CLEVELAND – Police in downtown Cleveland kept watch over a tense peace Tuesday as Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination.
Several ideologically opposed groups came face to face in Public Square late in the afternoon, including racism protesters, the incendiary right-wing Westboro Baptist Church and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the “Infowars” radio host.
Jones challenged Black Lives Matters protesters before being attacked by unknown groups and escorted out of the area by police.
The mood in the square turned tense after crowds were forcefully divided and then evicted from the square by officers on bicycles.
The bicycles have become a mainstay of the convention, letting police move faster to cordon off protests or use them as walls or battering rams.
A small group of protesters — outnumbered by police and media — led officers on a chase through downtown but dispersed after being warned that they would face arrest for an “unlawful gathering.”
Gahan Haskins, a Teamster union member and Trump volunteer from New York, said the large police presence was preventing the situation from turning into a riot. “I think the police presence is good,” Haskins said. “If it wasn’t for a significant police presence, they would have a busload of thug rioters here.”
“I think there’s a lot of anti-American sentiment here,” he added. “I’ve come to Cleveland to stand with Donald Trump. … He supports American values, he supports American jobs.”
James Campbell, 22, of Dayton, Ohio, arrived during the mixed protests with a long gun strapped to his front. “I basically wanted to come out here and show that sane people carry guns too,” Campbell said.
“I think the entire Republican Party is a joke,” he added. “Donald Trump will say whatever he can to get whatever he wants. I think he’s a threat to our country — even just running for president.”
Kenneth Lane, 54, said he was present to support Trump.
“I don’t see anything wrong with putting America first,” Lane said. “We’ve been taking care of other countries like South Korea, Japan — we have military bases over there protecting them. They don’t invest in their own military so we protect them.”
According to government data, Japan covers nearly half the cost of U.S. forces in the country, and South Korea covers about 40 percent.
Lane was critical of the police presence, describing it as a “police state.”
“They want us to all be in fear. As long as they keep us in fear, the more they think people are going to give up their constitutional rights,” he said.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams was present at both of the major protests Tuesday, overseeing dispersion and addressing those gathered. At one point, Williams gave teenage boys directions to leave downtown and return home.
Police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciacca told a news conference in the evening that Williams had a reputation of “being very hands on.”
“He went out there because he wanted to get a feel of what was going on in the field,” Ciacca said.
By sunset, temperatures in Cleveland had dropped and the Public Square had returned to calm, with just a handful of speakers and demonstrators.
No arrests were reported Tuesday, but five people have been arrested in relation to the convention since the weekend.