Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter’s Friday evening speech at Modesto Centre Plaza drew hundreds of GOP faithful as well as dozens of demonstrators who lined the sidewalk and lawn outside the downtown convention center to show their support and disgust for Coulter.
The demonstrators appeared evenly split into two camps. The protest — which appeared to reach about 100 people at its peak — also brought out the news media, with TV stations from Sacramento, San Francisco and Fox News sending crews.
There also were lots of Modesto officers in the crowd and nearby on horseback, motorcycles and bicycles. Police Chief Galen Carroll said his department expected a peaceful protest but were prepared for the worst. Expectations were met.
Police spokeswoman Heather Graves said there were no arrests. “We were thankful for everyone who came out,” she said, “and glad that everything was peaceful.”
The demonstrators for the most part kept to their own sides, with officers chatting with them. But there were about a half dozen times when tensions ran high, with some demonstrators yelling at one another and calling one another names. When that happened, officers formed a line separating the unruly demonstrators. There also were at times chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “USA! USA! USA!” and “Nazi scum go home.”
Inside Centre Plaza, Republicans packed a hall to celebrate Trump’s victory, and Coulter helped them. She praised Trump and believes his victory could signal a populist revolution in the nation. But she is not crazy about California. For instance, she said it would not be good if the state’s immigration policies spread to the rest of the nation.
She also said the United States would be better off if California left the union. “It’s not just the governor,” she said. “If I could push secession on you, I’d really be doing the rest of the country a solid.”
The Republican Party of Stanislaus County brought Coulter to speak at its annual Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser at Centre Plaza. Her speaking fee was $25,000. Organizers have said the dinner sold about 600 tickets, the most for the fundraiser in recent memory. Tickets started at $125 each.
Coulter’s appearance came after the University of California at Berkeley canceled her Thursday speaking engagement on the campus over safety concerns. The Associated Press has reported the university’s decision was made “after a series of violent clashes this year on campus and in downtown Berkeley between far-right and far-left protesters who come armed with pepper spray, Molotov cocktails, brass knuckles and soda cans filled with concrete.”
Coulter still planned to speak at the campus Thursday but decided not to after her conservative backers withdrew their support.
The decision to bring Coulter here sparked dismay among some in the community because of what they say are her degrading comments against the poor, Jews, Catholics, Latinos, Muslims, liberals and others. Those comments included saying Latino culture accepts child rape. But others were upset that those opposing her appearance were trying to stifle free speech.
That debate played out among the demonstrators Friday. The debate included what a Trump presidency means for the United States.
Several of those who protested Coulter’s appearance said they respected her right to speak but they had the same right to protest what they called her hate-filled views. “I’m offended that Ann Coulter has been invited into our community to raise money through hate speech and divisive speech,” said Janice Murdoch, a 68-year-old Modesto resident.
But others said Coulter has important things to say and deserved to be heard.
As she was heading in to listen to Coulter, Modesto resident Mylinda Mason said she has been a Coulter fan for years and — that like Mason — Coulter early on recognized there was no one else who could help America like Donald Trump.
Modesto Bee staff members Deke Farrow and Mike Dunbar contributed to this report.