“I’m here to pray for Trump,” said an elderly Vietnamese woman who declined to give her name. She was holding a massive shofar — a ram’s horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies — that she blew repeatedly, calling others to prayer.
Across the multicultural crowd — Somalians, Chinese, Latinos all held signs proudly proclaiming their heritage — vendors hawked their wares.
John, a vendor selling MAGA merchandise out of a shopping cart — flags, hats, masks — said he had driven down from Connecticut that morning. John, who declined to give his last name, said his company often set up shop at Trump rallies and voter events. The atmosphere on Sunday, he said, was no different. “These people are just as enthused as they are at regular Trump rallies,” he said, as a Trumpified cover of “YMCA” blasted nearby: “M! A! G-A!”
Here and there, a strain of religious fervor shot through the crowd.
“Trump was sent from God!” declared one handwritten poster, mounted on the fence outside the Naval Center on the Walter Reed complex. QAnon adherents — the mushrooming conspiracy that Trump is on the verge of purging Satan-worshiping pedophiles from the government — made their presence known, holding signs with giant Qs. On their windshields, some had the secret hashtag, #WWG1WGA, which stands for the phrase: “Where we go one, we go all” — something of a QAnon motto and pledge.
Matthew Curtis, an ex-Californian who expressed disgust at how liberals have governed his home state, had come up from Tennessee on Saturday for a rally for former Democrats who had left the party, dubbed the “Walk Away” rally.
“Since I’m here, you know, I felt compelled to come and show my support for President Trump and pray over him and wish him a speedy recovery,” he said.
In quieter times, the boulevards surrounding Walter Reed — normally choked with commuters working at the Naval base and the National Institutes of Health — would be empty on a Sunday. But this day, the streets were flooded with pro-Trump cars, from regular vehicles that had plastered “TRUMP-PENCE” flags onto their windows, to the magnificent red “TRUMP TRAIN” truck that circled Walter Reed all day, to the flag-festooned firetruck with a chimney pumping clouds of bubbles into the air.
Occasionally, an SUV would zoom by with a middle finger held aloft through the sunroof. But Hunt McMahon, a local who frequently attended grassroots Trump events, said it was exceedingly rare.
“It’s easily 10 to one” in favor of Trump-supporting drivers, he said, holding a megaphone in one hand and a five-foot-wide “TRUMP-PENCE” flag in the other. “People have their opinions and flip us off and make rude comments. But there’s exponentially more people coming by and waving and honking and cheering and giving us a thumbs up.”
McMahon hoped that the crowd’s presence would inspire Trump supporters in the Democratic stronghold of Bethesda, Md., where the medical facility is based, to openly display their colors.
“Showing support for your president can get you vandalized, or your windows smashed on your cars, or worse,” he said. “And there’s nothing right about that. So we’re all out here to let people know, it’s okay. We’re supporting the president.”
Curtis had come by himself, and he knew nobody, but he didn’t feel alone.
“It’s really good to be in such a liberal Democratically controlled area, with a lot of like-minded individuals,” he said. “People are wanting to show their support in the midst of adversity.”
As the sun set and night descended and the president was safely ensconced back in Walter Reed, the crowd remained, arrayed stubbornly in front of the gates and under the eye of the local police. They hung onto the barriers, eating more campaign-gifted pizza, and watching flag-bearing trucks loop around and around the plaza.
They waited for Trump’s next move.