It’s been one year since the Republican Party began in earnest its strategy to retake the White House. And while the presumptive nominee was not who most people believed would hoist the mantle of party leader, the GOP is set for, arguably, one of its most contentious and controversial conventions—on the floor and in the street—in modern times.
The list of protesters expected to converge on Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena on Monday range from disillusioned devotees to disaffected dissidents…and everyone is angry about some issue or another. Take Black Lives Matter (BLM), for instance. Their leaders warn of strident week-long protests not only in Cleveland but the following week in Philadelphia when the Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton to take on GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump in the battle for the Oval Office. Patrice Cullars, a co-founder of BLM, warned last year that “any opportunity we have to shut down [the] Republican convention, we will.”
BLM presence ‘loud and clear’
While making sure that the group’s voice will resonate “loud and clear,” Cullars has said that neither party is “off the hook” and BLM will specifically target Trump’s xenophobic stance on social issues, particularly as they relate to African Americans, Muslims, Mexicans and people of color in general. DeRay McKesson, perhaps the most visible leader within BLM, said last month that whoever is elected, his group has an “incredible opportunity to hold the next president accountable.”
BLM will mobilize protesters beginning on Monday. McKesson told CNN that the GOP’s reluctance to publicly address police brutality against African Americans will be one of the main topics of discussion that convention participants—and the viewing audience—can expect his group to focus on. He pulls no punches regarding the dissatisfaction his group harbors with both candidates: “I think this is an election between a candidate that people are rightly really concerned about and a candidate that is evil,” he said. “I think there will be protesters at the convention, whether they consider themselves as part of the [BLM] movement or consider themselves part of the public that doesn’t want a bigot and a racist man to be the next president.”
Quelling disruptive protests
Some BLM protesters will meet again with the same faces of law enforcement. In late 2014 in Cleveland, hundreds of protesters blocked traffic and essentially shut down downtown in response to the police shooting death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed after brandishing a pellet gun at a city park. Now, the local authorities (and their federal counterparts) have begun aggressively tracking individuals—including members of BLM—with agents visiting the homes of known area activists. Jocelyn Rosnick, an attorney with the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (they’re providing civil rights training and legal advice for activists intent on convention protests), last month told Mother Jones that her organization had received two dozen reports from activists who said they’d been visited by agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, Cleveland Police Department and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department to gather information about possible disruptive protests. Rosnick said some of the individuals told her that law enforcement agents have telephoned relatives, neighbors and places of employment asking about the activists’ whereabouts. “Most of the reports have come from people involved with Black Lives Matter or the Occupy Wall Street movements,” Rosnick said. “The people receiving these visits and calls have found them intimidating. It’s an harassment campaign.”
Expect heavy security
The Cleveland Police Department announced two weeks ago that it will deploy undercover officers in its security apparatus. In addition, an FBI spokesperson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the organization is not, as has been reported, conducting a sweeping surveillance campaign against activists but, rather, is operating a “community outreach” effort as part of security planning. “Law enforcement is reaching out to individuals known to the community who might have information that could help to ensure a safe and secure environment during the RNC,” the spokesperson explained. Politico has reported that law enforcement agencies are monitoring social media posting and tracking protest groups like BLM. Secret Service is using their own Twitter account to warn users about their commentary.
Cleveland has tried to recruit officers from other police agencies to increase levels to a minimum 5,000 officers during the one-week period. In total, the city is expected to spend $50 million in security, the bulk of the funds coming from the Republican National Committee (RNC) which was approved by Congress in December 2015. The convention has been designated as a National Special Security Event which makes the city eligible to receive federal funding. A portion of the money will purchase three horse trailers for mounted patrol, 2,400 CamelBaks for (hands-free) hydration, 300 Volcanic Vx7 bicycles, and 310 Bell Super Bike helmets. Most of it will pay for additional manpower, overtime pay for officers, aerial surveillance (drones), tactical vehicles, riot gear, etc.
Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, last month said city leaders have failed to provide timely equipment, training and outside help to the police department, particularly in light of the controversy surrounding the expected Trump nomination and any anticipated turmoil among demonstrators. The effort to recruit from outside agencies, Loomis said, has failed citing Greensboro, N.C. which backed out of an earlier agreement to send officers because they believe Cleveland is not prepared. “I want to hold their feet to the fire to get us the things my members need to do their jobs,” Loomis told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “And if this thing goes bad, we will be well on record on why it went bad.” Later, Loomis made a dire prediction in an interview with the national Sinclair Broadcasting Network’s “Full Measure” stating, “There’s definitely going to be guys that are going to get hurt. The city has a responsibility—and a duty—to provide us with the gear, training and numbers we need to do our job.”
Judge strikes ‘event zone’
On Sunday, Charles Ramsey, one of the co-chairs of President Obama’s task force in community policing and former Philadelphia police commissioner, told NBC’s Chuck Todd he doesn’t think either convention will occur “without some incident” taking place. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s what I personally think. I hope that’s not the case. But you’ve got too many people that are now with this extreme rhetoric, and that is just not good for anybody,” Ramsey said.
The ambush of five Dallas police officers on July 7 will likely result in extra-tight security measures—on top of anticipated precautions—at the convention. But some precautions, however, may appear to border on the ridiculous. For instance, convention organizers have set aside a 1.7-square-mile area surrounding the arena where people can hold demonstrations. The city originally wanted a 3.3-square-mile “event zone” encompassing most of downtown, but a federal judge late last month said the proposed restrictions “put too much of a squeeze” on free speech and therefore a compromise was reached at 1.7 square miles. The American Civil Liberties Union in June sued Cleveland on behalf of a homeless advocacy group and two groups planning to hold protests on Monday. U.S. District Judge James Gwin agreed that the city’s designated parade route for protest marches was “unreasonable,” in part, because the proposed 3.3-mile zone was “too large” and that rules prohibiting routine items like water bottles and soda cans would interfere with the rights of the people who live and work in the downtown area.
