Border security, inflation and war worries voiced by Pennsylvanians who turned out for Trump speech in Harrisburg

Second Amendment


Concerns about immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, which have dominated recent rightwing news cycles, are driving interest among some of the people who showed up at the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex to see former President Donald Trump speak at the NRA Outdoor Show.

“I think closing our border is one of the biggest things we need to get done,” said Jason Harvey, 46, of Elizabethtown. “Then I think we need to start looking at our economy.”

Harvey’s thoughts on immigration were widely shared by the people who stood in line alongside him at a security checkpoint for the Trump rally, where guns are prohibited.

A maintenance worker at a company that makes doors, Harvey said he gets his news from the hard-right cable network Newsmax, and from social media—another common theme among nearly a dozen people interviewed as they waited for the rally to start.

The concerns voiced by these attendees—about immigration, inflation and a larger war in the Middle East or East Asia—show the divide between the news as relayed by right wing media sites and those in mainstream news.

Trump’s four criminal indictments and a federal ruling saying he’s not immune from prosecution have led coverage in major newspapers and broadcast networks. But on Newsmax, where Alicia Figueroa gets much of her news, the potential for disruptive cyberattacks, terrorists sneaking across the border, or a potential global conflict mean that a Biden presidency would be apocalyptic.

“We’re just done,” said Figueroa of the prospect of Biden’s reelection. “I think World War III will come.”

The nurse from Lower Paxton Township in Dauphin County described herself as a “Latina for Trump”—her family is from the U.S. Island territory of Puerto Rico. She said “closing the border” must be a top priority.

Alicia Figueroa, from Lower Paxton Twp., stands in line before former President Donald Trump speaks during an NRA sponsored event at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg on Friday Feb. 9, 2024.

Chris Knight / LNP

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LancasterOnline

Alicia Figueroa, from Lower Paxton Twp., stands in line before former President Donald Trump speaks during an NRA sponsored event at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg on Friday Feb. 9, 2024.

Figueroa wasn’t aware that congressional Republicans sank a bill this week that included much of their demands for increased border protections, along with aid for Ukraine and Israel. Democrats have blasted Republicans for this move, saying it put election-year politics over action.

But hearing about that didn’t change anything for Figueroa. She said the more fundamental issue in the border and immigration debate is one of fairness.

“Some people waited five, ten years just to make it to this country,” Figueroa said of immigrants who arrive legally in the country. “Now it’s a free for all. How is that fair? OK? It’s like if you cheated.”

TRUMP SUPPORT UNWAVERING

People who came to see Trump at the NRA expo, unsurprisingly, stressed their support for Second Amendment rights, even as the gun rights group has come under scrutiny in recent years.

The association’s CEO since 1991, Wayne LaPierre, resigned last month just before a trial was set to begin in a 2020 civil case by New York attorney general Letitia James looking into corruption at the nonprofit under his leadership.

Allegations of extravagant spending garnered him scorn from some gun owners. The group, a political juggernaut under LaPierre’s leadership, is financially broke and struggling to find its footing as the 2024 election approaches, reports The Washington Post. Its membership is down 40% since 2016.

Though Trump has spoken at eight NRA events over the years, his rally Friday night was his first time at the outdoor show the NRA bills as the nation’s largest. For some, Trump, not the hunting-and fishing-focused show, was the main draw. Mike Vaccari drove four hours from outside Pittsburgh to see the former president.

It’s not his first time seeing him. Vaccari lives just a half-hour from East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailed a year ago, dumping toxic chemicals into the water and air. He saw Trump speak in East Palestine and was moved.

The 34-year old cook and mover said “closing the border” is his top policy issue.

Vaccari follows conservative media figures like Alex Jones, Joe Rogan and Tucker Carlson—and he said Carlson’s recent two-hour interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin was what he and his traveling partner, 21-year old Will Bussmann, listened to on the drive in.

“I listen to people who are getting censored, because I feel like they’re telling the truth,” Vaccari said.

Vaccari is one of the roughly 30% of Americans, according to a 2023 Monmouth poll, who believes Biden won the 2020 election due to voter fraud. He said Trump’s criminal charges and other legal issues can be dismissed as attacks by his opponents.

“None of this surprises me,” Vaccari said. “I just feel like the whole system is against Trump. The whole establishment, it’s just to try to hurt America.”

Ralph Russell shared the sentiment that Trump’s legal woes are “contrived.” The 55-year old from Mechanicsburg raised immigration as his top issue. He pushed back against the idea that it doesn’t have much effect across Pennsylvania.

“All 50 states are part of this country, and anybody who comes in illegally, eventually ends up in all 50 states,” Russell said. “Just because we’re not Texas, those people who cross that border end up in Pennsylvania, some of them. So it affects everybody.”

And as for local issues, under Trump, Russell said, it was a lot easier to fill up his self-described “gas-guzzling” Ram truck. He understands that indicators may say the economy is humming—but that doesn’t translate to his paycheck.

“Let’s face it,” Russell said. “You go to the grocery store. Things cost a lot more money. I’m not making a lot more money.”

Rhonda Pollock, wearing a Trump shirt, said she voted for Joe Biden in 2020, thinking that Trump was unpredictable and the country needed a change. Now, that’s come full circle for her.

“He needs to send them all back,” said said of immigrants who illegally enter the country. “And I think he needs to provide better care for the people that are here.”

Pollock added, “We are going to end up going to war. It’s going to take one little button, and it’s going to be done.”

TRUMP SPEECH TAILORED TO SUPPORTERS’ CONCERNS

When Trump took the stage at the estimated 6,000-person-capacity New Holland Large Arena, he recognized the prominent Republicans in attendance, including Lancaster County’s congressman, Lloyd Smucker.

“Thank you, Lloyd. Thank you very much. Great job too,” Trump said.

He also noted the presence of Congressman Scott Perry, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus whose district includes Harrisburg. Perry’s cell phone was obtained by federal investigators in 2022 as part of an investigation into whether Trump is criminally guilty for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election result.

Congressmen Guy Reschenthaler from Washington County and Dan Meuser from Luzerne County, were also in attendance.

As for Trump’s remarks, they hit on the same issues and themes voiced by attendees like Pollock, Russell and Figueroa, heavy on warnings of unfettered immigration, plans to seize personal firearms, and the risk of war.

“An entire generation of young people could very well be decimated by something that could very well happen, World War III,” Trump said. “And it’ll never happen with me, I can tell you that.”

This reporter’s work is funded by the Lancaster County Local Journalism Fund. For more information, or to make a contribution, please visit lanc.news/supportlocaljournalism.



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