Center, the crowds outside had mostly died down. A few Trump supporters remained on the corner of Biscayne and 13th for a while, laughing at "Faux-cahontas" and "that fake Mexican Beto." A group biking up Biscayne stopped to flip off the Trump supporters, who returned the favor, before going on their way. It was a fitting end to a bizarre night.