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Trump rally draws supporters, protesters to Claremont on Veterans Day

Supporters of Donald Trump line up to see the former president speak at a rally in Claremont on Saturday
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Supporters of Donald Trump line up to see the former president speak at a rally in Claremont on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

Hundreds of Donald Trump supporters and dozens of counter-protesters converged on Claremont on Saturday, as the former president held a Veterans Day rally in the small city.

It was Trump’s third visit to the state in recent months, as he campaigns for a second term in the White House. Trump continues to hold a wide lead among Republicans both in New Hampshire and nationally, despite facing dozens of criminal charges — spread across three states and Washington, D.C. — related to his effort to overturn the last election, his mishandling of national security documents, and other matters. He is also in the middle of a civil fraud trial in New York.

Since leaving office, Trump has continued to falsely insist that the 2020 election was stolen and has vowed retribution against his political opponents — rhetoric echoed by some of those who turned out to see him Saturday.

In the hours before the rally, the line to enter Stevens High School stretched up and down the block. Vendors hawked merchandise promoting Trump’s 2024 candidacy, celebrating gun culture and bearing slogans like “stand for the flag, kneel for the cross.” Music blared from a portable speaker.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump line up to hear him speak in Claremont on Saturday
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Supporters of former President Donald Trump line up to hear him speak in Claremont on Saturday

Most in the crowd said they are fully committed to the former president, touting what they saw as his first-term successes on border security and the economy. Just a few said they might be open to another GOP candidate.

Andrew Gill of Claremont said he’s leaning toward Trump in 2024, though he also likes Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott. He said the economy is one of his priorities this election, along with the opioid crisis and infrastructure.

“This is an old mill town,” Gill said. “There aren't that many job opportunities here, except for the big box store here on Washington Street. But I'm just hoping that there'll be more jobs available here in the town.”

The rally brought crowds and traffic to Claremont’s normally quiet downtown. A few blocks away, cars filled the parking lot outside American Legion Post 29, which was honoring Veterans Day with a ceremony at a Civil War memorial across the street and other events.

Signs outside Stevens High School in Claremont, the site of a Trump rally on Saturday
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Signs outside Stevens High School in Claremont, the site of a Trump rally on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

The Trump campaign’s decision to hold a rally on the holiday upset Steven Blish, the post’s commander.

“I don't care for it,” he said. “Not at all. I'm sorry. This is Veterans Day. It's made for the veterans.”

Because rally-goers were taking up the Legion’s lot, some veterans had to park three-quarters of a mile away, Blish said.

“It shouldn't happen. I'm sorry. That's my opinion,” he said. “I just think he could have done it on a different day. You know, it's not about him. It's about the veterans. It's about the guys that saw war.”

Blish said many of those veterans are struggling, reflected in high rates of suicide, and need more help.

In line for Trump’s rally Saturday morning, Pam Smith of nearby Springfield, Vt., said she hoped to see a different side of the candidate than she’d seen on TV.

“Not too much rhetoric,” she said. “It's the one thing about him that drives me crazy. A little bit too much rhetoric.”

Smith, who’s still undecided in the presidential primary, said she wanted to hear Trump outline his actual economic plans, “and not just bash people.”

Shirts on sale outside a Donald Trump rally in Claremont on Saturday
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Shirts on sale outside a Donald Trump rally in Claremont on Saturday, Nov., 11, 2023.

In his speech Saturday afternoon, Trump derided New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu; prosecutors and judges involved in his cases; and the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who suffered a vicious assault in his home last year, among others. He meanwhile praised Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán more than once and continued to promote baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

The rally drew a couple dozen sign-bearing protesters to a grassy median outside the high school. One of them was Jaime Contois, who drove in from Vermont and said she has family ties to Claremont. She said her biggest priority is to “protect our democracy.”

“I remember hearing our congressional members talk about what it felt like to hide in the United States Capitol from a mob that Trump sent,” she said.

Trump’s visit to Claremont came as he and his advisors prepare for a potential second term with proposals to bring unprecedented changes to the powers of the presidency, including plans for vast raids to round up undocumented immigrants and hold them in detention camps; and a plan to “go after” President Biden and other political opponents using the Justice Department and other government agencies.

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.

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