I went to a Trump rally, it was terrifying

In this case, I think it makes sense to begin with the end. When I left the rally that had amassed outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, I was consumed by a wide-array of emotions that ranged from sad to confused to absolutely terrified.

It was the day after the infamous Billy Bush tape was revealed. Pundits and politicos were slamming Trump’s casual nod toward sexual assault while Trump himself was locked away high above Midtown meeting with his inner circle to determine a way forward.

Down below, a handful of Trump supporters quietly sprinkled the walkway beyond the doors of Trump Tower’s public entrance, while passersby were treated to tunes by Times Square’s legendary Naked Cowboy. It was raining.

Robert John Burck, AKA The Naked Cowboy, hugs tourists as pictures are taken outside Trump Tower in New York City

In between his belting of sarcasm about the man who’s name was hashtagged across his rear, the urban rancher posed for pictures, mostly with women, and often commented — “I grab them by their whole body” — as iPhone flashes flickered all around.

The jovial atmosphere, lightened by the joking broncobuster and a gentleman wearing a Trump mask and a costume modeled after male genitalia, faded quickly as more supporters arrived.

With the crowd swelling, previously quiet supporters grew more confident and certainly louder. The sentiment was clear — pro-Trump, anti-everything else — especially Hillary Clinton.

A woman carries a bag with self-designed anti-Hillary and pro-Trump slogans — she was wearing an outfit to match

Now, I have been in some pretty hair-raising situations in my time — following the Tea Party, Occupy, Black Lives Matter and other protest movements — where emotions run high, and people say what they feel. But this impromptu rally outside Trump Tower was a brand new experience. I had never heard so many hateful, racist, misconstrued things in my entire career as a documentary photographer.

Like millions, I had watched the circus-like events of Trump rallies play out on TV, but physically being there was a whole different story. Talk of conspiracy theories and cursing of all media with the exception of Fox News ran rampant throughout the now dozens of ‘fanatics’ that had gathered to show support.

Yelling at the top of their lungs, Trump allies proclaimed their dismay with the establishment, with politicians, with the sitting President, and with anyone who wasn’t one of them.

The irony of this gathering was mindblowing. While the breakdown of the crowd was largely caucasian and favoring males, other demographics including women, Asians, and Latinos were also represented in limited numbers. Still, the level of racism was — for lack of better word — sickening.

A woman confronts two Muslim Trump supporters

Pictured above is an example of the blatant racism that seemed to be somewhat thematic of the event. Just seconds after these two Muslim tourists entered the rally space, the woman pictured center confronted them and asked, “what are you doing here?” The gentleman replied, “we support Trump.”

Without delay, the women snapped back, “that’s impossible, you people can’t support Trump, why would you do that?”

My skin was crawling as I listened to the exchange. I was immediately consumed by the harsh reality of the ignorance I was surrounded by. And I was saddened by the influence it was having on those passing by.

With weather improving, foot traffic up and down Fifth Avenue increased, as did the public debate over right and wrong, presidential candidates, the history of the world, and looming armageddon.

Yet, some responses helped calm the overwhelming fear that all hope was lost.

In the end though, it was clear — while we Americans have made great progress in advancing equality and the rights of all people, there is still much work to be done. The crowd I stood with, listened to, and photographed for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in New York City was a gut-check, a wake-up call that people in this country still fear what they don’t know and don’t understand.

The hate and bigotry exemplified by the Trump movement was clear as day. Rallied behind their leader, supporters championed the very phrases and rhetoric that the candidate has used to rally his base time and time again. On TV, it appears laughable. But on the street, when it’s in your face, it’s downright terrifying.