Dozens of UC Irvine students and two UCI Police units joined the crowd of protesters outside of Donald Trump’s campaign rally at the Orange County Fairgrounds Thursday night, where at least 17 protesters were arrested after members of the crowd smashed a patrol car, threw rocks at vehicles and tagged Fairgrounds property with anti-Trump messages.
Trump’s first California campaign rally was set to start at 7 p.m., but many ticket-holding supporters were turned away at the door after the venue reached capacity. Simultaneously, hundreds of Trump protesters gathered outside the entrance of the Pacific Amphitheater waving American and Mexican flags and sporting signs with various anti-Trump and pro-immigrant messages, including “Human Beings Aren’t Illegal” and “Damn Donald, Back at it Again With the White Supremacy.”
Costa Mesa police officers mounted on horseback formed a barrier between supporters and protesters after verbal altercations between the groups broke out. At one point, a Trump supporter argued his anti-immigration viewpoints with an 8-year-old immigrant boy until a crowd of onlookers pushed them apart.
The protest continued outside the amphitheater until around 7:45 p.m., when Orange County Sheriff officers arrived and surrounded the crowd. About 30 minutes later, after being herded by police towards a Fairgrounds parking lot, many anti-Trump demonstrators began trickling into the streets and stopping traffic. Two groups of protesters formed: one at the intersection of Fair and Fairview, and the other in front of the on-ramp to the 55 freeway.
Over the course of the next hour hundreds of people, mostly college-aged or Latino, brought traffic to a near standstill at the intersection. Several protesters climbed to the top of the traffic light on Fair, while others made their way to the top of the OC Fairgrounds sign waving anti-Trump posters and Mexican flags and donning Guy Fawkes masks.
“Fights…are breaking out, protestors are in the street tagging signs. To be honest, it hasn’t been a very organized protest,” said one UCI student in attendance who wished to remain anonymous. “But it does show the power of the people.”
Shortly after 9 p.m., police began warning protesters that they would be arrested if they did not leave under the “authority of the people of California,” to which one protester shouted, “We are the people of California!”
Soon after the declaration, demonstrators aggressively dismantled a parked Costa Mesa police car by smashing its front window, stomping on its roof and attempting to flip it over.
By 9:20 p.m., over 200 law enforcement officers flooded the fairgrounds, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. A full squad of Orange County riot control officers equipped with batons and tear gas launchers drove demonstrators from the intersection eastward down Fair Drive in an attempt to break up the protest.
A Costa Mesa PD officer clad in riot gear said that a police presence of this magnitude is “unusual” for Orange County, and generally only happens during very large or controversial events.
As part of the Orange County Mutual Aid response system, the UCI Police Department deployed two UCIPD units to the Fairgrounds “to assist with law enforcement issues” late during the protest, according to UCIPD Chief Jorge Cisneros.
By 11 p.m., a tweet from the OC Sheriff’s department confirmed that the crowd had dissipated.
17 people were arrested over the course of the night following only minor physical confrontations.
Vice President of UCI’s College Republicans, Peter Van Voorhis, attended the rally as a Ted Cruz supporter. He argues that the size and fervor of anti-Trump protests indicate that the candidate “is not fit to be president.”
“It was literally anarchy,” said Van Voorhis after the protest broke up. “Everyone was screaming, a guy got punched, a cop car was destroyed…the anger of both the protesters and the supporters says something about not only Orange County, but nationwide, that people on both sides are disillusioned with their country.”