At a Trump Rally in the Bronx, Chants of ‘Build the Wall’

Miles from the rather somber Manhattan courtroom where he has spent much of the past five weeks as a criminal defendant, former President Donald J. Trump on Thursday stood at a park in the Bronx, surveyed the crowd and acknowledged he had been concerned over how he might be greeted at his first rally in New York State in eight years, and his first ever in the borough.

In front of him was a more diverse crowd than is typical of his rallies, with many Black and Hispanic voters sporting bright red “Make America Great Again” hats and other Trump-themed apparel ordinarily scarce in deep-blue New York City. Still more people stood outside, waiting to get past security.

“I woke up, I said, ‘I wonder, will it be hostile or will it be friendly?’” Mr. Trump said. “It was beyond friendly. It was a love fest.”

As is often the case during Mr. Trump’s speeches, the truth was a bit more complex. As he spoke, more than 100 protesters demonstrated outside the fenced-off area of Crotona Park where he had staged the rally. A wave of elected officials denounced his visit to the city. And his insistence that he would carry New York in November — though perhaps not as laughable as it once might have sounded, judging from at least one recent poll — conveniently disregarded the thumping he took in the state in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

But as heated arguments took place outside his rally, Mr. Trump, who veered occasionally into lengthy New York-focused reminiscences that were lost on his supporters, seemed to relish the chance to appear in his hometown, seize media attention and know that New Yorkers would hear what he had to say, like it or not, one way or the other.

Throughout the rally, Mr. Trump, one of New York’s most famous native sons, who formally made Florida his home in 2019, embraced the chance to demonstrate his support in the city he left behind — and which he swore he still loved, even as he decried it as descending into chaos.

“New York was where you came to make it big. You want to make it big, you had to be in New York,” he said. “But sadly, this is now a city in decline.”

His remarks largely followed familiar patterns as he railed against the Biden administration and made explicit overtures to Black and Latino voters. He lamented the surge of migrants across the southern border and criticized President Biden’s economic policies as disproportionately hurting people of color, whose support he is eager to win from Democrats.

“African Americans are getting slaughtered. Hispanic Americans are getting slaughtered,” he said.

He also insisted that the migrant influx, which has prompted a crisis in New York, was disproportionately hurting “our Black population and our Hispanic population, who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing everything they can lose.”

Mr. Trump’s screeds against those crossing the border illegally and his vow to conduct the “largest deportation operation” in U.S. history — both staples of his campaign rallies — were met with cheers.

Unprompted, many in the crowd responded by chanting “Build the wall,” a reference to Mr. Trump’s effort during his presidency to build a wall on the southern border, and then, later, “Send them back.”

They did not appear to object to his broad assertion, which has no evidence, that those coming across the border were mentally ill criminals mounting an invasion of the United States.

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

The approving reception for such anti-immigrant messaging was particularly striking in New York, a sanctuary city that has over decades built a reputation as a beacon for immigrants.

Some in the crowd said they were immigrants but were quick to clarify that they had crossed the border legally and that they disapproved of those who did not.

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

Mr. Trump often discusses how the migrant crisis is playing out in New York during rallies in battleground states, where it remains a more abstract idea to many of his supporters.

But people at his Bronx rally said they had directly seen the impact on their neighborhoods of the surge of migrants, which has strained the municipal budget as the city provides housing and other social services.

Rafael Brito, a Queens resident who said he had come to the United States from the Dominican Republic, said he thought the migrant crisis had exacerbated crime and made it more difficult for his neighbors to get services they needed.

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

Outside the rally, those protesting said they had felt compelled to come to the park to make their voices heard in opposition to Mr. Trump’s views.

Melvin Howard, 65, a machinist who lives near Crotona Park, said he wanted to make clear his disapproval of the rally being held in his neighborhood and the views of the people attending it.

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

As the protesters were demonstrating, the atmosphere became momentarily charged, with Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters screaming obscenities at one another from across the street. The New York Police Department began separating both sides, lining the streets with metal barricades.

The Bronx remains 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 brushed off those past results. “Don’t assume it doesn’t matter just because you live in a blue city,” he said. “You live in a blue city, but it’s going red very very quickly.”

Mr. Trump’s outing in the city where he spent most of his life seemed to elicit more reflectiveness than is characteristic of his stump speeches in battleground states.

He spent considerable time celebrating his history with New York, recounting his refurbishing an ice-skating rink in Central Park and his stewardship of a public golf course in the Bronx.

And he salted his speech with life lessons.

He expressed his admiration, at some length, for his father, a real-estate developer who Mr. Trump said loved to work and did so relentlessly, including on Sundays, and for the home builder William Levitt, who built Levittowns on Long Island and in other states. But Mr. Trump observed that Mr. Levitt had exited his business too early and was unable to make a comeback when he wanted to years later.

The reason, Mr. Trump said, was that he had squandered his momentum.

“You have to always keep moving forward,” Mr. Trump said. “And when it’s your time, you have to know it’s your time.”

Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.

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