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Phoenix Prepares For Protests As Trump Holds Downtown Rally


President Trump is holding a rally tonight in downtown Phoenix. And that city is bracing for demonstrations and possibly violence. Trump's visit to Arizona is his first since he won the state in November. It follows his controversial remarks about the racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, Va. NPR's Kirk Siegler is just outside the convention center where Trump will speak tonight. And, Kirk, set the stage for us. What are people there in Phoenix telling you about this event?

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Well, Robert, there's a good sense of anxiety and uncertainty about what will happen tonight. You know, Trump is coming into an area like this to potentially stir the pot, rally his base, after weeks of turbulent politics and drama in the White House. And this, of course, is a state that's quite polarized. On the right, you have prominent Trump supporters like the former Governor Jan Brewer, the former sheriff here in Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, the immigration hardliner. And, you know, this is a border state also home to a very politically active and savvy immigrant rights community, who are largely credited for Joe Arpaio losing his re-election bid last fall.

You know, I think there are some real concerns that things could get out of hand. This is the first real public event since Trump made those remarks about white supremacists and the violence in Virginia.

SIEGEL: And do you have any sense of how big a presence protesters will be tonight or which groups will be there protesting?

SIEGLER: Well, police are telling us they're expecting crowds in the thousands at the minimum. You know, it's likely there's going to be a robust presence from the far left, local antifa protesters. There are at least two large immigrant rights marches planned. Then, of course, on the far right, there's speculation that white supremacists could turn up, also militia. Then, of course, you've got Trump's base. A little while ago, I met a woman named Elizabeth McCright, who drove over here from Riverside, Calif.

She told me she had to come out and show the president that he still has fans, especially, she said, common people like her, who are suffering. So let's hear a little of Elizabeth now.

ELIZABETH MCCRIGHT: He loves us so much. He's given up his beautiful life without - he doesn't want to be paid. And all they can do is attack him.

SIEGEL: Now, Kirk, you mentioned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The White House says that because today's event in Phoenix is actually a campaign rally, it will not be used to pardon the former Maricopa County sheriff. He's been convicted on criminal contempt of court charges related to racial profiling. Do you think that that eases some tensions a bit?

SIEGLER: Well, that will be interesting to see. I mean, the statement from the White House does not say that this pardon is off the table, you know, down the road, so I'm not sure it does ease a lot of tensions. Plus there are a host of other bigger issues that people are coming out here to protest. Robert, history shows us here that people are not deterred in Phoenix by 100-plus degree heat to come out and protest in these conditions.

You know, I think the big question is will it remain peaceful? And that's certainly on everybody's minds today.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR's Kirk Siegler in Phoenix. Kirk, thanks.

SIEGLER: Glad to do it, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.