VIDEO: ‘In the Crowd’ at the Trump Rally in Pickens on Saturday, July 1, 2023
Views in the crowd at Donald J. Trump’s rally in downtown Pickens Saturday, July 1, 2023.
Alex Hicks Jr., Greenville News
Former President Donald Trump didn’t have to do much convincing to impress a hometown crowd of mostly Trump supporters in Pickens Saturday.
Nearly 75 percent of Pickens County voters selected Trump over current President Joe Biden in 2020.
“I love it,” Kenny Stoll, a self-described blue-collar iron worker from Summerville, S.C., said of Trump’s remarks. “I don’t think he lies to the people. He’s true to his word and he don’t back down. He fights for what’s right.”
Trump headlined the Pickens Independence Day Spectacular, and supporters came as early as Friday to Pickens in hopes of being among the first on Saturday to see the former president, who is leading in the polls among GOP presidential candidates.
Supporters traveled from as far away as Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana and Florida to attend the rally.
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By daybreak Saturday, lines of people stretched all the way from East Main Street down Hampton Avenue, and along East Cedar Rock Street. At 9 a.m., the gates on East Main Street opened and people were screened by the Secret Service upon entry.
Parking was at a premium. One church offered free parking, but accepted donations. Others with lots charged for parking. At one spot, spaces were being offered for $60.
Vendors lined Hampton Avenue, selling everything from Trump shirts and hats to bottled water, ice cream, mini-donuts, roasted corn and bottled honey. By afternoon, volunteers for the Trump campaign were handing out free bottles of spring water.
Closer to the stage on North Lewis Street, vendors were selling lemonade, burgers, chicken tenders, smoked sausage, soft pretzels, sweet tea and Gatorade.
Pickens Police Chief Randall Beach estimated a crowd of 50,000 showed up on a day when afternoon temperatures soared into the mid-90s, causing dozens of people suffer from heat-related illness.
Pre-rally estimates of 10,000 to 30,000 were made. During his remarks, Trump claimed the turnout was 75,000. Beach said he needed to get an accurate count from the Secret Service before providing a final number.
“No way it was less than 50,000,” Beach said.
Trump spoke for nearly an hour and a half, and people began leaving before he finished due to the extreme heat.
More than 50 people treated for heat-related illness
Many people tried to find places to sit in what little shade there was. Some people donned umbrellas, and others fanned themselves with papers. Clouds kept heat down part of the morning, with a refreshing breeze. By afternoon, the clouds disappeared and a hot and muggy July sun sent temperatures soaring into the mid-90s.
One woman near the media zone appeared to faint. The Trump team rushed to her aid and brought a chair and water for her to recover. Shortly after, Trump organizers weaved their way through the crowd and started handing out water to the large crowd.
Kenny McPeters, chairman of Pickens County Emergency Services Board, estimated at least 50 people, mostly elderly, were being treated with air conditioning and water at a temporary shelter inside Pickens First Baptist Church only two blocks from where Trump spoke.
McPeters and Beach said some people had to be transported to the local hospital for further treatment.
“Besides the church, we were using our cars, stairwells at courthouse and police department,” Beach said of finding places for heat sufferers.
Beach said there were no major incidents, and one person who tried to enter at the gate had to surrender his pistol. The person was able to retrieve the gun when they left the rally, Beach said.
If the heat wasn’t enough, a severe thunderstorm came through Pickens after the rally ended, downing trees and causing widespread damage, according to Beach.
He said emergency crews were responding as of late afternoon.
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Bailey Lehmans of Charleston, a pre-law student at Methodist University in North Carolina, said she’s always been too busy working to attend any Trump rallies.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “I support him because he’s real with us. He wasn’t born into politics.”
Kelly Clemens of Travelers Rest said she and her husband moved to South Carolina from Philadelphia, Pa., 17 years ago, and became Trump supporters in 2016 and 2020.
“His direction is my direction,” she said of Trump, adding that she believes his business background and political independence helps him to deliver on promises – even though she cringes when he delivers harsh criticism of opponents.
“Would he be my best friend? Probably not. But I’m voting for a president,” she said. “We have a wonderful country and I want to keep it that way.”
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Stephanie Wald of Grand Isle, Nebraska, and Melissa Cole of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said they’ve been to nearly 30 Trump rallies across the nation this year.
“We’re about standing for patriots, truth and justice,” Cole said. “(Trump) told the American people, ’I’m giving power back to the people.’”
Trump’s return to South Carolina comes weeks after he appeared in court in Miami June 13. Trump pled not guilty to more than 30 charges related to the alleged mishandling of classified documents, which included military information related to nuclear programs.
On the indictments facing Trump, Wald said, “It’s all lies. It’s not going to amount to anything. It’s just a distraction.”Joe Sturdivant, a construction worker from Williamston, SC, said.
“He tells it like it is,” Sturdivant said of Trump. “He tells you he’s going to do something, and he does it.”Sturdivant said he thinks the charges that Trump faces are politically motivated meant to be a distraction.
“I think they’re crap,” he said of the most recent indictments against Trump. “They’re trying to do everything to get him out, and it’s not working.
One woman who was dressed as a “Patriot” Wonder Woman said Saturday was her first Trump rally.
Tammy Milligan of Myrtle Beach said became angry when Trump was impeached, and she wanted to show her support of Trump. She said she is strongly anti-abortion.
“I love our president,” she said. “Didn’t God have a plan the day he was born? He stands for our God-given rights.”
Meanwhile, a three-generation family from Pickens said they wouldn’t miss the chance to see Trump.
Virginia Powell, 91, a retired textile worker and former restaurant employee, said the country is “in the biggest mess we’ve ever been in, and it’s up to us to clean it up.”
Her son Randall Powell, a retired security worker from the Oconee Nuclear Station, said he’s for Trump because he wants to bring jobs back that went to other countries in the past couple decades.
“He cares about the people in this country,” he said.
His daughter and Virginia Powell’s granddaughter, Melissa Smith, is a stay-at-home mom and also a Trump supporter. She believes faith will help America overcome its problems.
“If people turned their lives over to Christ, then the problems will all solve themselves,” she said.
Johnny Kemp, a construction firm manager from Greer, said he voted for Trump twice and plans to do so again.
“He helped my company out before everything went to pot three years ago,’ Kemp said. “Most of the other (candidates) are lifelong politicians in the system. I feel Donald Trump loves America. He doesn’t have to be here. He loves this place so much he’s going to fight for it and you.”