The scene at Anaheim City Hall Tuesday in many ways resembled a typical rally thrown by Republican presidential candidate Donald J Trump.
There were flashes of violence between pro and anti-Trump protesters, verbal bashings of undocumented immigrants and Muslims, and even a finger-pointing condemnation of the reporters penned up in the back of the City Council chambers.
But there was one big difference – Trump wasn’t there. He was 3,000 miles away celebrating primary victories on the East Coast and likely oblivious to the whole show.
The usual media circus and volatile mix of protesters surrounding the Donald came together in Anaheim because of a resolution proposed by Councilwoman Kris Murray condemning Trump’s “divisive rhetoric.”
Murray said it was important for the council to take a stand against the GOP front-runner’s comments during one of the most raucous presidential campaign seasons in recent memory, particularly since Anaheim’s residents are majority Latino and the city is home to one of the country’s largest Muslim populations. Murray said she wanted to give voice to the “voiceless” victims of Trump’s rhetoric.
Trump started his insurgent campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and killers, outraging many but attracting a large swath of the Republican base. He later called for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
Murray ultimately backed off after dozens of public speakers – including Trump supporters and residents who said they didn’t like Trump – criticized the resolution as an inappropriate intervention by the city government into a U.S. presidential campaign.
“Any staff time that was dedicated to this issue should be billed directly to you [Murray],” said Jeanine Robbins, an Anaheim resident who said she didn’t like Trump’s rhetoric.
Murray suggested removing Trump’s name from the resolution and broadening it to include all divisive rhetoric uttered by candidates in the presidential race. But she couldn’t get support from her colleagues. Mayor Tom Tait argued it was a materially different resolution that should be taken up at a future meeting so members of the public could weigh in.
In the end, the council voted 3-2 to take no action on any resolutions. Tait and council members James Vanderbilt and Lucille Kring voted in the majority, while Murray and Councilman Jordan Brandman were opposed.
Hours earlier, pro and anti-Trump protesters reportedly clashed outside City Hall. A grandmother and her two young daughters – all Trump supporters – were pepper sprayed by an anti-Trump supporter, according to witnesses. And television news broadcasts showed a pro-Trump supporter going after someone with a taser.
The chaos continued to flare inside the council chambers, with several face-offs between pro and anti-Trump activists. At one point, the mayor ordered two men to leave the chambers after an altercation involving a video camera.
Trump supporters denied that their candidate for president was a racist and went so far as to describe him as “pure-hearted” and “kind.” They said he just wants to control the nation’s borders and vet the people coming into the country, and that he isn’t beholden to wealthy campaign donors or “politically correct” thinking.
They also accused the Anaheim council of trying to restrict the free speech rights of their favored candidate.
“I have a right to live in a country free of illegal immigrant invasion,” said Wes Parker, a Bellflower resident. He added that Trump would unite families in Mexico by deporting immigrants from the U.S.
“Donald Trump will bring joy and happiness to the whole world,” Parker said.
Only a handful of speakers supported Murray’s resolution outright. Among them was former council candidate Bill Dalati, who said Murray’s resolution had been “misread” as trying to prevent Trump from being elected president.
Dalati’s four children spoke after him and, as they referred to Islam as a religion of peace, Trump supporters jeered at them.
“I’m 14, but I’m acting way more mature and respectful than the people on this side,” one of his daughters shot back.
And as Trump supporters shouted her down, city resident and Arab-American activist Rida Hamida invited them to dine in Little Arabia, a stretch of Brookhurst dotted with Arab shops and restaurants.
When the debate shifted to the council, Tait said it wasn’t the business of the Anaheim council to be taking positions on specific presidential candidates, saying there’s supposed to be an “iron wall” between government and political campaigns.
“It’s a political action we’re not supposed to take,” Tait said. “It’s divisive, and it’s politics. It doesn’t belong in a government building.”
Murray disagreed, saying she didn’t call for the resolution for “any political purpose.” She said she was merely trying to take a stand on behalf of her residents.
“Hate speech cannot be couched, it cannot be excused as straight talk,” Murray said.
And although she lost in her bid to adopt the resolution, Murray said she nonetheless had a personal message for Trump.
“We can never keep our nation great by dividing our nation,” she said.
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