Trump will visit Arizona for the first time since contentious 2017 rally

President Trump’s last visit to Arizona in August 2017 ended with police firing tear gas at a crowd of protesters outside Phoenix Convention Center and a class-action lawsuit. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Second Street was crowded as counterprotesters gathered outside the Phoenix Convention Center before the Trump rally on Aug. 22, 2017. (File photo by Andrea Jaramillo Valencia/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – When President Donald Trump visits Mesa on Friday to stump for Arizona senatorial candidate Martha McSally, the setting will be much different from the aftermath of 2017 rally in Phoenix that led to police firing tear gas at a crowd of protesters and a class-action lawsuit.

Trump will rouse a crowd at 7 p.m. Friday at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to support Republican McSally, a two-term member of Congress who’s running against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a three-term member of Congress. McSally embraced Trump when she launched her campaign and he returned the gesture when she won the Republican primary.

Trump, who has trumpeted his endorsement as key to Republicans triumphing in the November midterm elections, is bullish about his impact on a crowd. He has made several visits to Arizona, where a majority voted for him as president.

“The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election,” Trump tweeted on Monday. Doors will open at 4 p.m. for the free rally, with tickets available on his website.

The Mesa airport offers a location and circumstances different from the last time the president landed in the Phoenix area. On Aug. 22, 2017, after a Trump rally attended by thousands of supporters and opponents ended at the Phoenix Convention Center, crowds of protesters spread through downtown.

Phoenix police fired tear gas and pepper-spray bullets into the crowd, saying some protesters ignored demands to disperse and threw rocks and bottles. The actions spurred public anger and internal reviews. In September, the ACLU, two advocacy groups and several protesters filed a lawsuit claiming police used excessive force and suppressed free speech.

Kathy Brody, legal director for the Arizona division of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if Trump had come to Phoenix again, the ACLU would have asked for a temporary restraining order. But the Mesa rally makes that action moot.

“Having a rally in downtown Phoenix is quite a bit different than having something out on the outskirts of Maricopa County,” Brody said.

Mesa police and a spokesperson for the airport’s International Air Response, where the rally will be held, said Monday they were working with the White House on security.

Detective Nik Rasheta, a police spokesman, directed questions about security plans to the White House.

It was unclear Monday how many people would be allowed to attend the rally and whether protesters would be allowed on or near the site.

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Andy Zhang, a founder of Arizona Chinese-Americans for Trump who plans to attend the rally, expects it be peaceful, like most Trump rallies he has attended.

“I hope it doesn’t happen this time,” said Zhang, who had attended the Phoenix rally in 2017 without problems. “We’re a country with freedom of speech. You can protest peacefully.”

Brody said protesters should be allowed and protected at Friday’s rally.

“We would hope that the Mesa police and any other police agency that are involved in this effort will do everything that they can to protect the First Amendment rights of everyone, and that would include allowing people to protest,” she said.

“I would urge the Mesa police to not follow the lead of the Phoenix Police Department and to make sure that they’re protecting protesters and not attacking them,” she said.

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