Marine vet Alexander McCoy wears a brick wall poncho at a Vets Vs. Hate protest in Public Square in downtown Cleveland. (Photo: Ward Carroll)
CLEVELAND, Ohio --- As Republican delegates and party officials wrangle through their strategy to capture the White House inside the Quicken Loans arena here, protesters outside the party's national convention have plenty to say about presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Among them is a group of military veterans who call themselves "Vets Versus Hate."
"Vets Versus Hate is a national, non-partisan, grassroots movement of veterans standing up against the rhetoric of bigotry and division that has started to really come to the fore during this election season," Marine Corps vet Alexander McCoy explained. "We're not here to oppose any political party; we're here to say that the kind of language Donald Trump is using is absolutely inconsistent with our values that we swore to uphold when we joined the military."
McCoy, who served as a guard at the American embassies in Saudi Arabia, Honduras and Germany among other duty stations while in the Marine Corps between 2008 and 2013, explained that the group came to Cleveland to show solidarity "with everyone who lives in America . . . calling upon members of [Trump's] party that have engaged in similar rhetoric to stop this politics of division."
But in the same breath McCoy conceded that "they don't seem to be listening, but we're going to continue to make our voices heard."
Media seemingly outnumber protesters during Vets Versus Hate event in Public Square in downtown Cleveland. (Photo: Ward Carroll)
While McCoy is certainly not the only vet protesting what he sees as the Trump campaign's divisive style, Republicans here have plenty of support from veterans groups and high-profile former military members who took the stage on the convention's opening day to underscore the real estate mogul's support for the military.
"The destructive pattern of putting the interests of other nations ahead of our own will end when Donald Trump is president," said former military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. "From this day forward, we must stand tougher and stronger together, with an unrelenting goal to not draw red lines and then retreat and to never be satisfied with reckless rhetoric from an Obama clone like Hillary Clinton."
But on the streets among the protesters it's a different story.
Army vet Chris Abshire, an Ohio native who deployed to Afghanistan during his 4 years as a soldier, joined Vets Versus Hate to make the public aware that other people are affected by war, not just soldiers.
"The Afghan people that I interacted with on a daily basis are forgotten about, and politicians who spew hatred toward them and say, 'We're going to bomb ISIS back into the Stone Age and steal their oil' forget that that's not even their oil," Abshire said just before joining a circle of protesters forming a human wall in the center of Public Square here, several blocks away from Quicken Loans Arena where the RNC is being held. "That belongs to the Iraqi people, who have been victimized for years now. And I want to stand up against that."
"Ultimately what we need to make clear to American voters is that [veterans] will not allow themselves to be used . . . as political props," McCoy said.
Police from several states line the entrance to the RNC complex in Cleveland. (Photo: Ward Carroll)
Earlier Trump advisor on veteran's issues New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro reportedly told a radio host he thought Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton should be "put in the firing line and shot for treason."
The Trump campaign has since distanced itself from the former Marine, who's been with the GOP nominee on several military-related campaign events, saying it doesn't "agree with his comments," the NH1 network reported.
"There's no place in politics for talk about putting your opponents in front of a firing squad," said Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, an organization dedicated to veteran civic empowerment. "It goes against the ethos of every person who raised their right hand and swore to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. We're calling on the campaign to condemn it immediately."
Some analysts have said the Trump campaign's tone during the primary season combined with the national mood in the wake of terror attacks across the globe, as well as the tension between law enforcement and the African-American community here at home, have prompted concerns from RNC officials and Cleveland's leaders that there might be significant unrest during the 4-day convention.
But nearly three-quarters of the way through the event, there have been no major incidents. Protests have been mostly confined to Public Square, and the potential for them to spread beyond that is severely limited by the force protection measures the city put in place ahead of the event — including a temporary perimeter fence erected around the Quicken Loans complex that now separates the zone from the rest of the city — and a massive influx of law enforcement from other states, including police and state troopers from as far away as Florida and California.