Donald Trump speaks at the Austin Convention Center for the American Freedom Tour on May 14, 2022 (Photos by Maggie Quinlan)
Whatever I tell you next about the American Freedom Tour’s stopover in Austin, it should be taken in this context: When a former President of the United States speaks, the reporters should be there. But, in this case, as Donald Trump himself said at the May 14 event, “We didn’t want the press to come, so we kept them out and they went crazy.”
If getting a general public ticket and spending nine straight hours at a Trump event is your definition of “gone crazy,” he got me there. This day started with my only pair of low-rise, bootcut, dazzling jeans and a pair of non-flashy cowboy boots, to be discreet, I thought. It turned out to be too lively a look. For most of the day, the convention center was quiet and seats were around 50% full, with rows of Jumbotrons evenly spaced so that every speaker was projected throughout.
“We kept the press away and they went crazy,” Trump said, then, as I lifted my phone 2 feet above my head for a full shot of the crowd, he said. continued something like, “but we know they snuck their phones back there.”
A young man who was also alone and also wearing cowboy boots (and probably not a journalist in disguise?) leaned into mine from his seat early in the day and said, “I feel that these events need a younger energy like a baby boomer show,” to which I responded by offering a “yeah” laughing before quietly, like a normal person would, typing what he just said in my phone.
After clapping as quietly as possible at a few dumb jokes (Hollywood curator Kevin Sorbo bragged about meeting President Obama at a golf game and saying, “I’m sorry, sir, you played golf more than any other president,” to which everyone, no irony, laughs), I jumped in an hour-long line to have lunch with a woman I met who we’ll call Tammy . Very beautiful woman. Very devoted to her family. Gave me a very solid pot roast recipe. Anyway, Tammy was also alone there and snuck me into a nicer seating area. I told her that I “worked on editing” and when she asked me for more details, I admitted “for The Austin ChronicleThat didn’t seem to ring any alarm bells, and by then I’d learned all of her family drama and disclosed some embarrassment myself.
About every other speaker came with an in-person infomercial. A guy told a touching story about memorizing the names of every soldier killed in Afghanistan. He was selling a course on how you too can memorize names better. A guy sold inner circle lunches with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (It wasn’t Pompeo himself, who also spoke.) One guy sold courses on the stock market and another set up a QR code that anyone could subscribe to. The old timesthe far-right media outlet of the Falun Gong religious movement.
A woman in front of me uses a QR code to subscribe to a far-right newspaper/conspiracy mill The old times
A speaker has set up a QR code that anyone can subscribe to The old timesthe far-right media outlet of the Falun Gong religious movement.
When the crowd reached its peak – about an hour before the event ended – came the 15-minute spiel to donate to Trump, also via QR code. “Freedom is not free. Think about it. Think about it. What is the cost of freedom? Everyone here today can help with at least $20. … You have to give with everything you have … I see people all over the room with their phones out. [If your neighbor’s isn’t out] pat them on the shoulder. … Everyone should pull out their phone. Did you come here today to watch or participate?” To the credit of the crowd, some people started booing after a few minutes of that. But others pulled out their phones. “The president needs you now. … We need you more than ever. We are all here right now because we are called to be here. … It takes money to win the hearts and minds of people across the country.”
Between infomercials, the big-name talent did his warm-up acts. Pompeo said: “We are the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.” Rocker Ted Nugent encouraged the crowd to ‘get mad at the skulls of the Democrats’ and reminded people that ‘you stop violent crime’ by ‘keeping them locked up or giving them two in the chest when they come you look for”.
Kimberly Guilfoyle — former prosecutor, Fox News personality, girlfriend of Don Jr., ex-wife of Gavin Newsom — is frighteningly good at what she does. She used an expert repeat cadence with the same melodic form of an air raid siren (slipping up, speaking in a tense monotone, sinking at the end, and repeating). When Guilfoyle wasn’t on one of those roles, she said funny and not-at-all-cult lines like “Your King MAGA is coming.” Overall, she was absolutely mesmerizing and seemed like the chosen bearer of the apocalyptic messages — probably because, as Tammy pointed out, “she’s so beautiful.”
Guilfoyle said things (again, think air raid siren) like, “Trump knew the importance of standing up to China. … If China controls Taiwan, it owns the world economy almost overnight. next day.” And other things like, “The Paris Climate Accord doesn’t hold China accountable and puts us at a disadvantage.”
Don Jr. lapping
Don Jr. followed his girlfriend with dad jokes, walked on stage and excused Joe Biden for his soft policies — the border, the withdrawal from Afghanistan — because, he said, it’s really his team that makes those decisions. “He’s not Joe Biden. He doesn’t remember where he is 50% of the time. … It would be funny if he wasn’t the leader of the free world. It would be funny if he didn’t have the nuclear codes.” He then talked about toddlers learning “the intimate details of sexuality” (everyone booed) and posited that Joe Biden’s administration is “so crazy, maybe it’s a signal of alarm”.
When Donald Trump took the stage, everyone’s phones came out to capture him and I obviously stood up to take a picture of the crowd, because I was a not-so-secret reporter. Others in the back of the room seemed like real fans, but I made eye contact with a guy in a Hawaiian shirt with an iPhone sticking out of his chest pocket (clear recording). He looked terrified of me, and I thought he was also a journalist. (The Hawaiian shirt, popular with racist “boogaloo boys,” might have been his undercover attempt.) And then I started thinking maybe I should be scared too.
“Your King MAGA is coming.” – Kimberly Guilfoyle, Fox News demigod
That’s when Trump made the comment ‘we held them off and they went crazy’ then, as I lifted my phone 2 feet above my head for a take full view of the crowd, he continued, something like “but we know they snuck in with their phones there.”
“HAHAHAHA,” I laughed maniacally to show how much of a non-journalist I am, before quickly returning to my seat with Tammy.
Trump spoke for about an hour, detailing what he considered to be one of the best deals of his career to save taxpayers’ money, as well as statements of grandeur such as “We created peace in the Middle East. ,” and “We had the most secure border in the history of our country” and “We got drugs down to the lowest level in decades.”
Through it all, I stood when other people stood and sat when other people sat, just like I did in church as a child. Then Trump had something more to say about the media — or, as he put it, pointing to the back where I had gone, “those fakers.” About 25 male heads in the crowd turned. Some got up and walked towards them. I heard the repeated knocks of the doors opening and closing. I don’t think there were any altercations, but the risk is obvious (even for people who are honest Trump fans just trying to live stream for their families).
So what did we learn that day? Tammy is a hardworking mom. The war with China is scary. Russia is scary. Iran is scary. Mexico is scary. Don Jr. is pretty funny and his girlfriend is a powerful demigod. Trump wants your money and so does everyone helping him on this tour. But above all, they work very hard to bring Republicans to the polls. Trump talked about a million things, as he likes to do, but his clearest message was this: “Prepare to work, prepare to fight, prepare to win and win like never before. We will take back the house, we will take back the Senate and we will take back our country.”