The Cable

Veterans and Latino Activists Build Their Own Wall Against Trump

The groups formed an odd alliance — and a human wall — in one of the first sizable protests against the new nominee at the GOP convention.


CLEVELAND — Elliott Adams came by way of Vietnam, Japan, and Korea: a U.S. Army infantryman turned small-town upstate New York mayor and, now, a protester with Veterans for Peace.

Ivan Vargas came by way of Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico, when he was 8 years old, accompanied only by his 10-year-old sister and a “coyote,” or human smuggler. Twenty years later he took a 12-hour bus ride from Atlanta to Ohio to protest with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.

On Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio, the two men came together to “Wall Off Trump,” building their own human wall as an answer to newly minted GOP nominee Donald Trump’s oft-trumpeted pledges to build a literal one on the border between the United States and Mexico.

Veterans provided ad hoc security and joined a diverse group of about 200 protesters who wore white canvas ponchos painted to depict parts of a wall. Expressing their opposition to Trump’s strident anti-immigrant rhetoric, they stood together on the streets outside the convention hall forming a human barrier.

In one of the first sizable protests of the four-day GOP coronation, the unlikely coalition stood in stark contrast to pro-Trump veterans rallying for their candidate and a speaker lineup at the convention that has relied heavily on former and current members of the U.S. military.

Themed “Make America Safe Again,” many of the speakers used their military credentials to hit at Trump rival and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, inspiring chants that have become a favorite of delegates on the convention floor: “Lock her up!”

Al Baldasaro, a veteran and advisor to the Trump campaign, went so far as to tell the Daily Beast that Clinton “should be shot” because she “committed treason.”

Adams, the upstate mayor, compared the tactics of Trump and his aides to the notorious Nazi military commander Hermann Göring.

“He said if you want to take any nation to war all you have to do is tell them they are under attack, and anybody that objects, call them traitors,” Adams told Foreign Policy. “It’s the same damn thing.”

Adams was particularly incensed that the New York businessman has been wrapping his nativist rhetoric in the uniform of the U.S. military.

“‘Make America Safe Again’ is hogwash,” he said. Trump “doesn’t know anything about that, and you don’t do that by having lots and lots of soldiers. Wars don’t make the nation safe.”

The alliance between veterans and Latino activists against Trump was only natural, he said.

“I am protesting against the politics of hate and fear,” he explained, calling Trump’s brand “cheap politics.”

Vargas emphasized the protest was intended to be peaceful to contrast with some pro-Trump supporters’ threats, not to mention insinuations by the candidate himself.

“We refuse to fight hate with violence or oppressive remarks, we would rather do something beautiful,” he said, holding the canvas with part of the painted wall crumpled in his arms as he made his way back to the bus.

Still, he criticized the immigration policies of both parties. The number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border, as Vargas did, has spiked. That caught the Obama administration by surprise, and rights advocates have criticized the subsequent deportations.

Adams expressed dismay at “the policies that are coming out of Washington — this is more than Donald Trump, this is more than Hillary Clinton.”

Several Amnesty International workers in bright yellow shirts looked on nearby. With threats of violence, the organization known for observing contentious elections abroad decided for the first time to send human rights monitors to the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia. A dozen representatives, with experience in places like Nepal, Turkey, and Egypt, will observe both party conventions this summer.

“Of course it’s significant that we see a need to be here,” Amnesty’s Eric Ferraro said.

Photo credit: Spencer Platt /Getty Images

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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