Thousands of people stood in line for hours waiting to get into the Burlington event after the campaign distributed 20,000 free tickets to the Flynn Center for the Performing Art, which has just 1,400 seats.
To whittle down the crowd, rally-goers with tickets in hand who’d waited for hours in the cold were asked as they entered the venue whether or not they supported Trump.
Those who said they didn’t were promptly escorted out of the building.
Among those turned away was Adam Linnebur, of South Burlington, Vermont, who was asked whether he planned to vote for Trump. When he said he didn’t know, he was asked to leave.
“It’s not what I expected,” said Linnebur, who is supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, but noted there was nothing on his ticket that said he had to support Trump.
Trump defended the decision, describing it a matter of loyalty.
“We have more than 20,000 people that showed up for 1,400 spots. I’m taking care of my people, not people who don’t want to vote for me or are undecided. They are loyal to me and I am loyal to them,” he said in a statement released by his campaign.
The event was nonetheless interrupted repeatedly by protesters, who were escorted out of the theater throughout the night.
Vermont is a staunchly Democratic state and the event was held in Burlington, a liberal bastion, just a few feet from the City Hall where Sanders, a Vermont senator, got his start as mayor.
“Most of the guys are not coming up here. They’re afraid to come up here because it has a tendency to be a little bit liberal,” Trump observed as he kicked off the rally.
At first, Trump seemed to embrace the disruptions, taking them as a badge of honor.
“Isn’t this more exciting?” he asked the crowd.
Later, he suggested that security staffers confiscate protesters’ coats.
“Keep his coat! Confiscate his coat! You know it’s about 10 degrees below zero outside,” he called from the stage. “You can keep his coat. Tell him we’ll send it to him in a couple of weeks.”
But as the disruptions continued, Trump’s patience appeared to wear thin.
“We’ve got to get the security moving a little bit faster here,” he said, suggesting security officers were afraid to respond with force.
“This is why we’re losing control of our country. This is why. We lose control of our country ’cause everybody’s afraid to do anything,” he said. “They’re afraid to lose their jobs.”
Trump also spoke at length about Sanders, criticizing the way he responded to Black Lives Matter protesters at an event in August and accusing him of wanting to raise taxes to 90 percent.
“Oh, would I love to run against Bernie,” he said.
On a conference call with supporters shortly after Trump’s remarks, Sanders responded, “I would love to run against Trump and I think we would not only win, I think we would win with a very good margin.”
Sanders also called Trump a “pathological liar” who says whatever he wants to say and thinks it’s the truth.
Trump’s rally was scheduled for the same time as President Barack Obama’s televised town hall on gun violence in America, and he also broached the topic.
While Trump often vows to eliminate gun-free zones if he’s elected, he expanded his pledge Thursday to include schools.
“I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools and — you have to — and on military bases, my first day, it gets signed, OK? My first day,” he said.
People began lining up at dawn to attend the event and more than 100 people were already in line by midday, with over seven hours to go before the event. By the time the doors opened at 5 p.m., the line snaked on for blocks.
Sarah Rucki, a special education teacher from St. Albans, brought her 12-year-old son, Gage, also a Trump fan.
“I think that it’s pretty awesome that he’s coming into Bernie country to speak to those of us that do exist and so support him up here,” she said.
Trump opponents also turned out early and shouted back and forth with supporters as they filtered into the theater. They stood outside during Trump’s speech, and cheered when people left the building.
As people streamed out, some Trump supporters raised their Trump signs in defiance.
Chants of “Bernie, Bernie” came from protesters.