Webster student Wes Schnitker lost his job Friday. He said his boss had no sympathy for him when he was late after being arrested at a Donald Trump rally downtown earlier that day.
“I have a memory which I don’t think I’ll ever forget, which is looking up, being dragged out as Trump supporters are stomping around me and my other friends and people’s bodies,” Schnitker said.
Schnitker, along with 30 others, started the day off with a three-hour wait in line to blend in with Trump supporters at the Peabody Opera House. The plan was to protest, and Schnitker’s group was not alone.
Jamila Jackson was with a different group. Made up of a mixture of races, the idea was the white people would circle the black people and protect them by linking arms, Jackson said. Like Schnitker, Jackson’s group was pretending to support Trump. She said they were even passing out food to his supporters.
Schnitker and Jackson said they got texts from friends who worked at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport when Trump’s plane landed. The Republican frontrunner was 40 minutes late to the event.
Schnitker estimated there were about 5,000 people at the Peabody Opera House, which has a maximum capacity of around 3,000. The venue was full and lines of Trump supporters wrapped around the outside of the building. Jackson said the energy reminded her of a wrestling match as people chanted “build the wall.” Her group was chanting with Trump’s supporters to maintain their disguise.
There were about eight organizations there to protest. Schnitker said he was surrounded by “rednecks” and a younger crowd who he described as the “prep-school type.”
One group was supposed to drop banners from a balcony to cause a distraction for Schnitker’s group to begin their protest. Upon seeing this, Schnitker said Trump responded by calling the protesters insignificant and privileged and ordered police to throw them out. Schnitker’s group continued to chant “stop the hate.”
“Everyone turned like animals at any protestor,” Schnitker said. “People were screaming racial slurs at the people that we were with, the people of color. They were throwing stuff, chanting ‘USA’ directly in your face.”
Jackson said the crowd was loving what Trump was saying. However, she said they did not love the protesters. Jackson listed off a range of racial slurs thrown at her and fellow black protesters, as well as many other comments, some even about her mother. As a former Ferguson protester, Jackson said she thought the commentators needed to come up with new material. Not only were the remarks the same; the Trump protest was similar to the ones she experienced in Ferguson.
“I don’t think it was any different, really. I think the only difference is this one [the Trump rally] was really, really organized,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she was able to leave the venue without a citation, but Schnitker was not so lucky. He and several other members of his group were handcuffed and held for various periods of time. He was supposed to be at work at 5 p.m., but was not let go in time to make it to work.
Schnitker said he texted a coworker earlier that day to say he might be arrested and would be at work as soon as he could. His boss asked him to come in the next day to have a conversation, and the termination papers were on the table waiting for Schnitker when he walked in the door.
“I totally stand behind what I did, so if anything, I’m empowered in a weird way by losing my job,” Schnitker said.
That same day, Trump’s rally in Chicago was cancelled due to security concerns, according to the New York Times.
Jackson said she felt good about what she did. She felt relieved knowing it went well. As for Schnitker, a former employer rehired him after hearing his story.