What I saw at the rally for his Black and Hispanic voters wasn’t comforting.

The MAGA energy was palpable—in the Bronx. As emerging crowds recognized other like-minded people on the street, the chants began immediately. “Let’s Go Brandon!” someone shouted. Another group smiled mischievously and echoed the chant, a small cacophony hinting at what was to come.

This was the Bronx like I had never seen it, and that was by design—the Trump campaign had explicitly set up his rally here in the press as aimed at Black and Hispanic voters, some of whom polls suggest are slowly warming to the former president in key states.

Not everyone in the crowd was quite a convert. Marena, a Dominican and a Bronx native, had come to Crotona Park out of curiosity. She’d heard that this was where Trump was scheduled to give a speech, the first of its kind here since President Reagan visited and was heckled in 1980. She and her friend Nicole sat on a small stone cobblestone bridge crossing a section of Indian Lake in the park, just within view of a hill where a Secret Service sniper was positioned. “We’re trying to get that glimpse!” she said.

They didn’t mind that Trump had come to their backyard. “We live right down the block,” she said, impressed by the enthusiasm of the crowd. “It’s a lot of people. We’ve never seen this many people in this park before.”

As we chatted, a group of three white men, who stood out in a borough that is under 10 percent white, walked past. “Where did you people come from?” Marena called out to them. “San Diego,” they answered, smiling, saying they had booked a flight to New York just to see Trump speak in the Bronx. “See? San Diego! Y’all are great supporters. They have amazing fucking energy. Like, they just came from Cali, ” she said.

Trump supporters in the Bronx.
Aymann Ismail

Still, Marena couldn’t think of anyone she knew in the Bronx who supported Trump. She told me that she is a Democrat, though she qualified that by saying she finds it difficult to be enthusiastic about Biden. “Neither one of them has my support right now,” she said.

Closer to the rally, I spotted Mike sitting alone on a bench. He is a Black Brooklyn native who came to the park from work, still dressed in his hi-vis vest and construction hard hat. He said he was waiting for the rest of his labor union, Local 78, to show up so they could enter the rally together.

“Hopefully we get that boy Trump back in office. When he was in office the economy was good. I was working straight through the economy. Things were a lot easier financially,” he said. He said that ever since Biden took office, he’s struggled financially because while his wages are the same, everything from the grocery store to rent and other expenses has all become less affordable. “Once the economy goes back to flourishing, if that starts to work, everything else is going to be like a domino effect,” he said.

Latino Trump supporters in the Bronx.
Aymann Ismail

Mike said he voted for Barack Obama in 2012, but switched to being a Trump supporter after he was disappointed in how pro-LGBTQ Obama’s administration was. “I don’t have nothing against them, but him empowering them didn’t do nothing for us,” he said. “The people who hated Trump then, look at them now. They’re going for Trump because we’re tired of hearing people just talk.”

As I approached the Crotona Park Amphitheatre, where thousands of Trump supporters had already gathered to see Trump speak, I saw a familiar sight: a handful of young Black and Hispanic kids having fun playing in a basketball court. They planned on entering and getting lost in the dense crowd of Trump supporters like it was a carnival. I asked about some of the anti–New York rhetoric repeated by Trump and many of his supporters, who say the city is in decline and has become overrun with violence, comments he would repeat at this rally. “Well, they not lying. But they need to keep it moving. There’s lots of blame to go around,” one of the girls said. “These are the same people who go, ‘The Bronx is ghetto. Da da da.’ Now you want to come over here because Donald Trump?”

Arthur told me he’d dragged his friends along after they got off work nearby, telling them it was an opportunity to witness history. “We’re in the Bronx, like near the hoods and shit. It’s so out of place,” he said. He estimated that the crowd was about 30 percent locals, and was surprised to see that so many of Trump’s supporters appeared to be nonwhite.

“I personally do not like Trump, but this is something to look at. I don’t like both Biden or Trump. I’m only here to observe,” he said. “I’m a Democrat, but generally, I don’t know, bro.”

The line to enter the amphitheater space where Trump would deliver his speech stretched for what seemed like a mile. People waited for up to three hours to get inside the secured area. I asked a Hispanic man who waved both a small Israeli flag and a small American flag as he waited in line what he hoped to hear Trump say. Biden, he told me, “is a traitor. He’s siding with the communists, with socialists, and betraying Israel. That’s not what this nation was built on. That’s why this country is blessed, for siding with Israel.”

