Protesters engaged in minor scuffles and shouting matches with President Donald Trump supporters on Tuesday as hundreds of people lined up to get inside a rally that marks his first political event since the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Police used smoke grenades and tear gas to disperse them after they started throwing objects at officers.
A half-dozen people showed up outside the speech with military-style rifles and fatigues to join the protests against him.
Members of the Redneck Revolt describe themselves as an anti-fascist group who are offended by the president's policies and comments in the aftermath of the racial violence of Virginia. A man who identified himself as "John Brown" carried an AK-47 and said he was there to protect the anti-Trump protesters. Arizona allows people to carry weapons openly.
"People in the crowd have begun throwing rocks and bottles at police. They also dispersed some gas in the area," Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sergeant Jonathan Howard said.
"Police have responded with pepper balls and OC [oleoresin capsicum] spray in an attempt to disperse the crowd and stop the assaults," he said. Police have not given an estimate of the number of protesters who turned out for the event, but Arizona media said there were several thousand people.
Phoenix leaders are on high alert in the aftermath of the deadly protests in Virginia and the president's comments last week about both sides having blame for violence at the white supremacist rally. Mayor Greg Stanton called on the president to not hold the rally here so soon after the trouble in Charlottesville.
The demonstrations outside the Phoenix Convention Center were largely peaceful and police kept the protesters and Trump supporters on opposite sides of the street behind barricades and a line of officers.
That didn't stop the two groups from shouting at each other — in a few cases with offensive language — and some skirmishes broke out. At one point, a Trump supporter and protester shoved each other. In another exchange, the two groups shouted at each other before moving on.
State Democratic leaders urged people who want to show their opposition to the president's policies to gather at a city-designated free speech zone near the site of the Phoenix Convention Center rally. State Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron joined other party leaders in urging peaceful protests.
The message to protesters echoed those coming from law enforcement and Stanton. Stanton said he expects protesters to be "civil, respectful and peaceful." Police Chief Jeri Williams says First Amendment rights will be supported but criminal conduct will be swiftly addressed.
Tucson Vice Mayor Regina Romero told reporters at a Tuesday morning news conference organized by the Mi Famila Vota organization that the groups "refuse to idly stand by while Trump destroys everything America stands for."
"We need to raise our voices against Trump's racism, assaults on civil rights, horrific border wall and attacks on public lands, our environment and working families," Romero said.
Meanwhile, several hundred Trump supporters lined up at the Convention Center, with some arriving before dawn for the 7 p.m. rally.
"It's been on a bucket list of mine, since he became the president," said Kingman resident Diane Treon, who arrived at 4 p.m. "I wished I had attended one of his campaign rallies before he became president and I wanted to go to the inauguration. And truthfully it was the protests that kept me away."
Treon said she wishes protesters "would be a little more peaceful instead of violently rioting, which is happening in so many places" but isn't overly worried.
"I don't think the Phoenix Police are going to stand down and throw us out in the wind," she said. "I really think they're going to keep us safe."
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