Trump holds rally at UAA, draws thousands of supporters and criticism

Trump's speech lasted for around 90 minutes. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

Over the past few years, one feature of American politics has been absent from Alaska: the Trump rally.

That changed on July 9 when the Save America political action committee hosted a political rally in Anchorage to support Kelly Tshibaka for US Senate and former Governor Sarah Palin for US House of Representatives.

Central to the event was an in-person speech by the former president himself, Donald J. Trump.

The rally was held at UAA’s Alaska Airlines Center, and thousands came from all over the state to see Trump speak.

The event also drew criticism from the UAA community.

Outside the Alaska Airlines Center, with people wearing the iconic red MAGA hats and decked out in other Trump swag, the rally felt more like a sporting event than a political fundraiser. Food trucks, parents with young children in tow, music playing on loudspeakers and vendors selling Trump merchandise helped to complete the impression that this was a social gathering.

Attendees wait outside of Alaska Airlines Center for Trump rally. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

In front of the Alaska Airlines Centers, supporters were lined up in a snaking queue like a line at Disneyland.

The line went down Wellness Street – between the stadium and Providence Hospital – before turning right onto Providence Drive and heading toward the mountains. It took another right at Elmore, continuing to the roundabout.

Line to get in wrapped around the Alaska Airlines Center. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

According to an event program put out by Save America, attendees could skip the line and get an expedited entry by donating $250.

One person waiting in line reflected on the social nature of the occasion. He said that he was there to support the candidates but would have probably attended even if he didn’t because the rally was a good chance to meet new people and see different personality types.

Another attendee said that he wanted to personally see the candidates and hear their speeches. He said that Trump would be interesting to see too.

Line continued down Providence Drive and up Elmore. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

A lady said you “never get another chance to do this. Why not?”

A man wearing a red hat rode a bicycle around with two large speakers on the front playing music. Also, a school bus painted gray, with campaign signs supporting Christopher Kurka for governor attached to the sides drove circles around the building.

Flags that read “Trump 2024” were flying over the tents of the various merchandisers, and people could pose with a life-size cardboard-cutout image of Trump.

Nearby were around a dozen people protesting the event, standing on the sidewalk that runs along the parking lot for UAA MAC student housing on Health Drive.

There was some light banter and insults exchanged between the protesters and rally goers waiting in line. Sometimes, rally attendees would walk up close to the protesters and try to goad a reaction out of them.

One young woman with the protesters, Kathrine Antoune, is a junior studying economics at UAA and lives in the dorms.

After waking up, she went to check out the rally. Upon seeing food trucks, she decided to get something to eat. Afterward, Antoune said she joined in with the people protesting, wanting to show solidarity with them.

She said a big issue for her is the recent Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade and that she would have liked to have a sign that read “adoption is not the silver bullet you think it is.”

Protesters form up across the street from Alaska Airlines Center. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

Regarding Trump, she said: “he can’t accept reality, he has to create his own, and then so many people are falling for it,” adding “What are they going to do when he is not here anymore? Are they just going to keep trying and parroting the old stuff he says?”

She said that it was frustrating to see how people overlook his sycophantic behavior to promote himself and his business.

Also protesting were UAA Professors Jackie Cason and Shane Castle of the English department.

Cason was holding a sign that read “unforgivable.”

A woman attending the rally came over and asked Cason what the sign was supposed to mean. She said that it was in reference to Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, especially his rhetoric and knowledge that some attending the rally in DC were armed with weapons – likening his statements to yelling fire in a theater.

They debated the events of the 6th. The woman said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held responsibility for not providing enough security and she denied that the Capital rioters were really Trump supporters.

Ultimately, she said that she would like to see people on both sides of the political spectrum acknowledge the faults of members of their own parties and that she could not remember people being this angry and divided in the past.

In a follow-up email, Cason shared a letter sent to UAA faculty written and signed by the UAA’s faculty senate executive board.

Sent on July 7, the letter expressed both opposition to letting Trump and Save America use the Alaska Airlines Center for their political rally and the commitment of the board to “the rule of law, democratic process, and the peaceful transfer of power.”

The letter responds, in part, to an email sent July 1 by UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell explaining the university’s decision to let the Save America PAC use the Alaska Airlines Center.

Considering that the Alaska Airlines Center is a public facility, Parnell wrote that it would be a violation of the First Amendment to deny its use to the Save America PAC.

Responding to him, the faculty senate board wrote, “to justify this event at UAA under the guise of free speech disingenuously cedes a platform to figures who’ve routinely expressed through their deeds, words, and policies an open hostility to the very values that define this university and undermine much of what we celebrate in this the most pluralistic, multiracial democracy the world has ever known.”

USUAA put out its own letter in response to the planned rally. The letter, written by USUAA President Katie Scoggin, sought to communicate – along with Parnell’s – that UAA was not hosting the event and that the university could not deny the use of the public facility because of the First Amendment.

According to the letter, university leadership assured Scoggin that they were working to reduce the impact that the rally would have on the campus and those living in the dorms.

In response to an email inquiry, USUAA Vice-President Shanone Tejada said they were hearing from students concerned about safety, potential road closures, and wondering why the event was happening.

