PORTLAND, Maine — The doors were scheduled to open at noon, but by 10 a.m. only a few dozen people were lined up in the bright sun outside the Merrill Auditorium.
Supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump stood around having calm political discussions, as men walked by selling bedazzled American flag hats, anti-Hillary Clinton T-shirts reading, "Lock Her Up," and, of course, every item of clothing you can imagine imprinted with "Make America Great Again." One salesman walked by saying, "Hillary for prison, hot chicks for Trump."
Two protesters with signs reading "Keep Hate Out Of Maine," stood on the other side of a barricade.
As the crowds continued to grow, increasingly more people began to sport the iconic red hats. Though chants of "U.S.A.," "Trump!" and "Lock her up!" occasionally built steam, many of the people who came to the event Thursday said they had not yet decided who to vote for.
"I just bought this hat to beat the sun," one man, who declined to give his name, told BuzzFeed News. Another woman, Krystie, who kindly offered a slice of pizza but declined to give her last name, said she was there because she had never been to a political event and her son's 19-year-old friend, a Trump supporter, had offered to take her. Krystie said she didn't like Trump's attitude toward women, but she wanted to "see what he has to say, not just in TV clips."
Some of the attendees at Thursday's rally said they previously supported former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and are now undecided. Trump acknowledged their presence during his speech, expressing confidence that many of Sanders' supporters would soon become his, "even though he did sell out."
But when Trump asked how many Sanders supporters were present, only a handful responded vocally. Earlier, a man who was heard chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" followed by a loud "that's how you find them out and beat them down."
Michael Regan, a 27-year-old self-professed former Sanders supporter, told BuzzFeed News he will back a third-party candidate but wanted to come to the rally to "experience this type of environment."
At Trump's first mention of his immigration policies, a row of young people stood up holding pocket-Constitutions, in reference to Khizr Khan's speech at the DNC criticizing Trump. The group was quickly booed and escorted out of the event by security.
"This doesn't happen that often anymore," Trump said to laughter after the protesters had cleared the building. "I almost miss my protesters."
Shortly afterward around four more individuals, scattered throughout the auditorium, were removed for holding up the Constitution or calling Trump a racist. Each time, supporters booed, chanted "U.S.A." and often responded by yelling, "You're a racist!" back at the demonstrators.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.