NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Anthony DelConte held a black-and-white American flag, marked with one thin blue line, over his shoulder.
It was a pro-police banner. Nearby, his friends wore camouflage Rutgers hats and “Make America Great Again” gear, flying a pro-President Donald Trump flag. During the run-up to last November’s presidential election, the roughly 10 young men would have appeared at home amid any Trump rally.
But late yesterday afternoon, Jan. 31, they stood, outnumbered, on the edge of an estimated 2,000 people who had come to Rutgers’ College Avenue Campus to protest Trump and his immigration policies. The Trump supporters had come to mount an opposition.
“I’m not afraid to stand up for my country and what I believe,” DelConte told TAPinto New Brunswick. “That’s why I’m here. I want our laws to be respected in this country, and many people from where I’m from feel the same exact way.”
DelConte is from a small town in Florida, where he for years worked in construction. Now 30 years old and studying history at Rutgers, he said he saw undocumented immigrants drive down the wages of blue-collar workers.
What’s also worth noting, he said, is his Italian-American family’s immigrant roots. They came to the U.S. over the past century through the proper channels, something that DelConte said has grown too rare.
To hear Trump’s detractors label DelConte and his peers “racist” or “fascist” stings, he said.
“That upsets me because my family left Italy when it was a fascist country,” DelConte added. “My great-uncle died fighting fascists.”
What the Trump supporters lacked in numbers yesterday, they made up for in attention—at least before the protest kicked off. Several anti-Trump demonstrators engaged the opposition group, whose members were mostly white men, in heated conversation.
The interactions between the two sides were tense. They stood close to each other, trying to keep composure as they outlined their most fundamental beliefs.
At one point, an anti-Trump protester was overheard saying, “We better go over there and make sure nobody gets into a fight.”
And no one did. Police who worked the protest later described it as “peaceful” and without any arrests or injuries.
One major reason for DelConte’s presence was what he considered to be Rutgers President Robert Barchi’s outspoken backing of the anti-Trump movement.
Late last month, Barchi sent an email to the student body informing them of how to support a federal bill that would extend protections for undocumented students. The university president then spoke before the crowd last night, denouncing Trump’s recent executive order that denied entry to the U.S. for refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“He can have his positions,” DelConte said. “But when you’re president of a huge school like this—and they say ‘diverse,’ which means diverse opinions—what does this say to us?”
Attention paid to the pro-Trump faction seemed to wither as the evening’s events progressed. A host of speakers rallied the protesters, leading chants and at times calling for revolution. They then marched through New Brunswick and ended the demonstration outside Winants Hall, an administration building.
For DelConte, however, his mere presence represented something of a win.
“It’ll at least say that there are people here who support the president or are maybe more into the conservative element,” he said.