SPRINGFIELD — In an apartment building across from the Loren Cook Co. in Springfield, Charles Barnes helped his 5-year-old daughter, Alyssa, get ready for kindergarten.
As they waited for the school bus Wednesday morning, a local park ranger directing traffic approached and squatted down to address the little girl.
With wide eyes, Alyssa asked “Are you the president?”
The ranger chuckled and said no, but he could offer her a patch to sew onto her backpack.
Springfield was awash Wednesday in signs, banners and posters as both supporters and protesters turned out to get a glimpse of President Donald Trump, who was making a brief stop in Missouri to speak to a private gathering at the Loren Cook Co.
The company, which makes ventilation equipment, is one of Springfield’s largest manufacturers. During the 2016 election cycle, company officials contributed nearly $250,000 to Republican candidates, including Trump.
The president arrived at 12:49 p.m. on Air Force One at Springfield-Branson National Airport to a crowd of about 120, many wearing “Make America Great Again” caps.
He waved at the top of the stairway, then met Gov. Eric Greitens to shake his hand as he stepped onto the runway. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt arrived in Springfield with Trump aboard Air Force One.
With metal fencing circling the blocks around the manufacturing plant where Trump would speak, both supporters and protesters had to station themselves elsewhere.
Both groups remained largely peaceful, save a few shouting matches, and volunteers patrolled the streets to de-escalate any tense situations, along with law enforcement officials.
Trump supporters positioned along Kearney Street, originally a section of Route 66, hoped to see the president but missed his route to the factory.
Springfield native Camille Lombardi-Olive, who has declared her candidacy as a Republican in Missouri’s 2018 U.S. Senate race, was one of hundreds of supporters who lined the street early in the day.
Lombardi-Olive ran as a Democrat in the 2016 race for U.S. representative in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District. She said she changed her party affiliation to Republican and began publicly backing Trump after she lost the primary.
She said she got behind Trump because he could “run the government like a CEO” and bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
Vietnam War veteran Ronnie Davis made the trip from northeastern Oklahoma to join the Springfield-based group Veterans in Defense of Liberty. Davis said he wanted to make sure the protests remained peaceful and under the control of the hundreds of law enforcement officers present.
“I want Trump to know that there are veterans out here that back him 110 percent,” Davis said. “We’re not going to let anybody that wants to demonstrate in a violent way. We’re not gonna let them overrun the place. ...Non-violent protest is what we fought for (at war).”
Amid the sea of supporters, protester Dorothy Fulks, a resident of Webb City, stood with a poster that read, “We the people need the press.”
Fulks said she wanted to voice her disappointment with the president’s performance during his seven months in office as part of the liberal minority in southwestern Missouri.
“I think (Trump) needs to know that there are people here that don’t agree with him,” Fulks said. “This is a Republican stronghold, and I’m sure he got a lot of votes here. He absolutely carried the county and carried this state, but there’s a lot of people here he does not represent.”
Nearly 2,000 protesters gathered about a mile south of the supporters as part of The People’s Protest, organized by Southwest Missouri Democrats, along with Springfield Indivisible, an advocacy group for progressive policies. It was co-hosted by several other Missouri advocacy and activist organizations, including MOmentum: Missouri Moving Forward and Resisters.
Rachel Taylor, a Columbia resident who serves as the secretary for Race Matters, Friends, said she traveled to Springfield with two other friends to protest. For her, it was more about opposing Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville.
“I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s seeming inability to condemn white supremacy,” Taylor said. “That is a very serious trend. It is absolutely incumbent on every person who disagrees with that to do everything they can to stop it.”
Rebecca Conway, a Springfield resident, was out protesting with six of her friends for a different reason. She said they were all part of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an advocacy group formed after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Conway said they were protesting open carry laws and promoting stricter gun control laws.
“We’re not trying to take away people’s guns,” Conway said. “We’re trying to keep them out the hands of the people who shouldn’t have them.”
Conway recently moved to Springfield from Columbia and said her first protest was against the Vietnam War.
“I’ve been protesting since 1968,” she said. “I’ve been around a long time.”
At around 2 p.m., the president arrived at the Loren Cook Co. to explain his new tax reform initiative to an audience that included factory employees, lawmakers and members of the media.
Before Trump spoke, Jerry Cook, present owner of the 76-year-old company, gave the opening remarks.
“Everything that was ever built was always in the United States,” Cook said. “We’ll never manufacture in Mexico in China or wherever else.”
After Trump’s speech, Blunt declared himself in favor of the president’s tax reform policy.
“I think this impacts working families,” he said. “That should be the goal of this tax effort. How do we provide better jobs, and how do we provide more take-home pay for those better jobs?”
Blunt added that families should decide how to spend their money, not the government.
“The way to have more federal revenue is to have better jobs with more taxpayers paying, maybe fewer taxes out of every check, but more checks to be paying taxes out of.”