GREAT FALLS – As President Donald Trump addressed thousands of supporters at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, several hundred opponents were holding a protest outside.
Authorities set up a protest area at Montana ExpoPark, just across from the arena. For several hours, protesters chanted, sang songs and carried signs highlighting their concerns with the president and his administration.
Demonstrators came from as far away as Billings, Libby and even Idaho. Many criticized what they called “hateful rhetoric” from Trump, especially toward women and minorities.
“Great Falls does not open the doors to hate, we don’t open our doors to bigotry,” said Laura Wight, who organized the protest. “Montana does not do that.”
Others showed support for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s reelection. The Democratic senator is running against Republican Matt Rosendale. During Thursday’s rally, Trump campaigned with Rosendale and sharply criticized Tester.
The protest remained essentially peaceful throughout the day. However, there were several occasions when the demonstrators had heated exchanges with Trump supporters, especially as people began to leave the rally.
At one point, Trump opponents chanted slogans like “No hate in our state” and “Love trumps hate” while supporters on the other side of a police-tape barrier chanted “Build that wall” and “USA.”
Law enforcement officers from Cascade County, Lewis and Clark County and the city of Helena were on hand to monitor the interactions.
Despite the tense moments, some protesters said they took the opportunity to have civil discussions with people they disagreed with. Jessie Schulz spoke for several minutes with a Trump supporter and said they had found common ground on some issues.
“There’s a lot of gray area here — it’s not just black and white,” Schulz said. “It’s interesting to engage these people from the other side, so to speak.”
Wight said she saw the protest as a success.
“I think overall it’s been a very great opportunity for freedom of speech, civil dialogue,” she said. “If we are talking face-to-face with each other, and having those conversations to move forward, that’s progress.”
Lt. Bob Rosipal of the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office said overall, the event had gone very smoothly, and law enforcement was pleased with with the outcome.