CLEVELAND, OHIO — Down the street from the Republican National Convention on Monday, GOP extremists gathered for a rally where they could freely discuss their fringe beliefs. Many claimed Hillary Clinton belongs in prison, some talked about how 9/11 was an inside job, and others questioned President Obama’s faith and leadership.
What the few hundred attendees all had in common was their support for Donald Trump, and they spoke of how they have been invigorated by the Republican nominee’s support for their beliefs.
The embrace of fringe beliefs by the mainstream Republican Party can be traced back to extremists within the GOP, many of whom were ignored until Donald Trump’s success in this election.
On Monday, those extremists held a rally along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland where they were free to spout their favorite radical positions, led by the king of conspiracy theories, Alex Jones.
Jones took the stage late in the day. “They are failing and Donald Trump is surging,” he shouted. The bikers, 9/11 truthers, and anti-immigrant Republicans cheered with excitement.
In an interview with Jones in December, Trump praised his work. “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down,” the Republican nominee said.
Here are some of the Trump supporters at the “America First Unity Rally,” representatives from the once-“fringe” right:
Steve Tonas, 9/11 truther: “I felt vindicated.”
Tonas, who came from Syracuse, New York for the rally, noted that Jones is the “spearhead” of the 9/11 truther movement. He frequently discusses on InfoWars, his popular radio program, his belief that 9/11 was an “inside job.”
Tonas said he formed his opinion from Jones and other radical documentaries.
“If you look at the images of the Pentagon, the original image shows a 16-foot hole,” he said, explaining why he thinks the attacks were staged. “There’s no way a Boeing 757 is gonna fit through a 26-foot hole.”
“Smoking gun number two is, on 9/11, a third building went down after the Twin Towers and that was World Trade Center Building 7,” he continued, explaining that it went down in a controlled demolition.
Since the start of Trump’s candidacy, Tonas said he has been pleased to see the embrace of his beliefs by the mainstream.
“I felt vindicated when he came out and forced Jeb Bush to drop out of the election because he kept bringing up 9/11 and the war in Iraq,” Tanis said. “And that he came out and said he wants 28 pages omitted from the 9/11 commission report released to the public.”
He added that he is excited to see what a President Trump would mean for people who share his beliefs.
“I’ve been an activist doing this for 10 years, and all this work I’ve done — to hear someone who has credibility like Donald Trump say that, it feels like all that work of being an activist didn’t go to waste.”
Hector Miguel, anti-immigrant Latino: “They think I’m a racist.”
Miguel, who held a “Latinos for Trump” sign at the rally, said he came to Cleveland from South Carolina to support Trump. His grandmother immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico. He told ThinkProgress that his family of Democrats think he’s a racist.
“My whole life, they think I’m a traitor,” he said.
Roughly 82 percent of Latinos currently say they have a negative attitude about Trump, a candidate who began his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers and who has ignited nativists across the country by calling for a border wall to be paid for by Mexico.
“It didn’t bother me because there are a lot of rapists that are coming into this country,” Miguel said. “That’s a majority of criminals now.”
Miguel also held a sticker reading: “9/11 was an inside job.”
“I was there — I lived in New York,” he said. “i heard the explosions and planes don’t have bombs on them after they explode.”
Ben Morgan, gun owner: “It’s a political statement.”
Morgan attended the rally with his family and with his AK-74 visibly displayed on his back.
“It’s a political statement,” he said. “We have a right to bear firearms.”
The Cleveland Police Union has called for Ohio’s open carry law to be suspended during the convention because of fears that people toting guns near the arena will make officer’s jobs harder and could lead to violence. But Morgan said that wouldn’t stop him.
“You have to tell people that the policemen can’t take away your rights,” he said.
Daniel Schroder, wearing “Hillary for Prison” shirt. “Crooks came in and took over.”
Daniel Schroder spoke about Obama and Clinton’s morals, saying that Trump is the one who has “values.”
“He’s got values and we need to get the crooks out of the office,” Schroder said. “We’re Judeo-Christian and they’re taking it all out. They’re taking out the ten commandments, they’re taking out everything we stand for as a country, and that’s why we’re falling apart.”
“Crooks came in and take over — stealing and treating people bad is the new norm,” he continued. “Obama, pretty much the last administration, Bush, the Clintons. Pretty much since the early 90s, it’s been a progressive, downward spiral.
Schroder is also a Jones supporter and has been following him for decades. “He may be a little flamboyant in his description of things, but he’s right on when it comes to his information. We needs to wake people up and get them off the couch.”
Tyler Sheets, wearing “Obama is a tyrant” t-shirt
Sheets, who came from Lansing, Michigan to hear Jones speak, sat by the river wearing a t-shirt calling Obama a tyrant.
“It’s cut and dry,” the 22-year-old said. “He’s killed more people with drone strikes than any other president in history. He’s endorsed more executive orders, which are unconstitutional. Black unemployment has doubled under President Obama, contrary to the notion that he’s in love with all colored people.”
Trump would be able to “bring back an age of American Freedom,” he said.