A Florida pastor who took his 11-year-old daughter to a campaign-style rally for President Trump said he hoped the event would serve as a civics lesson — but that it turned instead into a spectacle where “demonic activity was palpable.”
Joel Tooley, lead pastor at Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene in eastern Florida, said that when he heard that the president and first lady would be passing through town, he decided to go see them in person.
“I am enough of a sentimentalist that when I found out THEEEE President was coming to town, I got online quickly and reserved two tickets,” he wrote on Facebook.
But the rally last weekend was not what the pastor had in mind.
“As people were coming in, there was a lot of excitement and a strong sense of patriotism,” Tooley wrote.
However, during a rendition of “God Bless the USA,” some attendees began to sing along and raise their hands in an almost religious way.
“People were being ushered into a deeply religious experience,” Tooley wrote, “and it made me completely uncomfortable.
“I love my country; I honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and I respect our history and what we stand for, but what I experienced in that moment sent shivers down my spine. I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the song per se — it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal.”
Tooley could not immediately be reached, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
On Saturday, Tooley said, he talked his daughter into going with him to the rally in Melbourne, near Orlando.
“After all, how many times do you get to see the President of the United States in person — let alone in your hometown?” Tooley wrote. “I was eager for her to have this experience. It has to be a pretty cool thing, as a kid to see Air Force One, the President and the First Lady.”
Once the duo made it through the lengthy line, he said, they were handed pom-poms and signs saying “Make America Great Again!”
They were then ushered into a massive crowd at Orlando Melbourne International Airport.
The music, he said, moved from patriotic to pep rally — “more Star Wars themed.” Then Air Force One rolled up to the hangar.
“As they entered the venue and walked to the platform, there was terrific celebration,” Tooley wrote. “I have been in the room when other Presidents were in a similar mode — it is always such a meaningful experience to be that close to them, regardless of whether or not you view them with adoration. Theeeee President of the USA!”
“The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord’s prayer,” he added. “I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative. People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, ‘be the glory forever and ever, amen!’ As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ”
Trump told the crowd he wanted to speak of “our incredible progress in making America great again” — but “without the filter of the ‘fake news.’”
Although the past several presidents have waited more than two years each before jumping back onto the campaign trail, Trump’s first four weeks in office have shown that he just can’t stand too much time in Washington, as The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson reported.
One adviser calls political rallies the president’s “oxygen” — and Trump seemed to direly need a deep inhalation following a week that included his national security adviser resigning and his top replacement pick turning him down, his nominee for labor secretary withdrawing from consideration and accusations involving his campaign and Russia.
“Life is a campaign,” the president told reporters aboard Air Force One. “Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.”
During the presidential rally, Tooley said, that Trump’s speech evoked an “angry response from the crowd” toward others.
I heard two ladies off to my left chanting, not yelling or screaming but chanting, “T-R … U-M-P; that’s how you spell — bigotry!” They repeated the rhyme over and over.
Two ladies in front of them began seething and screaming in their face while shaking their Trump signs at them. Another couple standing behind them started screaming at them as well. One of the chanting ladies had her eight-year-old daughter on her back; the other had a severely disabled child in a wheelchair in front of her. As they continued chanting, the people around them became violently enraged. One angry man grabbed the lady’s arm — that’s when I went into action. I barged through the crowd and yelled at them to back off. My heart wasn’t racing; I just instinctively became a protector.
I didn’t actually want a Trump sign, but one of the volunteers had shoved it into my hands as I walked through the door earlier; “Make America Great Again!” That sign probably saved someone from getting hurt. I held the sign close to my chest as I positioned myself between the chanting protesters and the angry mob. My 11-year-old daughter was clinging to my arm, sobbing in fear.
The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, “F*#% YOU!” Repeatedly.
I calmly responded, “No thank you, I’m happily married.” Their faces and their voices were filled with demonic anger.
I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable. The power of the Holy Spirit of God was protecting me in those moments and was once again protecting me and my daughter in this moment.
I raised my voice and calmly said, “These ladies have the right to do what they are doing and they are harming no one; this is America and they a right to express themselves in this way. They are harming no one.” A couple of other people around me stepped in and supported me in protecting them as a barrier, as well.
My daughter was shaking in fear as she clung to me. The one man behind the protesters shoved himself forward, grabbed the lady by the arm and screamed with multiple expletives, “I’m going to take you out! This is my president and nobody has the right to disrespect him and nobody has the right to keep me from hearing him!”
“I’m trying to separate how I actually feel about this man and his campaignisms,” Tooley wrote. “I know why people voted for him; I know why people voted against his opponent. But, at the end of the day, what I felt from his leadership in this experience was actually horrifying. There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.”