RALEIGH, N.C. — The protesters who repeatedly interrupted Donald Trump’s rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Friday night organized themselves on Facebook the week prior, according to one of the protesters.
A private Facebook group was formed within two hours of the rally being announced, Romain Stanley said in an interview. The interested individuals further coordinated through conference calls and online communication after that.
The group, a collection of individual activists, planned to stage an external and internal protest at the Raleigh arena, during which people seated all over the venue would interrupt the speech at roughly five-minute increments, Stanley said.
“Exactly what we planned is exactly what we got, a lot of news organizations are talking about the protests, about it being the largest to date,” Stanley said.
The 10 separate interruptions began about five minutes into the speech and continued until the GOP front-runner’s closing lines nearly 45 minutes later, as different individuals and groups — strategically placed in different locations all around the more than 7,000-person capacity auditorium — caused disturbances with signs and chants.
Authorities removed about 25 protesters from the event, according to Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. Western Wake Fire Rescue Capt. Brian Egan said the capacity crowd numbered about 7,800. No arrests were made, according to Harrison.
Stanley has been affiliated with organizing groups throughout North Carolina for three years, he said, including the NAACP and black leadership organizations.
He also is an Air Force veteran — and that’s partly how he chose his moment to chant “Trump’s a coward.”
“What happened for me was he was talking about Syrian refugees and building a wall and he was trying to make a point about veterans, and I was going to go at that time because I’m a veteran and it was bothering me what he was saying,” Stanley said. “He was going on about refugees and hate speech, and I just took the opportunity when the crowd died down to call him a coward”
Stanley tweeted about being roughed up as he was escorted out of the rally, and said he was pushed and kicked at times.
Once he began chanting, he said, a man in the crowd tried to cover his mouth. As he fended off the man, another audience member began pulling him backward, at which point the shoving and kicking from a couple of other audience members took place. Security pushed him out of the building, he said, and eventually he was escorted off the premises.
“It was really scary,” Stanley said.
Living Ultra Violet put out a press release on Saturday describing the protests, also saying it was a coordinated effort.
“The #LoveNotHate demonstration was a joint grassroots effort by a diverse group of individuals and organizations from across North Carolina, including local Anonymous chapters, NC students, Black Lives Matter activists, Living Ultra-Violet organizers, members of Showing Up for Racial Justice, and other future-driven organizations,” the release said.
The release decried “Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric.”
Stanley said conversations were continuing Saturday as the activists debriefed and discussed tactics should Trump return to North Carolina.
Trump, for his part, calmly continued through each protest, downplaying the significance of the small number of individuals interrupting the event. But the rally was on the shorter end of his usual length and he began taking questions from the audience much earlier in his event than typical. He also appeared to grow frustrated — at one point imploring security to take the individuals to the nearest exit instead of “walking them through the whole place.”
The GOP frontrunner also said he thought he could convince the protesters to join his cause.
“If I could speak to these four people, I’d say, ‘Look, you may be a Democrat, you may be a liberal, who cares, we’re going to make our country strong, we’re going to make it good,” Trump said. “I really think I could talk sense into them. … But remember there’s only four people.”