Jes Holland Cronmiller is the Raleigh woman who got whacked in the jaw Friday night at the Donald Trump rally in Dorton Arena. A total sucker punch, she says, landed by an as-yet-unidentified Trump supporter who went ballistic when Cronmiller and other protesters dared to disrupt the Dear Leader.
On Sunday, Jes said her face still hurt, and her mouth wasn't opening all the way. But the loose tooth she'd been worried about seemed to be firmly back in place. Had she seen a doctor? No, because she doesn't have health insurance.
"I'll survive," she told me in the no-nonsense voice she uses to ward off sympathy. "It's not my first rodeo."
I've known Jes since Occupy Raleigh was in bloom four years ago, with her in the forefront as organizer, spokesperson, den mother to those for whom it was a first rodeo, and actual mom to her precocious daughter, Cass, now 11.
Since then, I've caught up with her at Moral Mondays and other lefty protests, as well as in Raleigh restaurants where she works as a server. She's smart, speaks her mind and will be the first to tell you that her life would be easier if she spoke it less. The truth is her thing.
From the many other ugly incidents reported by people who attended the Trump event, journalists included, a motif emerges of Trump onstage, stirring his kettle of hatreds while his followers scanned the people around them for anyone who wasn't chanting "Build That Wall!" or "Send the Syrians Back!" with sufficient vigor—folks who should be screamed at, spat on or roughed up.
I wasn't there. But I'm convinced that what happened to Jes should not be dismissed as an isolated attack, but rather seen as an example of a virulent rage that is building on the political right that may soon become a firestorm.
The Trump event was open to anyone who wanted to be there, and Jes went with a contingent of experienced protesters who'd planned a series of interruptions, both verbal and with signs. There were 10 brief interruptions—CNN counted—each one ending with the cops swooping in. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said 25 protesters were removed, with no arrests.
Jes' role was backup for the final disruption. Two friends unfurled a banner—"No Platform for Hate Speech"—and the cops ripped it from their hands immediately, knocking one of them to the ground. The two were hustled out. Jes, Carrboro activist Lila Little and two others followed without being herded. They were chanting "Black lives matter."
As the contingent reached the exit ramp, Trump supporters were jeering and shouting epithets from the bleachers on both sides of them. Jes locked eyes with a woman to her left who seemed to tower above her, she says, either because she was taller (Jes is 5-foot-8) or was standing one step up.
The woman shouted "something vile," Jes says. Jes flipped her off ("Not my finest moment"), and the woman shouted again as Jes passed by.
"I turned around to be like, 'What is wrong with you?' and as I turned my head, she just cold-clocked me in the jaw," Jes says.
The blow landed flush on the left side of her face, leaving a bruise visible two days later. "She hit me hard, and I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't braced for it."
Jes's recollection of what the woman said and what happened next is fuzzy. From behind, Little witnessed the punch and says it snapped Jes' head around. Little grabbed Jes and pulled her away. As she did, the woman wound up again, but by now Jes was out of reach, and there was a barricade in between, Little says.
Little took a picture of the woman that is blurry but probably good enough to confirm her identity if the cops had arrested her. But they didn't, despite Jes and Little pointing her out.
Jes said the cops on hand denied seeing anything, and she was told to "just move along."
Scum!" "Traitors!" "Deport them!" These were the shouts that Shaun Ridgway, another Raleigh protester, remembers hearing. Someone yelled that the protesters should be beheaded. A CNN reporter wrote that two men in combat fatigues were seen manhandling protesters before the cops got there. Accounts in The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor describe an atmosphere about to boil over.
Trump, "visibly rattled," according to CSM, cut his speech short, but not before saying, as the INDY's Jane Porter reported, "We are sitting on something that is bigger than anyone understands or knows."
Yes, and it's frightening.
There's fear in the country—about jobs lost, security threatened, a planet in crisis—and it's palpable on the left and the right. But there's a difference that's plain to Jes when she remembers the look of sheer hatred on her assailant's face.
"The difference is, the things we believe on the left may be controversial, but they're about the economy or some political issue," she says. "They're opinions and, sure, we shout them and we're angry. But I've never heard us be actively hateful to entire groups of people, as if their very humanity was in question. That woman hated me, and she'd didn't know one thing about me."
That's the essence of Trump. He's the strongman who knows, at a glance, whether people are worthy.
On Monday, Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." And his followers, so eager to help him root out evil, cheered and pledged allegiance to the end of religious liberty.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Boiling over"