One person was taken to a hospital and 17 others were arrested Thursday night as hundreds of protesters, some turning violent and snarling traffic, made their views known against front-running Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s appearance at the Pacific Amphitheatre at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
While there were some minor scuffles and shouting matches within the fairgrounds property between people with opposing political viewpoints, nearby there were reports of vandalism against police vehicles, public property and cars that were trapped in the gridlock accumulating where thousands of people had gathered.
Some of the protesters smashed a police car window and jumped on officers’ vehicles.
“It was a big melee,” according to Costa Mesa police Sgt. Bang Le, who said at least five police vehicles were vandalized.
Police said one man was hurt during an altercation on the fairgrounds property. Paramedics took him to a hospital for treatment of a head injury that didn’t appear to be life-threatening, according to authorities.
At one point, a Costa Mesa officer was hit on the head by a rock thrown by a protester, but police said he was unhurt, thanks to the riot gear and helmet he was wearing.
A police horse ridden by a Huntington Beach officer wasn’t as fortunate, authorities said. The horse, named Drifter, was injured by a thrown rock, police said.
At one point, a group of young men and women started rocking and jumping onto a car near Fairview Road and Fair Drive, an intersection that was eventually shut down. The driver got out and screamed at the group that a child was onboard.
The Costa Mesa Police Department said officers arrested 17 people, all on suspicion of failing to disperse.
By Friday morning, each arrestee had been released with a written promise to appear in court, Le said.
The crowd dispersed by 11 p.m., about four hours after Trump’s rally began, the Sheriff’s Department said.
The protest was organized by the Democratic Party of Orange County and Orange County Young Democrats, who consider some comments Trump has made about immigrants and others to be bigoted.
Erik Taylor, executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said Friday that the party “does not condone the violence that took place at the O.C. fairgrounds last night, but we do thank the Democratic Party activists who did come out and protest in a peaceful way.”
“Obviously things got out of hand,” he added.
Taylor also criticized the “politics of division that Donald Trump is talking about across the country.”
“It’s bringing out the worst in a lot of Americans from all sides of the political spectrum,” Taylor said.
The total cost for Trump’s campaign to use the Pacific Amphitheatre for Thursday’s rally was $39,670, according to a copy of the rental agreement.
Robin Wachner, communications director for the OC Fair & Event Center, said in a statement Friday that “we will evaluate the events of Thursday night and will apply this knowledge as we consider and plan future events.”
Earlier in the day Thursday, demonstrators chanted at Trump’s supporters, hundreds of whom lined up throughout the afternoon in an attempt to get inside the amphitheater for the 7 p.m. rally. Many, however, were turned away because the 8,500-seat venue was at capacity.
The protesters’ signs contained various phrases, including “Hate won’t make us great again” and “Make America great, stop the hate.”
Some demonstrators were draped in Mexican flags. Another flew a rainbow flag supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Three topless women in their 20s wandered the area, wearing stickers over their nipples. The words “gender equality” and “Dump Trump” were written in body paint on their backs.
At least 75 Orange County sheriff’s deputies, some on horseback, patrolled the area, keeping an eye out for altercations. Law enforcement helicopters patrolled the skies.
Some protesters with “Dump Trump” signs put them in horse manure that had been dropped on the ground.
In the afternoon at the fairgrounds’ Gate 1 off Fair Drive, a line of cars waited to get in, but officials had closed that entrance. Protesters were walking among the cars, waving signs.
Moreno Valley resident Stephanie Vasquez, 22, who was draped in a Mexican flag, said Trump’s heated comments about illegal immigrants have increased anti-Mexican sentiment.
“People look at you differently now because you’re Mexican,” she said while holding a sign that read “Say no to racism.”
Melissa Fazli of Yorba Linda was at the corner of Fair Drive and Vanguard Way, south of the fairgrounds, to participate in the protest by Trump opponents.
She said her 13-year-old son, who is Muslim, has been getting death threats and getting beaten up and that pepperoni — a jab at his reluctance to eat pork — has been thrown at him.
“Every time [Trump] speaks, my son is scared to go to school,” Fazli said. “He’s not a terrorist — he was born right here in Anaheim, California.”
The GOP candidate is making cultural discourse worse, she said.
“He’s inciting violence in our school system, and someone needs to stop it,” Fazli said.
Costa Mesa activist Mary Spadoni also was among the protesters. While holding a sign supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, she said she’s a Republican, but not Trump’s kind of Republican.
“I want to make sure that Donald Trump knows that his type of politics are not welcome in Orange County,” Spadoni said. “His misogyny, his racist comments, I don’t want any part of it.”
Costa Mesa resident Cornell Iliescu got in an argument with an anti-Trump protester who was displaying a Mexican flag outside the amphitheater box office. Crowds with cameras and smartphones surrounded the two as they debated.
Iliescu told the Daily Pilot that he asked the man why he was proudly displaying a Mexican flag while being in the United States.
“If you come over here, you are welcome, but from now on, you are part of this country,” Iliescu recalled telling him.
Iliescu, who runs a nonprofit called the Noble Cause Foundation, which works to preserve the legacy of World War II veterans, was wearing a WWII uniform. The Romanian native credits the Americans who were fighting overseas with forming his love for his adopted country.
Iliescu called Trump “John Wayne born again,” a leader who can take on the “Washington mafia.”
“He’s got American blood,” he said. “Really true American blood.”