Penn State

Trump rally at Penn State starts peacefully, gets heated

Bull-Moose Party of Penn State invites fellow students to talk

Penn State supporters of Donald Trump build a freedom of speech wall around the American flag outside of Old Main on Tuesday, November 1, 2016.
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Penn State supporters of Donald Trump build a freedom of speech wall around the American flag outside of Old Main on Tuesday, November 1, 2016.

Their goals were simple — spark interest in the presidential election, discuss policy and support Donald Trump.

That was the scene for about an hour Tuesday at Old Main’s lawn. It’s where the Bull-Moose Party of Penn State set up a wall with Trump-Pence signs around the American flag. Some students watched from afar and others confronted the group to talk.

A few detractors, however, approached the wall and tore apart the group’s signs. Penn State student Ricardo Rojas, who is an organizing fellow at the Pennsylvania Coordinated Democratic Campaign, brought a megaphone to protest the demonstration.

“In this country we do not discriminate; in this country we stand for freedom and equality,” Rojas shouted. “This garbage right here stands for none of that.”

One Trump supporter called Rojas a coward, while others asked him to come talk. Bull-Moose Party spokesman Chris Baker then directed members to stand within the wall, and Penn State Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims tried to calm the situation by talking with Rojas, Baker and Bull-Moose Party Chairman Robert Morss.

The crowd on the outside, seemingly waiting to see if something would happen, discussed the scene.

“I think that their dialogue is pretty clear that they’re separating themselves or isolating themselves,” Penn State student Joe Deptula said. “They say they want an open dialogue, but they’re not really showing it by building a wall around themselves. ... I see it as isolation where you see a lot of people standing on the outside looking in.”

Morss said the wall was supposed to serve two purposes: to symbolize protecting America and be a platform for others to write on it regardless of who they supported in the election.

“As far as my friends, I know they’re proud of and appreciate what we’re doing,” Morss said. “People who don’t really have a say in this election are kind of neutral. Folks that are against the Bull-Morse Party or Donald Trump, I invite (them) just like this wall is doing to have a discussion and let’s talk about policies. Let’s talk about who these candidates are. It’s all polite. It’s all cordial.”

Penn State students Wahdae Elliot and Jailyn Beaufort said some people would be insulted by the demonstration.

“I feel like it can be offensive to some people, because it is a wall,” Penn State student Jailyn Beaufort said. “The reason (Trump) wanted to build a wall is pretty controversial, but (Chris Baker) came over and talked to us.”

They called Baker, unlike most Trump supporters, friendly.

“I think he’s a nice a person (who’s) open-minded,” Elliott said. “I could have an open discussion with them if all Trump supporters were like him, but not all Trump supporters are like him. The majority of them are really brash and have a certain mindset where you can’t have a normal conversation. He’s the nicest Trump supporter I’ve ever met.”

The Trump supporters said they hoped to break a stigma of being abrasive and loud-mouthed, a reputation that the Republican nominee has sometimes enabled through his own rhetoric.

“When I became chairman of this club, the biggest thing I put forth with my platform was quiet professionalism,” Morss said. “There’s a huge stigma about Trump supporters that they’re just like cavemen and are violent, and that’s not the case.”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli