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Some Trump supporters fear violence if Clinton wins

  • Author: Ashley Parker, Nick Corasaniti, The New York Times
  • Updated: October 28, 2016
  • Published October 27, 2016

An attendee in a Donald Trump-themed shirt during a campaign event with Trump at the amphitheater in St. Augustine, Fla., on Monday. (Eric Thayer / The New York Times)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Big crowds still mob Donald Trump when he comes to town, with fans waiting in long lines to attend his rallies, where they eagerly jeer his Democratic rival and holler happily at his message.

But beneath the cheering, a new emotion is taking hold among some Trump supporters as they grapple with reports predicting that he will lose the election: a dark fear about what will happen if their candidate is denied the White House. Some worry that they will be forgotten, along with their concerns and frustrations. Others believe the nation may be headed for violent conflict.

Jared Halbrook, 25, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, said that if Trump lost to Hillary Clinton, which he worried would happen through a stolen election, it could lead to "another Revolutionary War."

"People are going to march on the capitols," said Halbrook, who works at a call center. "They're going to do whatever needs to be done to get her out of office, because she does not belong there."

"If push comes to shove," he added, and Clinton "has to go by any means necessary, it will be done."

Interviews with more than 50 Trump supporters at campaign events in six states over the past week revealed a distinct change from the rollicking mood earlier this year, when Trump's surprising primary successes and emergence as an unconventional Republican standard-bearer set off broad excitement. The crowds appeared on edge and quick to lash out.

And while some voters emphatically disputed polls suggesting that Clinton would win, others offered an apocalyptic vision of what life would be like if she did.

Roger Pillath, a Donald Trump supporter, at his home in Coleman, Wis., on Wednesday. “It’s not what I’m going to do,” Pillath said of what might happen if Hillary Clinton wins, “but I’m scared that the country is going to go into a riot.” (Lauren Justice / The New York Times)

"It's not what I'm going to do, but I'm scared that the country is going to go into a riot," said Roger Pillath, 75, a retired teacher from Coleman, Wisconsin. "I've never seen the country so divided, just black and white — there's no compromise whatsoever. The Clinton campaign says together we are stronger, but there's no together. The country has never been so divided. I'm looking at revolution right now."

Julie Olson, a rancher who showed up for a Trump rally in Colorado Springs, said she and her husband had been through rough economic times in recent years, and that a Trump loss would only worsen their burdens.

"I'd probably go into a depression, because life is hard enough for us right now," Olson, 69, said. "And if Hillary gets in, it's going to be a whole lot worse — income, lack of income, small business, large businesses."

New York Times reporters spoke to people attending Trump rallies in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In every crowd, there were supporters who echoed Trump's message that the polls do not reflect the "silent majority" who they say will turn out on Nov. 8 and elect him in a landslide.

"You go through any neighborhood and see how many Trump signs there are and how many Hillary signs there are, and I guarantee you it's not even going to be close," said Bill Stelling, 44, of Jacksonville, Florida. "The only way they've done it is by rigging the election."

An information diet from Trump-friendly outlets like Breitbart News and Infowars has led many to believe there is no way Trump can lose, and even contemplating the possibility is foolish. "I'd be shocked," said Rick Hill, 58, of Fort Myers, Florida.

Hill added, "If you get on social media, he's got Hillary beat three to one."

But others expressed unease about what a Trump loss would bring.

"Unfortunately, I'm not a man of vigilante violence," said Richard Sabonjohn, 48, of Naples, Florida. "I'm more of a peaceful person. But I do think there will be a large amount of people that are terribly upset and may take matters into their own hands."

Trump has repeatedly called the election "rigged," raised concerns about voter fraud and said he might not accept the results if he loses, making Democrats and Republicans alike worry about whether the transfer of power will be smooth.

Even some of his supporters who say they would peacefully accept Clinton as the next president fear that the nation will take a violent turn — especially if Clinton tries to infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Paul Swick, 42, who owns a moving business, went with his wife and daughter to see Trump speak in Green Bay last week. Swick considers himself a "Bible Christian" and "Thomas Jefferson liberal" and said he hoped to beat Clinton "at the ballot box."

But Swick, by his own estimation, also owns "north of 30 guns," and he said Clinton would have trouble if she tried to confiscate the nation's constitutionally protected weapons. (Clinton has said she supports the Second Amendment, but she favors certain restrictions, like tighter background checks for gun buyers.)

"If she comes after the guns, it's going to be a rough, bumpy road," Swick said. "I hope to God I never have to fire a round, but I won't hesitate to. As a Christian, I want reformation. But sometimes reformation comes through bloodshed."

Alan Weegens, 62, a retired truck driver in Colorado Springs, also wondered aloud how the country — with so many citizens who own guns and, he said, "are willing to trample a grandma on Black Friday at midnight to save $5 on a toaster" — would react if Trump lost.

"I am not going to take my weapon to go out into the streets to protest an election I did not win," Weegens said, "but I think that if certain events came about, a person would need to protect themselves, depending on where they lived, when your neighborhood goes up in flames."

Asked what might cause such a conflagration, he pointed to places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Charlotte, North Carolina, which have been hit by unrest after police shootings of black men, and said, "Because hungry people get mean."

As Clinton pulls away in many polls, some Trump voters found it difficult even to contemplate what a Clinton presidency would be like for them.

"I'd go home and cry for four years," said Ken Herrmann, 69, of Punta Gorda, Florida.

Kathy Maney, 61, a hairstylist from Fletcher, North Carolina, used the language of love lost. "I won't feel hatred or mad or anything like that, but my heart will be broken," she said.

And Vicki Sanger, 40, of Grand Junction, Colorado, said she had more practical concerns. "I would just be scared that Hillary would be impeached before she finishes her term," she said.

But, Sanger added, she will dutifully accept the outcome on Election Day. "I would absolutely respect the result and support the next president," she said. "Pray for the next president, whoever it is."

Ashley Parker reported from Colorado Springs, and Nick Corasaniti from Florida.