TAMPA — Standing among a sea of President Donald Trump's most fervent supporters, the protesters waited for their moment.
They had stood in line for hours Tuesday, forcing themselves to smile when the crowd around them erupted into chants of "Build that wall!" Trump's beloved wall, after all, was a symbol of what protesters like Aida Mackic had come to the rally to challenge. A Muslim woman, Mackic had to laugh off questions about the traditional head scarf she wore.
Now, the six women were on the floor of the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds, waiting for the president and the crowd to quiet down. As Trump started talking about the November election, the protesters decided it was their moment.
"Immigrant rights are human rights!" they shouted. Then, "Shame on you!"
Videos posted online show the surrounding crowd turning on them like roiled wasps.
"I didn't think I'd experience that much anger from humans who don't even know me," Mackic, a 35-year-old married mother of four who immigrated to the United States as a child from war-torn Bosnia, said during an interview Wednesday. "To feel that kind of violence and anger directed toward a peaceful protest is absolutely scary and makes me scared to think of what kind of world my children are growing up in."
Mackic, who works as Interfaith and Youth Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa, had crossed paths with other women in the designated free speech zone outside the hall, where scores of protesters had gathered before the rally.
"I didn't want Trump to visit Tampa unchallenged," said Dayna Lazarus, 29, who's pursuing a master's degree in urban planning from the University of South Florida. "There are thousands of people here in the city who think he's atrocious and would have wanted to be there to resist but couldn't."
In all, eight people went in together, two of whom — a woman and a man — never intended to disrupt the speech. The remaining six, all women, found a spot on the floor in front of the news media risers.
Mackic said some of the women had second thoughts as they watched a crowd yell at CNN reporter Jim Acosta. They were most worried about hostility toward Mackic because of her head scarf.
"When we got into the pit, it felt like we were in the belly of the beast. It was scary, I'm not going to lie," Mackic said.
She kept her resolve, fueled by anger at the Trump administration's since-rescinded policy to separate undocumented immigrant children from their families.
"We should be fighting for the rights of every human, regardless of their religious background or sexual orientation or where they come from," she said.
In videos from the scene, a group of older men clad in black leather vests with the logo of a group called "Bikers for Trump" can be seen descending on the shouting women along with men dressed in suits. Trump supporters pushed their cardboard signs into the women's faces.
Four of the women, including Mackic, were escorted out. Two others apparently escaped notice and can be seen in another video posted online continuing to shout for another moment or two. They left of their own accord.
As the crowed booed, Trump smirked and jerked his thumb. He turned to the crowd sitting behind him, held his arms wide and shook his head, provoking cheers.
"Aww, that's too bad," Trump said. "One person and tomorrow the headlines will be 'Massive protests.'"
Once outside, Mackic and Lazarus said, the women were told to leave and not come back or they would be arrested for trespassing. Mackic said someone outside called her a terrorist.
Mackic and three other women were delivered by the Secret Service and private security officers to a deputy stationed outside the hall, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
"The individuals were very cooperative and left," Carter said. The deputy did not write a report.
But the Secret Service, in an email to the Tampa Bay Times, said the agency was not involved in the removal of protesters.
Lazarus said the man who escorted her out bent her arm back so far her shoulder still hurt Tuesday. But taking the risk to mount the protest — not massive, but loud enough to attract Trump's attention — was "absolutely worth it," she said.
Mackic said she hopes her protest will inspire others, especially a certain demographic.
"Hopefully I'll put some strength into my Muslim covered sisters," she said, "and let them know we still have our freedom of speech and to never be afraid to stand up for justice."
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.
A protest broke out right in the middle of President Trumps remarks. You can see the women being escorted out as they were screaming about immigration reform. @BN9 pic.twitter.com/wq64rzSoF9— lauren verno (@laurenverno) August 1, 2018