BALTIMORE — The advertisement for President Trump’s self-appointed “welcoming committee” featured his face Photoshopped onto the body of a hairless rodent.
It minced no words: “TRUMP IS A RAT.”
With the president speaking here Thursday to a closed-door retreat of House Republicans, scores of protesters gathered to express opposition to White House policies and outrage at Trump’s recent tweets calling Maryland’s largest city “the Worst in the USA.”
The visit by the president — who maligned Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live” — was limited to a dinnertime speech kicking off the GOP retreat at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Harbor East.
In a small park a few blocks away, more than 100 protesters strongly embraced the rat motif. Signs likened the president and the GOP to rodents, and people donned masks, petted stuffed vermin, or wore them on their heads.
“Trump is the real rat!” the crowd chanted.
Evening commuters leaned on their horns in support.
One woman held a sign saying she loved her congressman, referring to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), whose efforts to investigate the Trump White House as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee first drew the president’s ire.
House Republicans selected Baltimore as the location for their three-day conference long before the president’s attack on the city, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1. Well before the White House announced that Trump would attend the conference, a coalition of advocacy groups calling themselves the Baltimore Welcoming Committee had planned days of rallies to protest GOP policies on immigration, climate change and other topics. There was to be a singalong, a light show and a dance party. Organizer Sharon Black said Trump’s scheduled appearance “upped the ante.”
“This is about the remarks about Baltimore and his policies. You can’t really separate the two,” she said.
When the motorcade passed by at 6:40 p.m., onlookers on both sides of the street raised their middle fingers.
“Trump is the real rat,” they chanted.
There were counterprotesters, too. About half a dozen “Bikers for Trump” came to the waterfront area, saying they wanted to show support for the president.
“I grew up in Baltimore,” said retired construction worker Steven Imchula, 70, of Bel Air, Md. “Everything Trump said about Baltimore is true.”
Joe Murphy, a 50-year-old insurance salesman, arrived alone and unfurled a large Trump 2020 banner, prompting an onslaught of taunts from protesters. Brenton Williamson, 29, ran over to help hold the banner as police escorted them across President Street, somewhat away from the crowd.
“Look at those people,” Murphy, of Baltimore, said moments later, standing next to a 15-foot-tall rat king effigy of Trump. “They’re dressed like rats and Homer Simpson. I can’t believe they’re even allowed to vote.”
It was the first of several times officers had to intervene as Murphy tangled with critics of the president. At one point, an officer physically separated Murphy from Duane G. “Shorty” Davis, who had a rat puppet on his left hand and a papier-mâché Trump head on his right.
Police also tried to remove four women whose signs said, “No GOP racists on our streets,” from a park bench on the sidewalk. “Why do we have to go?” one said to an officer.
Asked Wednesday about Trump’s visit, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) said, “We’re a welcoming city, and he’s welcome to be here.”
Young said that if Trump traveled beyond the Inner Harbor, he would notice “that every neighborhood is not crime-ridden and dirty.” City Council President Brandon Scott (D) said he hoped the visit would allow Trump to see some of the infrastructure challenges the city faces.
“We know he’s been touting bringing infrastructure to Americans who live across the country . . . those jobs that could be created through that would change the very neighborhoods that he was disparaging,” Scott said.
Bruce Knauff of Towson, Md., said he came to the protest because “of a general dislike of Trump, the lies, the hate, the everything.” He said rather than criticizing Baltimore, the president should do something to help the city.
Chris Tallent, 38, of Baltimore, chanted, “No racists on our streets” and said he is on a mission “to get rid of the GOP.”
Nearby, a bare-chested 28-year-old defense industry worker named Steve slid a Vladimir Putin mask off his face and, for a minute, dropped his faux Russian accent.
He had a bridled Trump doll between his legs and a riding crop resting on his shoulder.
“Sometimes, it’s not about changing minds,” he said, declining to give his last name. “Sometimes, these protests are about trying to have fun with people who agree with you.”
This article includes material from the Associated Press.