For the better part of the last year, Donald Trump — the thin-haired billionaire turned pseudo-politician — has preached a gospel of hate and separatism. At primary campaign stops in cities like Indianapolis and San Jose, he utilized fear, flag-waving hubris, and hollow bombast cloaked in nationalistic rhetoric. On Thursday night, to the cheers of thousands in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, it all coalesced: Trump — in classic Trump-like fashion, arrogant and full of mindless bluster — accepted the Republican nomination for president. “We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore,” he declared. “Communities want relief, yet Hillary Clinton is proposing mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness.”
Lawlessness, too, is how you might describe the first three days of the convention. Inside the arena, where delegates and long-time politicos gathered under the promise to “Make America Great Again,” people like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke cheered the acquittal of Baltimore police officers in the killing of Freddie Gray and called the Black Lives Matter movement “anarchy.” Trump’s own wife Melania, who opened the convention Monday night, gave a speech in which she copied lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Just two days later, on Wednesday, defiant-as-ever Texas Senator Ted Cruz refused to back Trump in his primetime slot.
Outside of the arena, protestors, radical religious factions like the Westboro Baptist Church, and staunch Trump supporters came to a head. Mass demonstrations flooded streets surrounding Quicken Loans, often bubbling over in Public Square. Here, in his own words and images, Cleveland native and photographer Ricky Rhodes recalls his experience at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
RICKY RHODES: I’ve been here every day since Saturday, and the most people I’ve seen in Public Square was on Wednesday. Just thousands of people in the street. It’s mostly been protesters. They renovated Public Square, which is one of the two main areas for the convention. There are free speech zones, one of which is a main stage that has a PA system. On Wednesday on one side, there was a Preterm abortion clinic and on the other side of the square was the Westboro Baptist Church. So Westboro’s obviously shouting at them through megaphones; they had really big posters saying like “Fear God” and “Jesus this, Jesus that, we hate lesbians and gays and abortion” and all that hateful stuff. The cops have been making these huge lines to divide up the protests — it’s literally a wall of cops that you can't cross or you have to go around.
There’s an unbelievable amount of interesting people. A lot of people dressed up, a few people open carrying firearms. On Tuesday, two guys with rifles and a few guys with pistols were walking around, either in support of Trump or the Second Amendment. The biggest thing that happened that day was on East 4th Street, right outside of the main gate: Alex Jones from Infowars attempted to burn an American flag. Everyone started to crowd around there, and then the fire marshals came. Then the Revolutionary Communists — RevCom — started protesting, so there were two protests going on. Then two other groups ran to another area right by them, protesting and fighting with each other. There was like three protests going on in the same spot. It got really heated, and the cops didn’t know what to do. Because there’s such a huge police presence, they were all just discombobulated, walking around, looking confused. I’ve seen police from Florida, Montana, California, Dallas, Fort Worth — and that’s just to name a few. There’s definitely National Guard, there’s Secret Service. The police presence here is pretty wild, and it's really crazy to see this many police in one place. The communist group ended up burning a flag. Alex Jones’s right hand guy tried to put it out, I guess. But he burned his hand, him and his other friend — they had to go to the hospital. About 17 people from the Revolutionary Communists got arrested. It was pretty tense for a while.
Building up to the convention, there were renovations throughout the city. Public Square, I think, was a $50 million renovation. For the last two years on the news, there’s been a day-by-day countdown of, like: “450 days until the RNC’s here!” They did a lot of beautification. But really, it’s been pretty chill now that [the RNC] is actually here. I think it's been a lot different than people expected. The secure zone — you have to have credentials to go into that area — is really large, so a lot of the delegates and politicians don’t even see the outside of Cleveland. They’re inside all day. There’s one main area to go in, and that’s where everyone crowds around. East 4th Street is the main road where everybody is walking, and that’s where most of the delegates and politicians hang around, then right next to that is Public Square, where all the protestors hang out — it’s really split up. Inside the secure zone, I know they have vendors for food and drinks, so people at the actual convention aren’t necessarily coming out as much. There’s a disconnect between what’s going on inside and what’s going on in the streets. If you walked two blocks east or west of the main entrance of the convention, it’s like a ghost town almost.