Supporters of Donald Trump began lining up at University of Illinois before sunrise Friday, hours before thousands were expected to protest his Chicago rally.
The GOP front-runner is scheduled to speak at the school’s pavilion at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 3 p.m. The first person in line to wait for a spot at the free event arrived at 3 a.m.
More than 10,000 officially RSVP’d that they will be going to the university to protest the event.
By 6 a.m. Friday, security around was already tight. The Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, the Secret Service and the FBI have all been involved in the plan to maintain the crowds.
The university has designated a parking lot across the street from the pavilion for the protesters to gather.
Ahead of Trump’s Chicago campaign stop, more than 50,000 people signed a moveon.org petition in an attempt to get the event canceled, saying it has no place in Chicago, “especially not at an institution of higher learning.” Protesters cited the Republican’s stance on immigration, his calls to bring back torture tactics on alleged terrorists, and a recent endorsement from white supremacist David Duke.
Trump is known for drawing large, protest-ridden rallies, but during Thursday night’s GOP debate argued the idea that he was the cause.
“I hope not. I truly hope not,” he said. “People come with tremendous passion and love for the country. When they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable.”
Despite the planned protests, many supporters couldn’t wait to see Trump. Gloria Noles told NBC 5 she drove three hours to be one of the first in line.
“I wanted to be sure I got in to see Trump because I believe in what he’s standing for and I think he can get things done,” Noles said. “Nothing has been done before and something has to be done.”
Noles said she admires the fact that although so many people dislike Trump, it doesn’t phase him.
“I just think that he’s not one of the establishment,” Noles said. “He’s not one of them. And I think that they can try to bring him down and he bounces back and hasn’t fallen yet.”
One man in line said Friday’s Trump rally would be the ninth he’s attended.
Sherry Jadaay from Orland Park told NBC 5 she stands behind Trump because she believes “we need a big change in America.”
“I’m 66 years old and things have got to change for the better,” she said.
As fury over Trump’s appearance grew, the school’s chancellor, Michael Amiridis addressed the students’ concerns, clarifying that the school was “not endorsing, sponsoring or supporting any candidate for political office.” Rather, it was continuing its tradition of hosting campaign events on campus, and candidates could not be excluded “because of the views he or she expresses.”
Earlier this week, UIC faculty and staff sent a letter of concern to Amiridis, expressing that they were “deeply distressed” over the safety of students and staff who have “no choice” but to be near the highly contested event.
Local politicians have also pledged to protest the rally, including Ald. Ray Lopez (15th Ward) and Congressman Luis Guitierrez.
“We’re not going to let Donald Trump take us back to the 1950s,” said Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, who has long rallied for immigrant rights. “We’ve worked too hard.”
The Friday event falls on the same night as an Illinois Republican Party fundraiser, which fellow presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz has said he will attend. Other Republican presidential candidates have also been invited. It’s not clear if Trump will make an appearance after his rally is over.
With just five days away from the state’s presidential primary on March 15, presidential candidates have zeroed in on Illinois.
Hillary Clinton kicked it off with a visit Thursday night, where more than 1,000 people packed a Vernon Hills community center to see the hometown candidate. After losing Michigan to Bernie Sanders this week, Clinton is doubling down on her home state.
While Clinton was in Chicago’s suburbs, Sanders was in Florida, another one of the five states with a primary coming up Tuesday.
Sanders will make his way to Illinois Friday to appear at Argo Community High School in Summit. Doors open at 5 p.m.
John Kasich will also hold a Palatine town hall Wednesday.
Illinois’ presidential primary will be held March 15.