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‘I definitely feel like a minority’: Beverly Hills is an unlikely outpost for Trump supporters

Gregg Donovan, former official greeter for the city of Beverly Hills, poses with Stephanie Weiss at the USA Freedom Rally.
Gregg Donovan, the onetime “ambassador” who greeted tourists in Beverly Hills, poses with Stephanie Weiss at the USA Freedom Rally on Oct. 24.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

They converge on Beverly Hills, hailing from around the corner, or halfway across the world. Their reasons for supporting President Trump range from his stance on Israel to his policies on gun rights and abortion.

At this unlikely spot in front of the iconic letters spelling out the city’s name, Trump fans gather every Saturday, their “Make America Great Again” hats a rare sight in this city synonymous with glittering wealth.

Trump is deeply unpopular in California, particularly on Los Angeles’ affluent Westside. Numerous protests have slammed the president’s divisive policies, ranging from attacks on immigrants and rollbacks of environmental safeguards to his personal conduct and statements critics say are racist.

A recent poll on the presidential race had former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump in California by historic margins.

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For local Trump supporters feeling alienated from family and friends, a weekly event known as the “USA Freedom Rally” is a chance to commune with like-minded people amid a festive atmosphere of chanting and dancing. In recent weeks, thousands have attended.

Tyler Johnson, 48, said it felt good to be among fellow conservatives Oct. 24 on the grassy strip along Santa Monica Boulevard, where the 40-foot wide “Beverly Hills” sign has long been a tourist attraction.

Living in the Palms neighborhood of west Los Angeles, “I definitely feel like a minority,” the former U.S. Marine said.

“It’s really nice to stand up for what you believe in a city where you oftentimes feel intimidated to wear your ‘MAGA’ hat or express your political beliefs,” said Johnson, an investor and Lyft driver.

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Nearly four months ago, Beverly Hills resident Shiva Bagheri began organizing the rallies in part to dispel what she called misrepresentations of Trump supporters in the media.

“They think that we’re all white supremacists. And that’s just ridiculous,” said Bagheri, a single mother who was born in Iran and works as a dance instructor.

By the third or fourth week, other political groups joined in, and attendance started ballooning, Bagheri said.

At last Saturday’s rally, the crowd numbered between 2,500 and 3,000, according to a Beverly Hills city spokesman. Signs and shirts announced a kaleidoscope of identities in support of Trump, including members of the Latino, Jewish, Vietnamese and LGBTQ communities. Some traveled from out of the state and even from out of the country to attend.

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Occasional chants of “Four more years” and “Biden’s laptop matters” broke out. Mask-wearers were in the minority, though some people sported “Trump-Pence” masks.

As the crowd marched down Beverly Drive, through the city’s glitzy shopping district, onlookers whipped out camera phones. Some drivers honked in support.

A wall of Trump supporters line Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills cheering and waving flags at passing vehicles
Trump supporters line Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, cheering and waving flags at passing vehicles as they attend the USA Freedom Rally in Beverly Gardens Park.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

The weekly event has sometimes attracted counter-protestors rallying for racial justice and other causes. In August, one person was arrested during a clash between the two sides.

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Indeed, Beverly Hills, with all its symbolic heft, has become a destination for protestors on both sides of the political spectrum. After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, Beverly Hills became a focus for demonstrations decrying police brutality against Black Americans. The protestors targeted white, affluent areas by design — “so that they can’t look away, so that they have to face what’s happening to Black people,” said Melina Abdullah, a cofounder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. She noted that her organization has not been heavily involved in Beverly Hills, protesting more in wealthy areas of Los Angeles.

Beverly Hills has faced criticism for how it has handled some street demonstrations. Since June, the city has prohibited protests in residential areas after 9 p.m. Twenty-five protesters were arrested and are being prosecuted for violating the curfew. Beverly Hills moved forward with the charges even though Los Angeles and other cities have decided against charging peaceful protesters who violated curfews.

Randolph Grant of Culver City attends the USA Freedom Rally in Beverly Hills.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Voter registration in Beverly Hills, which has a population of 34,000, is 43% Democratic, 24% Republican and 28% no affiliation. In 2016, 61% of Beverly Hills residents voted for Hillary Clinton and 31% for Trump. However, one precinct in the ritzy area southwest of the Beverly Hills Hotel went for Trump.

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Taking a break from addressing the crowd with a megaphone Oct. 24, Bagheri said she was a registered Democrat until 2017 but voted for Trump in 2016.

“His policies made sense — they had common sense,” Bagheri said.

She became tired of the criticism she received for supporting Trump. The rallies have empowered people like her to go from “the silent majority” to the “loud-lion majority,” she said.

Malka Porat, 58, of Studio City, said she previously refrained from publicly showing support for the president. Attending the Beverly Hills rallies has given her confidence to declare her beliefs. Now, she wears her “MAGA” hat everywhere.

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“We were really afraid, everywhere and anywhere we’d go, and now, we just wear it all the time, and we’re not silent and we’re not afraid,” Porat said.

Her father, 86-year-old Aaron Cocos, wore a T-shirt with a photo of Trump in front of the Israeli flag. Father and daughter are Jewish, and Porat said Trump’s strong backing of Israel is a major reason they support him.

Sofia Romo, 14, held a “Mexicans for Trump” sign as she pushed through the crowd with her mother and twin sister.

“We’re here to support our president and show that California is not all Democrats,” said Romo, of Long Beach.

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Polls have shown that Jewish and Latino people overwhelmingly support Biden over Trump.

Trump supporters cheer and wave at passing vehicles while attending the USA Freedom Rally in Beverly Gardens Park
Trump supporters cheer and wave at passing vehicles.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Bagheri may continue holding the rallies after the election, no matter who wins.

“I think we’re going to keep it going, because this Trump train is not stopping,” she said.


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