'Build the wall' chants at Trump rally in Bronx

Former President Donald J. Trump stood in a park in the Bronx on Thursday, miles from the gloomy Manhattan courthouse where he has spent the past five weeks as a criminal defendant, surveying the crowd and admitting he was worried about how he would be received at his first rally in New York State in eight years, and his first in the borough.

He faced a more diverse crowd than at his rallies before him, with many black and Hispanic voters wearing bright red “Make America Great Again” hats and other Trump-themed apparel that is rare in typically dark-blue New York City. Even more people stood outside waiting to go through security.

“I woke up, I said, 'I wonder, is this going to be hostile or is this going to be friendly?'” Mr. Trump said. “It was beyond friendly. It was a love fest.”

As is often the case with Mr. Trump’s speeches, the truth was a little more complicated. While he spoke, more than 100 protesters demonstrated outside the fenced area of ​​Crotona Park where he held a rally. A wave of elected officials condemned his visit to the city. And his insistence that he would carry New York in November — though perhaps not as ridiculous as it once might have seemed, at least judging by a recent poll — conveniently ignored the crushing defeats he suffered in the state in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

But as heated debate raged outside his rally, Mr. Trump, who at times began sharing lengthy memes centered on New York that his supporters did not understand, seemed to relish the opportunity to come to his hometown, the media attention and the knowledge that New Yorkers would hear him, one way or the other, whether they liked it or not.

During the rally, Mr. Trump, one of New York’s most famous natives who formally made Florida his home in 2019, embraced the opportunity to show his support for the city he left behind — and which he vowed he still loved, even as he denounced it as descending into chaos.

“New York is where you came to make it big. If you want to make it big, you have to stay in New York,” he said. “But sadly, it's a decaying city now.”

His remarks largely followed a familiar pattern as he launched a scathing attack against the Biden administration and explicitly courted Black and Latino voters. He bemoaned the surge in migrants at the southern border and criticized President Biden's economic policies, saying they disproportionately harm people of color, whose support he is eager to win from Democrats.

He said, “African Americans are being slaughtered. Hispanic Americans are being slaughtered.”

He also stressed that the influx of migrants that has sparked the crisis in New York is “disproportionately harming our Black population and Hispanic population, who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, and losing everything they could lose.”

Mr Trump's speech against illegal border crossers and his pledge to launch the “largest deportation campaign” in US history – which were central themes of his campaign rallies – were enthusiastically received.

Without prompting, many in the crowd chanted “Build the wall,” a reference to Mr. Trump’s effort to build a wall on the southern border during his presidency, and then later, “Send them back.”

They raised no objection to his sweeping claim, backed by no evidence, that the people crossing the border were mentally ill criminals plotting an invasion of the United States.

“They want to destroy us from the inside,” Mr. Trump said. “I think they’re building an army.”

Such anti-immigrant messages have received a particularly positive response in New York, a city of refuge that has built a reputation over decades as a beacon for immigrants.

Some in the crowd said they were immigrants, but they quickly clarified that they had crossed the border legally and that those who had not disagreed with them.

“I understand this country is made up of immigrants,” said Indiana Mitchell, 47, who said she is from the Dominican Republic. “But I came to this country the right way. I didn't come through the backyard, I came through the front door.”

Mr. Trump often talks about how the migration crisis is unfolding in New York during rallies in battleground states, while for many of his supporters it remains an abstract idea.

But attendees at the Bronx rally said they have seen firsthand the impact on their neighborhoods of the growing number of immigrants, which has put a strain on municipal budgets as the city provides housing and other social services.

Rafael Brito, a Queens resident who said he came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, said he believes the migrant crisis has increased crime and made it more difficult for his neighbors to get essential services.

“The whole neighborhood has changed,” Mr. Brito, 51, said.

Protesters outside the rally said they felt compelled to come to the park to voice their opposition to Mr Trump's views.

Melvin Howard, a 65-year-old machinist who lives near Crotona Park, said he wanted to express his disagreement with the rally held in his neighborhood and the views of the people who attended it.

“These people shouldn't be in the South Bronx,” he said, pointing to the large number of white people in the crowd, where the white population is less than 10 percent. “They're here to steal our black votes. I don't recognize any of them.”

The atmosphere became tense for some time during the demonstration, with pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters yelling profanities at each other from across the street. The New York Police Department began separating the two sides, placing metal barricades on the streets.

The Bronx is one of the most Democratic counties in the country. President Biden won the borough by 68 percent in 2020, though Mr. Trump improved on his performance in 2016, when he lost by 79 percentage points.

But Mr. Trump ignored those previous results. “Don’t assume that just because you live in a blue city, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You live in a blue city, but it’s turning red very fast.”

Mr. Trump’s visit to the city where he has spent most of his life seemed to evoke more reflectiveness than his speeches in battleground states.

He spent a lot of time celebrating his history with New York, talking about renovating an ice skating rink in Central Park and managing a public golf course in the Bronx.

And he included life lessons in his speech.

He also looked up to his father, a real estate developer who Mr. Trump said loved to work and worked relentlessly, even on Sundays, and to homebuilder William Levitt, who built Levittowns on Long Island and other states. But Mr. Trump observed that Mr. Levitt left his business too early and couldn't come back when he wanted to return years later.

Mr Trump said the reason is that he has lost his momentum.

“You should always keep moving forward,” Mr Trump said. “And when your time comes, you should know it's your time.”

Jeffrey C. Mays Contributed reporting.

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