Organizers of Donald Trump’s April 17 rally at First Niagara Center expect it to rank as the biggest event of his New York campaign and possibly the largest indoor gathering of his entire presidential effort so far.
If their predictions hold true, that means more than 19,000 supporters of the front-running Republican candidate will jam the downtown hockey arena. It also appears that a major counter demonstration by Trump opponents could be in the works, with almost 2,000 people telling two Facebook organizers they plan to attend.
That prompts Michael R. Caputo, an adviser to Carl P. Paladino – the 2010 GOP candidate for governor and honorary co-chairman of Trump’s New York campaign – to sound his own warnings.
“If the fascists in the Buffalo left want to disrupt this rally, law enforcement will be there to deal with them,” he said.
Though Trump’s supporters and the candidate himself have been accused of fostering rally atmospheres that incite fist fights and confrontations at past events in Chicago and elsewhere, Caputo said the campaign has learned from past experiences and works hard to tamp down emotions.
But he also accused local Trump opponents of planning demonstrations that could disrupt the event, and even attempting to snare enough on-line tickets to present images of a half empty arena that would be nationally televised.
Indeed, a Thursday Facebook post under the heading of #nevertrump asks demonstrators to duplicate “what happened in Chicago and we can try to make sure Trump’s rally is unsuccessful again.”
“There are some true believers out there who think their social justice war can be won on the steps of First Niagara Center,” Caputo responded. “There is a concentrated effort by Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to make sure Mr. Trump will not be president of the United States. “
Caputo acknowledged instances of violence that broke out at past Trump rallies, and maintains much of its stems from “provocateurs” who try to disrupt the proceedings. But he said a Wednesday evening Trump rally at a former Grumman Aerospace hangar in Bethpage, Long Island – attracting more than 11,000 people – functioned flawlessly because Trump supporters were urged to ignore anyone trying to provoke a confrontation.
“On Long Island, they reacted, but were peaceful,” he said, adding Trump opponents attempt disruptions that are “sickening and fascist.”
“We urge our people to learn the lessons that reacting to anti-Trump provocations only helps the provocateurs,” he said. “We ask them to leave security up to security.”
On a political level, Trump organizers are already pegging the Buffalo event as key to a successful New York campaign.
After Trump’s Tuesday drubbing by Sen. Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin presidential primary, a “show of strength is now extremely important” in a major Northeast state like New York, Caputo said.
As a result, the last gathering of the New York campaign is slated for First Niagara “by design,” adding he believes all tickets will be claimed within hours of the on-line announcement.
“It’s his last big event in New York and it has to be a success,” he said. “The size of the victory in New York will drive how well Mr. Trump does in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. All eyes will be on Buffalo. It will be Donald Trump’s crescendo.”
Nicholas A. Langworthy, the Erie County GOP chairman, who attended Wednesday’s event on Long Island, said he harbors no doubts about drawing a large crowd to First Niagara Center. He noted thousands of Trump supporters were turned away at the Bethpage event because the venue was filled, and noted his own past success at drawing record crowds to functions featuring Trump.
“I sold 650 tickets at $100 a clip when Donald Trump came to town,” he said, referring to a 2014 Erie County GOP fundraising event.
“I think we’ll fill the place,” Caputo added. “Tickets will be gone in a matter of hours.”
Caputo, who has no official connection to the Trump campaign but said he is authorized to speak on behalf of Paladino, said he expects other rallies in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and the North Country – possibly totaling seven in all. Large venues such as the Times-Union Center in Albany may also be engaged, he said, but a filled First Niagara Center just two nights before the primary polls close would prove a fitting climax to the New York campaign.
The April 17 rally will feature brief introductions from local supporters, Caputo said, including Paladino. He then expects a 30- to 45-minute speech by the candidate.
He said he expects Trump’s website (donaldjtrump.com) to soon offer details on how to order tickets. Those interested in attending will be asked to print out the tickets ordered on line and present them to scanners checking the embedded bar codes.
Caputo also advised those attending the 7 p.m. rally to arrive far in advance because lines are expected to form at Secret Service metal detectors at the arena entrance.