'Trump trains' and 'MAGA drags' snarl traffic and raise tensions in multiple states
With the election looming, a number of pro-Trump caravans across the U.S. snarled traffic and raised tensions in some cities over the weekend, most notably in Texas, where the FBI is investigating after pro-Trump drivers surrounded a Biden-Harris campaign bus on an interstate.
The escalations appear to have the support of the president, who has consistently tried to frame street violence as a Democratic issue while previously condoning, failing to condemn or just looking the other way on confrontations or violence linked to his own supporters.
"This story is FALSE. They did nothing wrong," President Trump tweeted Monday, responding to a CNN report about the FBI investigating possible harassment of the Biden-Harris bus by Trump supporters. "But the ANTIFA Anarchists, Rioters and Looters, who have caused so much harm and destruction in Democrat run cities, are being seriously looked at!"
A spokesperson for the San Antonio field office of the FBI confirmed the existence of an investigation regarding the bus confrontation, in which a pro-Trump vehicle appeared to collide with another vehicle.
“We’re aware of the incident, and we’re investigating, and we don’t have any updates at this time," spokesperson Michelle Lee told the Los Angeles Times, declining to provide further details. Neither Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden nor vice-presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris of California were aboard the bus.
The incident was just one of several in recent days as Trump supporters rallied in "Trump trains" or "MAGA drags" to demonstrate support before Tuesday's election. In recent months, many Trump supporters have grown increasingly willing to make shows of street strength, an escalation that has also increased the possibility and likelihood of confrontation with opposing liberals.
The caravans appeared to be organized with help from a group called MAGA Drag the Interstate, which describes itself as "a grassroots assemblage of patriots from across the United States who are tired of seeing our Country attacked and slandered by violent and seditious radicals," according to the group's website.
The idea of the "drags" is to "decorate our cars with signage and flags and organize into peaceful and spirited rolling rallies that blanket the country with hope, a spirit of patriotism, and a reminder that we are more united than divided." The group added, "We do not support violence, racism, or bigotry, of any kind, from any side of the aisle."
The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment through its website Monday evening and did not list any future events on its website. The group's social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter appeared to have been suspended or deactivated.
Some events, as in Temecula, Calif., on Sunday, were boisterous but peaceful as thousands of Trump supporters converged on the Ronald Reagan Sports Park, where the biggest problem seemed to be the traffic. "Please be courteous to other drivers ... Do not engage in altercation with haters. With that being said look out for one another," a flier said. "Let's celebrate God, country, and 4 more years of Donald J. Trump!!!"
About 1,300 vehicles reportedly joined a similar roadway rally in Houston.
Other events escalated as Trump supporters met opponents. After one "Trump Train" entered Richmond, Va., on Sunday afternoon, a woman at the city's Robert E. Lee Monument circle reported being pepper-sprayed from a vehicle, and officers also responded to an unoccupied vehicle getting hit with a gunshot, according to local police, who did not attribute the violence to either side.
Witnesses said "one or more of the supporters of President Donald Trump in the train of cars was spraying chemical irritants at an opposing crowd that was trying to block the cars from passing," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. "One man said he narrowly avoided being run over by jumping onto the hood of a car. Another man said he ducked just in time as someone fired a gun at him from a truck, after someone else had pulled a Trump flag off one of the vehicles."
In Marin City, Calif., the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a caravan of Trump supporters gathered at the Gateway Center and culminated with "some members hurling racial epithets at bystanders in what is Marin County’s only predominantly minority community."
Supporters of the president also temporarily blocked traffic on major highways in New York City and New Jersey on Sunday.
The shows of strength are making some Democrats uneasy. Carly Logan, a restaurateur in Phoenix, passed a long caravan of Trump supporters driving slowly enough to cause a significant backup on Sunday, which she found unsettling. They were almost all trucks, with flags on the back.
"That's the concern for a lot of people — that he'll win the election and there'll be civil unrest," Logan said.
"I'm praying not," she said of the prospect of conflict as election results pour in Tuesday night, and beyond. "I'm praying not."
Times staff writers Matt Stiles and Tyrone Beason contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.