For the Guardian, I wrote about the St. Louis Trump rally, and how easily a line of polite and friendly Trump fans transformed into a violent mob hurling racist slurs:
Some fans drove through the night from nearby states, including Indiana and Illinois, to arrive at dawn. Others camped out overnight to ensure their places in line, like attendees at a Star Wars convention tinged with more fascism than stormtrooper costumes usually provide. The rest of the rally-goers nervously clutched their tickets, firm in their belief that they had followed the rules and would get to see the candidate – only to find by noon that their hero had overbooked the event. They were stranded in the plaza outside.
But denied entry does not disqualify attendees from participation in the Trump experience. A Trump rally is communal fury, in which men and women and children who stand obediently in line transform into an angered mob when they gather en masse. Surrounded by protesters and barred from the Peabody by a line of police, they listened to the voice of their leader booming from speakers – and they talked back, first with worship, then with rage.
Trump is notorious for sequestering the media in an area that limits their interaction with the crowd. To experience the rally first-hand, I got a ticket and stood in line with everyone else. When you spend two hours talking with Trump fans who also assume you are a Trump fan, you see and hear things you would not from the perch with the press. As a white St Louis woman, I blended in easily – in general, there’s nothing remarkable or uniform about Trump fans, other than their overwhelming whiteness. (In a crowd of thousands, I spotted roughly a dozen who were not white.)
Outside the Peabody, “the banality of evil” was scrawled on protesters’ signs – a quote from the political theorist Hannah Arendt, who wrote about life under the Nazi regime: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
Trump’s campaign is a study in the mob mentality, how people who would normally act with kindness and compassion can turn cruel in response to the rhetoric of their leader, or in retaliation to those who oppose him.
Also, check out the Storify of my live-tweeting of the Trump experience. (And thanks again to journalist King Kaufman for curating it.)