Guns ‘yes,’ Super Soakers ‘no’
Because Ohio allows “open-carry” gun rights for licensed holders, these persons can congregate within the zone. However, protesters expected to flood the 1.7-mile zone will not be allowed to come with Super Soakers…or soda cans, glass bottles, tennis balls, Silly String and “any projective launcher” like BB guns, paintball guns, sling shots or even little water pistols. Tim Selatey, a Trump supporter with Citizens for Trump, likes the idea because of his group’s ardent support of the Second Amendment: “You can take my string and you can take my duct tape, but you can’t take my gun…it’s open carry,” he told the New York Daily News. In March, a petition to allow firearms inside the area had gathered 2,000 signatures. The idea didn’t get very far because the arena prohibits guns on its premises. The petition’s author asked three of the then-competing GOP candidates to ask the RNC to advocate changes for the no-gun policy, but they were refused.
Hashim Nzinga, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, this week told Reuters that the group will attend demonstrations in Cleveland and exercise its Second Amendment rights because “there are other groups threatening to be there that are threatening to do harm to us.”
Last month, a disgraced police officer called on militia members and “long wolf patriots” to bring their guns to Cleveland to battle protesters. “I am encouraging patriots and Trump supporters and those that support liberty and freedom to come lawfully armed with lethal and non-lethal weaponry,” said Jim Stachowiak, a right-wing activist and a host with Freedom Fighter Radio. Stachowiak, who lost his police certification following a misconduct investigation in Martinez, Ga., has called on military veterans and right-wing groups such as the “III Percent” militia to intimidate anti-Trump protesters in case law enforcement or the National Guard are unable—or unwilling—to take violent action. “We should answer the call with our Second Amendment,” Stachowiak said. “Yes, I’m encouraging patriots to come prepared to defend this nation against a domestic terrorist organization supported by the terrorist in the White House, Obama.”
A peek inside the body politic
The neo-Nazis plan to be present next week. The Traditionalist Worker Party, along with the Golden State Skinheads, were involved in a violent pro-Trump rally in Sacramento last month and said they’ll be in Cleveland to make sure Trump supporters are “defended from leftist thugs.” The group is among several White-nationalist organizations or “race realists” that have inched their way into relevance through the ascendancy of the Trump campaign. They fight for a lily-White America “…free from economic exploitation, federal tyranny, and anti-Christian degeneracy” and are led mainly by Matthew Heimbach, who gained national medial attention in 2013 as the 22-year-old founder of the Towson White Student Union, thereby prompting the Southern Poverty Law Center to dub him “Little Fuhrer” who had “plunged into full-fledged neo-Nazism.”
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted recently among 16,000 potential voters revealed that supporters of Trump are more likely to describe African Americans as “criminal,” “unintelligent,” “lazy” and “violent” than voters who backed some GOP rivals in the primaries or those who support Clinton. The poll also revealed that significant numbers of Americans in both parties view Blacks more negatively than Whites, harbor anxiety about living in diverse neighborhoods, and are concerned that affirmative action policies discriminate against Whites. Republicans in the survey expressed those concerns to a greater degree than Democrats, with Trump supporters presenting the most critical views of Blacks. Nearly half of Trump supporters described African Americans as more “violent” than Whites; the same proportion described Blacks as more “criminal” than Whites, while 40 percent described them as more “lazy” than Whites. In smaller—but still significant numbers—Clinton backers also viewed Blacks more critically than Whites with regard to certain personality traits; nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described Blacks as more “violent” and “criminal” than Whites, and one-quarter described Blacks as more “lazy” than Whites.
Lots of ‘no shows’
When viewers tune in on Monday, the convention may not resemble the familiar “love fest” of past GOP compacts. Hardly any of the most prominent Republicans will be there, including former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, past nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, nor rising GOP stars Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said months ago he won’t attend. And while Utah representative Mia Love, among the GOP’s latest effort to include African Americans in its “big tent,” said she’ll skip the convention in favor of a trip to Israel, you can expect South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to attend. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a former Trump rival who pointedly refused to endorse the New York billionaire, still has not confirmed that he’ll attend the convention, let alone speak.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman said he’ll attend the convention but will spend much of his time next week hosting events outside the arena. House Majority Leader Paul Ryan is expected to deliver a 10-minute speech on delineating the contrast between Republican ideas and four more years of Obama-like progressive policies. Ryan’s predecessor, Ohio’s John Boehner, will not attend. Marco Rubio said he’ll attend and if he is asked to speak, it will not be on Trump’s behalf. Definite speakers will include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Trump’s wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and sons Eric and Donald Jr. will get prime-time spots.
The ‘Dump Trump’ concern
While mass demonstrations are expected, organizers do not expect street riots similar to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Instead, a bigger uprising may occur inside the hall. There are three ways that Republicans could derail Trump’s nomination:
—Unbinding the delegates. The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that anti-Trump rebels are hoping to win over 28 of the 112 Rules Committee members (25 percent) who will meet today to consider whether to unbind the delegates thereby allowing them to vote for whomever they want;
—Requiring a supermajority to capture the nomination. There is a reported downside to this strategy because it will invalidate the five months of Republican primaries and caucuses used to select the delegates. An alternative would have the Rules Committee vote to require a supermajority—in lieu of a simple majority—to win the GOP nomination;
—Allowing delegates to abstain. Anti-Trump delegates could eliminate Trump by abstaining from their vote to keep Trump below the 1,237 threshold needed for a majority on the roll-call vote. Whether a delegate can abstain from his/her vote on a first ballot will be decided by a ruling from the convention chairman.