Marin Green, a UAA alumna who graduated in 2012 at the age of 62, tried to hold a protest the day before the event. Told by UPD that she could not protest at the Alaska Airlines Center, she showed up at the Cuddy Quad with her homemade signs on the 8th.

Green, who was raised on St. Lawrence Island speaking Sivuqaq Yupik, said Trump has not been good for native Americans, citing a case where his administration revoked a Massachusetts tribe’s reservation status.

Concerning to her, she said, were his comments on Mexicans – calling them “rapists” – and a speech he made following violence at a white-nationalism rally in Charlottesville – where he said there were good people on both sides.

She said she’d been taken aback by the cruelty of Trump’s attacks on his opponents and the willingness of his supporters to tolerate his behavior.

“In [the] native community we are taught from young age to be respectful … that’s against indigenous teaching,” she said. “He doesn’t think he does any wrong, that he’s God or something.”

Indeed, there seemed to be no sign of compunction in the supporters gathered at the rally, and to bring up the concerns voiced by the protesters felt like a rude affront to their high spirits, as though spoiling a good time.

A little after 11 a.m. they opened the doors to the Alaska Airlines Center and started to bring the people inside.

Speeches began at 1 p.m. though there were still many people waiting to get through the security and metal detectors. A jumbotron broadcasted live video of the speakers for the people outside.

Palin and Tshibaka were among the various guests to give speeches.

Sarah Palin gives a speech at the rally. She repeated her famous "Drill, baby, drill!" line from her campaign for vice-president. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

All the concession stands were open, and people lined up to get food. Jon Dyson, the general manager of the Alaska Airlines Center, said the concessions were operated by NANA Management Services, contracted by UAA. He said NMS is the normal food-service vendor used for events around campus, and UAA received revenue from the sales, like at any other event with concessions at the Alaska Airlines Center. 

After the speeches, there was a long period of time before Trump spoke. People continued to slowly fill the building, and the attendees inside, at one point, entertained themselves by doing the wave.

There was a crowd in front of the stage where Trump would speak. Behind them, the press was cordoned off, with a raised platform from which to take pictures and video.

Attending the event were Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Anchorage Assembly Member Jamie Allard.  

Also present was one of Trump’s most vocal supporters Mike Lindell, owner of My Pillow.

Mike Lindell, owner of My Pillow, took photographs with fans. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

By the time Trump made his appearance around 4:30 p.m., the 5,000-seat stadium was nearly full, and people were still coming in.

The audience exploded into cheers when he appeared, and as he made his way to the stage the crowd broke out into a chant: “We love Trump! We love Trump!”

Trump takes the stage at the rally. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

Trump started his talk by taking a shot at Sen. Lisa Murkowski, calling her a “RINO” – Republican in name only – and explaining that his visit was to make good on a promise to campaign against her.

He took credit for recent Supreme Court decisions, having nominated three justices during his presidency.

He also said that he was responsible for eliminating ISIS 100% and recalled a story of Air Force One landing during the night in Iraq with all the plane’s internal lights turned off. He said he was asked by someone, “Sir, will you please close your shades?” And he jokingly said that he responded, “I’m president, you should close them.”

He expressed admiration for the pilots’ ability to land the plane in the dark without even runway lights.

Several comments prompted cheers from the audience such as when he said that he supports “God, guns and oil,” mentioned Wisconsin’s ban on ballot drop boxes, talked about banning critical race theory from schools and keeping transgender men out of women’s sports.

He complimented the police officers helping with security and the audience, calling them “the most beautiful human beings.”

At one point he pulled out a man and a woman from the crowd and onto the stage because he liked their shirts, which were plastered with images of him. The audience encouraged the man to give his shirt to Trump and when the former president asked for it, he took it off and gave it to one of his assistants.

Trump brings two fans on stage because he liked their shirts. Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

The 90-minute speech had what seemed like several false endings. Trump would shift back and forth from his informal, off-the-cuff comments to prepared remarks from the teleprompters. The change to a formal tone and style often made it seem as if the former president was wrapping things up, but he would continue to talk, like someone who says, “Well, I should get going” and then proceeds to stick around.

There were a handful of attacks made on the media by both him and Palin, with Trump saying the fake news is “the true enemy of the people.” These comments would prompt boos and thumbs down from the audience directed toward the press.

Trump said he had done more for Alaska than any other president and took credit for getting ANWR open to drilling approved during his administration.  

After officially receiving his endorsement, Palin said, “Sir, we need you back,” and then led the audience in chanting “Four more years!”

The crowd chants "We love Trump!" Photo by Matthew Schmitz.

A few times, the audience broke out chanting “USA! USA!”

Trump continued to say that he won the 2020 election, despite testimony presented by the January 6th committee in the US House that he was told by multiple top people in his campaign that he had lost the election.

At one point he urged his supporters to get involved with elections saying, “you have to make sure that you watch the voting and the ballot counting.”

“It’s proven, unfortunately, that the vote counter is far more important than the candidate, does that make sense to you?”

The saying is widely attributed to Joseph Stalin and Trump seemed to understand that he was paraphrasing the dictator: “That’s an old expression used by a very powerful man. I won’t even give you his name because we don’t need that name thrown out. They’ll say, ‘Trump admires him.’ No, I don’t admire him, but he said the vote counter is far more important than the candidate.”