A crowd of Trump supporters at the rally.
Aymann Ismail

There were many white Trump supporters present. But it was mostly a nonwhite crowd. I spotted José perched up on a barricade near the line. He told me he is originally from Honduras and now lives in the Bronx. He voted for Trump in the last election, and says he intends to again. “We hope the other candidates come here to the Bronx,” he said.

Emmanuel, who is Black, told me he walked only two blocks to the park from his apartment to the rally. He said he personally knows many nonwhite supporters of Trump in the Bronx. “I remember back in 2016 when I was talking about Trump, people looked at me like I have three heads. There were a few people that when we got talking, it was always whispers, hiding it. And now everybody’s out with it. It’s like, ‘Oh wow, I’m shocked.’ ”

In the line was also Phil, a white 77-year-old retired Marine Corps veteran who had been living in the Bronx for 50 years. “I like the place,” he said. “If Washington left us alone, it’d be even nicer.” He said he thought Trump has “big cojones,” and wasn’t surprised that he would organize a rally in an area perceived to be hostile to him. “It gets lonely sometimes,” he said of being a Republican in the Bronx. “When I go to vote sometimes, I’m the only one on that line. But people will change their mind when the time comes.”

Another group of 16-year-old Black kids sprinted in my direction and enthusiastically agreed to stop for an interview. “We want to see Trump, but this line is mad long,” one said. Instead, they were starting conversations with the Trump supporters who had descended on their neighborhood. “All I’m hearing is Trump, Trump, Trump,” one joked. Another reported more diligently, “They’re saying that they believe Trump is good for the economy and stuff.”

We were interrupted when they spotted their social studies teacher. “Yo, Mr. Nuriddin!” they said as they rushed over to meet him. He rode in on his fixed-gear bike and was delighted to see his students engaging with the rallygoers. “I’m giving you guys extra credit,” he said. He said he talks about politics and current events in the class, and told the students about the rally and encouraged them to check it out for themselves. “It’s all critical thinking in my class. Engaging, debates, things like that,” he said. “He’s a former president and may be the next president. It’s important to see what’s going on.”

Not everyone was so happy for Trump to be there. I heard “Get the fuck out of the Bronx” more than once, along with chants like “Fuck Trump, fuck Biden too, they don’t give a fuck about you” from pro-Palestine protesters. Things got a bit heated briefly when pro-Israel Trump supporters came over to confront the counterprotest, waving Israeli flags and chanting “Terrorists!” in their direction. Bicycle-mounted police swiftly moved in to form a barrier between the two. At one point, a group of Israel supporters shouted “Gorilla!” at a Black counterprotester.

Jacob, a Queens native who is white, pro-Trump, and pro-Israel, came to the Bronx to support Trump. He said he couldn’t help himself from waving a large flag that combined the Israeli and American flags in the direction of the counterprotests, but he also engaged with them actively. He lived in Israel for a period where he was involved in Israel’s national emergency medical services.

“I want Trump to bring peace through strength. I want him to bring an end to the war—but by overwhelming force,” he said. He blamed Joe Biden for “handicapping the Israeli army.” But he also said that Israel is not the biggest issue for him in the coming election. He is far more concerned with immigration and gun rights, he said.

Jacob continued to engage Black and Hispanic counterprotesters after we finished talking. I overheard him telling one, “You support Hamas. You’re a fucking terrorist.”

Inside the rally, Trump tried to make the case that migrants arriving in New York had “the biggest negative impact” on “our Black population and our Hispanic population, who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing everything they can lose.” On cue, even in this Hispanic stronghold, he inspired audible cheers of “Build the wall.”

Someone partying outside Trump's rally in the Bronx.
Aymann Ismail

As the afternoon gave way to evening, more familiar scenes in the Bronx began to dominate the crowd outside the Trump rally. On my way out, I encountered a small group of Black and Hispanic kids who were between 11 and 13 years old. “I don’t even know what’s going on,” one said. They had come to the park looking to play some basketball and were surprised to see the massive crowd. “This is animated, bro,” they all said, talking over each other. “It’s hectic, bro. People charging $40 for a hat. Y’all are scammy.”

Though there was still a strong presence of Trump supporters in the park, they had begun to be outflanked by a loud minority of natives who hijacked the space for their amusement. “We’re just trying to have fun, get some bitches. We’re smoking, we’re chilling right now,” said another group of young people. They saw Trump as a lot of Americans used to: as entertainment.

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