In the battleground area where activists lit a fire for his candidacy, President Trump’s supporters will gather at the region’s first rally since his election —and their aim is to send a message not only to disenchanted Democrats but to fellow Republicans.
About 1,000 people have RSVP'd to the event, one of 60 recently held or planned nationally in response to widespread protests since Trump's inauguration in January.
The rally will take place in Bucks County, a red-blue swath that became the region’s epicenter for the Trump movement and that still reflects the nation’s political divides. Last month, KKK fliers landed on some lawns in Doylestown. After the election, swastikas and Trump references were found scrawled at a Bucks County high school. An activist group held its own event Wednesday to address what it called hate in the community since the inauguration.
For Trump's supporters, the Saturday rally at Neshaminy State Park, in Bensalem Township, is an attempt to get away from debates over Trump’s fitness for office and turn the focus to forthcoming local races, said Jim Worthington, founder of Bucks-based People4Trump, which became the largest pro-Trump group in the region. He said members of his group —who are “as rabid as they’ve ever been” —need to be redirected now that the election is won.
“I want them to start directing their energy and emotions toward things that are more positive, and we need to move away from fighting back and forth with the opposition party,” Worthington said. “We need to make our tent bigger, we need to get things done … so people will start coming over to our side.”
But he also hoped to send a message to those not yet in the tent.
“We feel like there’s still a small but very powerful group of the Republican Party that needs to know that we’re not going away,” Worthington said. “And there’ll be people to answer to if, for some reason, they should drift or fade away or, worse yet, not support the president.”
Mark McKee, a longtime Warminster Township resident and current supervisor, agreed, saying the rally will be "a message to our own party as well." But his number one priority in attending with his 23-year-old son is to tell Trump he is still with him.
“I believe in the movement,” McKee said. “I know [Trump] gets run down every day, but I don’t understand what’s so wrong with ‘America first.’”
The event is one of 60 “Spirit of America” rallies nationwide organized by the group Main Street Patriots and held Monday or taking place Saturday —44 days into the Trump presidency. That group says the rallies are to counter left-wing protests. Trump himself suggested such rallies in a recent tweet.
“Unlike those protesting against President Trump’s vision, we are a diverse coalition that is the heart and soul of America that wants our nation to fulfill our potential, as the greatest nation on God’s green earth!” reads the Main Street Patriots event description.
More than three million people worldwide are estimated to have participated in the Jan. 21 Women’s March. Liberal protests have continued since, including at airports after Trump’s travel ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Bucks County Republican Committee Chair Pat Poprik, who is speaking at Saturday's event and said some committee people are attending, rejected any suggestion that the purpose was to send messages to Republicans or other groups. She said her focus was only on Trump.
"I'm just doing it to support him and to let him know a lot of people in this county support what he's doing," she said, adding that she would urge attendees to stay involved in the movement.
Meanwhile, former State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, a Democrat who lost the U.S. House race in Bucks, announced Wednesday that his group, One Bucks, would hold town-hall meetings with community members to discuss hate and discrimination.
“I really do believe that the rhetoric that the president used in the course of the campaign unleashed a lot of this ugliness.… [People] now feel as if it’s somehow OK for them to come out and do these things.” Santarsiero said. “It’s important for us at the grassroots level to forcefully speak out against that so that they understand it’s not OK.”
Local police said no crime was committed in the distribution of the KKK fliers.
Worthington said he found the KKK fliers offensive but said there was no reason to draw connections between such incidents and Trump’s presidency other than to feed an “urban legend” that Trump is bigoted. He said he planned a positive message for Saturday.
"Let's stop worrying about opposing people. Let's start worrying about supporting people," Worthington said. "We need to start finding some common ground — even if the other side hates you.”