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Trump travels to liberal Minneapolis for his first rally since the impeachment probe began

President Trump drew crowds of supporters and protesters in Minneapolis on Oct. 10 for his first campaign rally since the start of the impeachment inquiry. (Video: The Washington Post)

MINNEAPOLIS — President Trump traveled to this diverse, liberal city Thursday night to host a campaign rally and do what he often does when he feels threatened: seize on divisions in the country and try to split Americans into two distinct camps, those who are with him and those who are against him, with seemingly no middle ground allowed.

Trump used the event — his first rally since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into his attempts to pressure a foreign country to investigate one of his top Democratic rivals — to fire up die-hard supporters at a time when polls suggest a majority of Americans are troubled by his conduct and favor the investigation.

The Democrats’ brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box, the likes of which they have never, ever seen before in the history of our country,” Trump said to cheers.

He also launched a broadside against former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, telling the crowd that the elder Biden “was never considered smart. He was never considered a good senator. He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”

Despite President Trump's attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), many of her Minnesota constituents say that it has only made their support of her stronger. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jenn Ackerman/The Washington Post)

Unlike most of his rallies held in Republican strongholds, Trump selected a congressional district for Thursday night’s event that he lost by 55 points in 2016 — and one that is represented by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the outspoken Somali American and Muslim lawmaker whom Trump has repeatedly attacked, sometimes using falsehoods.

“It seems provocative. He wants to provoke a clash so he can arouse his cult to a civil war,” said Polly Kellogg, 76, a retired social justice professor who planned to protest the rally. “He’s looking for violent videos.”

Many of Trump’s supporters say the president should be allowed to visit any city in the United States without facing opposition and blamed divisions in the country on liberals, not the president.

“I would feel better if you could go and attend and not have to worry about your own safety,” said Trump supporter Dana Smith, 60, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., and whose husband planned to attend the rally.

Mary Jo Buffalo, 62, who lives in the Minneapolis exurbs, added: “Who are the aggressors? Who is instigating all of this division? Seems like it’s coming from the Democrats or the press.”

Long before the city installed a security perimeter around the downtown Target Center arena, the battle lines had been firmly drawn over his event — and Trump took every opportunity to inflame the tensions.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, refused to welcome the president to the city because Trump “has made it clear that he does not value the perspectives or rights of Minneapolis’ diverse communities.” Omar tweeted that while “our beautiful state welcomes everyone with open arms . . . we will continue to reject you and your campaign of lies and bigotry.”

Trump singled out Omar for criticism during the rally, telling the crowd that “she is a disgrace to our country, and she is one of the big reasons that I am going to win and the Republican Party is going to win.”

Overhead, images of Omar flashed on the large TV screens hanging from the ceiling.

Earlier in the evening, the president’s son Eric Trump warmed up the crowd by taking aim at Biden’s son, Hunter, leading the crowd in a chant of “Lock him up!”

The phrase is a play on “Lock her up,” a Trump rally favorite.

“We don’t need to lock him up,” Eric Trump said of Hunter Biden. “We’re just going to beat the hell out of him. We’re going to win.”

Roughly two dozen groups led protests of Trump’s rally, including those that advocate for the rights of immigrants, civil rights organizations, labor unions and a few self-described anti-fascist or anarchist groups. Although protesters in other cities have often gathered a mile or more away from Trump’s rally venues, those in Minneapolis gathered right next to the arena.

Several pro-Trump groups also said they planned to show up, including Bikers for Trump, the Minnesota-based Three Percenters militia and the Oath Keepers, an armed militia that opposes “antifa” activists.

As the Minneapolis police came up with a plan to keep peace and prevent violence, Bob Kroll of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis criticized a new city policy that forbids off-duty officers from wearing their uniforms to political events — and began to sell red “Cops for Trump” T-shirts, an effort that Trump has repeatedly applauded.

“There are already those in the city who have reason not to trust the police without having the head of the police union openly come out and endorse Trump and try to recruit as many officers as he can to show up at the rally wearing horrible red T-shirts,” said Sarah Lechner, 69, a retired psychiatric nurse who is hosting a migrant family from Honduras in her Minneapolis home. “This is not going to help the city in any way — I’m sure that just thrills Trump because he doesn’t like large cities, which tend to be more egalitarian and Democratic-leaning.”

This week, Trump and the Minneapolis mayor have continued to trade jabs on Twitter. The mayor had called on Trump’s campaign to prepay the added security costs of the rally, which the campaign refused to do. On Wednesday, a small group of Trump’s supporters gathered at city hall to chant: “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

Elsewhere downtown, an ­LGBTQ nightclub was hoisting a massive inflatable “Baby Trump,” and another club pledged to donate all of its profits from Thursday night to Planned Parenthood.

Trump came close to winning Minnesota in 2016, alarming Democrats who worry he could claim the state in 2020. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — a presidential candidate who won 43 rural Minnesota counties in 2018 that voted for Trump in 2016 — mocked Trump for recently butchering the pronunciation of Minneapolis, writing in a Thursday tweet: “Please go back to ‘Mar-a-Lago.’ At least you can pronounce that. Just another reason I can take this guy in the midwest.”

On Thursday morning, Trump’s supporters were already lining up outside the Target Center, which can hold nearly 20,000 people. Those organizing protests hoped they would have just as many people outside, despite a rainy forecast.

On Wednesday evening, a small group of activists gathered around picnic tables at Minneapolis’s Powderhorn Park to create protest signs for the rally. The surrounding neighborhood was filled with murals and sunflower patches and spotted with signs declaring “Black Lives Matter,” “All are welcome here” and “Love your neighbor.” At the local coffee shop, May Day Cafe, a small sign near the cash register asked patrons to “use gender neutral language while addressing its employees.” Across the street from the cafe, the window of an empty storefront was defaced with pink paint reading, “Love not hate.”

Lechner, the retired nurse, said that she worried the rally would lead to more violence against people of color in Minneapolis, and she accused Trump supporters of prioritizing small financial gains over the treatment of migrants and minorities.

“My father was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and my grandparents died in the Holocaust, and to me it’s just all too familiar,” she said. “We’ve sort of become the ordinary Germans — if it’s not directly impinging on us personally, we can tolerate it. We can forget.”

Later that evening in nearby St. Paul, a few hundred conservative women gathered in a ballroom for a “Women for Trump” event that featured second lady Karen Pence, Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump and campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. The three women focused heavily on the economy — there was only one murmured mention of impeachment — and repeatedly described Trump as a president who cares about women.

“This president has empowered women like no other,” Pence said. “If you just look at the jobs — just look at job rates — the unemployment for women is the lowest that it has been in 55 years.”

Pence and the others described the president as being unfairly attacked for just doing the job he was elected to do, and they urged the women in the audience to defend him and encourage those they know to vote for him in 2020.

Lara Trump described the division playing out in the country as a sign of the president’s success.

“You know what, ladies? The swamp does not go down without a fight,” she said. “That’s how we know that this president is winning for this country.”

Felicia Sonmez in Washington contributed to this report.