Outside the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday, hundreds of supporters and protesters gathered in triple-digit heat hours before President Trump was set to speak.
Jim Williams, head of the local Bikers for Trump chapter, told Yahoo News they were there to keep the peace.
“We’re just hoping to see everybody get in and out of the rally without being accosted and harassed and hurt and intimidated,” Williams said.
A local group of masked antifascist protesters was there too.
“We’re out here today to provide support for our friends, our comrades and to the community at large,” the head of Antifa Action Phoenix said.
One member of the pro-Trump biker group said, “If you come to an event like this and you’re wearing a mask, you have inappropriate intentions.”
“We don’t instigate,” the antifa head said. “We believe in self-defense. So if they come at us spewing their hate speech, spitting at us, instigating, pushing or otherwise trying to push through people who are doing the same thing that they are — practicing their free speech rights — we’re going to retaliate.”
Despite tinderbox conditions, the demonstrations before Trump’s speech were peaceful. But afterward, police used pepper spray to disperse crowds of protesters.
A police spokesman told Yahoo News that some of the protesters “began fighting and throwing rocks and bottles at police.”
City officials had been on high alert for the event following the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.
Though one water bottle was thrown at the police, the protesters repeatedly shouted that they had not been violent and the gas was unprovoked. The crowd dispersed and cleared the area.
“Free speech!” one shouted.
— With Hunter Walker and Andrew Romano reporting from Phoenix
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