President Donald Trump arrived at his self-described “homecoming” rally at a hockey arena in suburban Broward County on Tuesday with an escort that included armored vehicles, a counter-assault team and Secret Service agents.
The 20-foot-tall, world-famous Baby Trump balloon was there too, as part of a Democratic “unwelcoming” committee hosted by the state party. And it turned out, Baby Trump had a security detail, too.
The balloon, one of six “cloned” from the original balloon crafted by British artist Matthew Bonner in 2018, was carefully monitored by police officers — plus a group of volunteers who are specially trained to deescalate crowds who may get boisterous when they behold the bright orange, diaper-wearing, cellphone-clutching figure.
The balloon was attacked earlier this month by a man who rushed forward and knifed it during the president’s visit to watch a University of Alabama football game, leaving it half deflated on the ground.
“Baby Trump has gotten viciously attacked, and that’s just not respectful,” said Rochelle Lessner, a retired attorney from Hollywood and designated volunteer bodyguard for the Baby Trump balloon. “I donated $50 to bring him here.”
The balloon was transported from its home in Palm Beach County — Wellington, not Mar-a-Lago — in a cargo van with a lifted roof to accommodate its size. Mark Offerman, 46, of Wellington, a longtime Democratic activist, has been bringing the balloon to events in Florida starting with a September 2018 rally for Puerto Rico outside the president’s Palm Beach residence.
Florida’s Baby Trump has since made the rounds to various events and rallies accompanied by the volunteers.
At Tuesday’s protest, Florida Democratic Party staffer Chris Hill brought volunteers together like the leader of a military brigade to go over their assignments.
“We need you to be the Secret Service for Baby Trump,” he told the group of volunteers, who including a retired attorney, a group of teen girls wearing impeachment T-shirts and a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty in a green dress.. “If things start to escalate, don’t make eye contact. If people ‘bro pump’ with their chest, don’t engage on that level.”
Offerman stood a few feet off, directing another group of volunteers with a megaphone.
“Safety first,” he said, a reference to the Alabama incident.
Baby Trump arrived at the BB&T Center a few hours ahead of its human counterpart and was pumped with 1,200 cubic feet of helium. It can cost up to $1,000 to fully inflate the balloon.
“It’s a large burden to feed him with these bottles of helium, but it is a bit of fun,” Offerman joked.
Sunrise Police worked with other law enforcement on security for Tuesday’s event — and that included the big balloon.
“We are treating everything as a general security type thing, and working with Secret Service,” Sunrise Police spokesman Luis Fernandez said. “When we got the news that the president was coming, we got news about the baby balloon in the next few days.”
The state Democratic Party raised more than $4,000 via a GoFundMe campaign — started by longtime Democratic operative Craig Smith — to pay for the balloon’s appearance.. Smith invited donors to join the protest as part of the Trump “unwelcoming committee.”
Juan Peñalosa, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said the Baby Trump balloon is “an expression of what we are all feeling right now.”
“We are frustrated with the ridiculousness of what’s going on in Washington,” he said.