PICKENS, S.C.—This tiny city of about 3,000 people burgeoned to more than ten times that size as throngs welcomed former President Donald Trump to a pre-July 4 celebration—possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event for residents.
The city’s Police Chief Randall Beach said that estimates of the crowd put the number of supporters who showed up to hear Trump speak at his first rally since being federally indicted in Florida at around 50,000.
Trump, in the July 1 speech, spent several minutes dissecting that case. He also promised to protect citizens’ freedom and the American way of life that they cherish.
“To all of you, I have your back,” he said to thousands of people who were jammed between vintage brick buildings along Main Street in 90-degree heat.
“This is the heart of America here,” U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told The Epoch Times prior to Trump’s remarks, adding that she felt like she was in the midst of “a great big party, just like all Trump rallies are.”
But Greene also addressed a more sobering topic: the criminal charges Trump faces. “Not only is he innocent of all the fake charges the left is throwing against him, but he is the only man that can save America and I’m so happy to be here to support him.”
Among those who waited in long lines and were thrilled to get inside the barricades for Trump’s rally was Tina Tanner, 64, of Pickens. “I’ve never experienced this before, getting to actually see a former president,” Tanner told The Epoch Times.
She didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 but liked how he ran the country, so he won her vote in 2020.
“It seemed like the country was turning around; I just liked the things that were going on, especially with the economy … and he was aggressive with getting our country more respect in the world,” Tanner said.
Tanner added that “it’s hard to know what to believe in the media,” but based on what she has learned, the criminal charges against Trump seem to lack substance.
“The justice system just seems very biased,” she said. The opposing party is pushing these charges and investigations against Trump and “setting a precedent that they need to be concerned about,” she said. “It may come back to shoot them in the foot.”
During his speech, Trump read aloud parts of past court rulings that said, in essence, that U.S. presidents have “sole and complete discretion” to determine which records are personal and which are presidential.
Therefore, Trump said, to accuse him of illegally possessing or mishandling classified documents is “a phony deal.” The audience erupted with whistles and cheers after that remark.
The Republican frontrunner accused Democrat President Joe Biden of “weaponizing” the American justice system as a form of “election interference” at a time when Trump is seeking to unseat him. Launching investigations and prosecutions of political rivals is the Democrats’ “new form of cheating,” Trump said.
Trump also railed against Democrat prosecutor Fani Willis in Georgia, saying that her investigation into his challenge of the 2020 election is also a politically motivated one.
He alleged that people who recorded a phone conversation that included his protestations to the Georgia election officials may have violated Florida law, which requires both parties to consent to the recording.
If elected, Trump vowed to direct a “completely overhauled DOJ to investigate every radical [district attorney] in America,” a line that elicited loud cheers from the audience.
Resident Ed Leese, who runs the “Pickens Local” Facebook page and podcast, called Trump’s rally “the biggest event, possibly, in the history of our town.” He told The Epoch Times that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who hails from the nearby town of Central, helped bring the Trump rally to Pickens, unbeknownst to many people who almost drowned out Graham with loud, long “boos.”
According to Leese, the idea for a Pickens rally surfaced after Graham visited a local azalea festival in April.
In addition, the city’s namesake, Brigadier Gen. Andrew Pickens, is the source of an inspirational story related to America’s independence from Great Britain.
Trump referenced Pickens’ legacy during his speech. During the Revolutionary War, Pickens faced “long odds of victory,” Trump said. “Pickens was given no chance.” But the general vowed to “never retreat” and “never, ever surrender,” Trump said.
Trump says he, too, follows that credo, noting that Pickens is credited with courageously leading troops in the Battle of Eutaw Springs in Charleston, South Carolina. That battle on Sept. 8, 1781, became a pivotal point in the war; the British lost control of the South from that point forward.
Leese thinks the Trump campaign probably liked the idea of coming to Pickens because its Main Street provides an all-American-looking backdrop.
As Leese put it, the downtown looks and feels like the Mayberry, the fictional town portrayed in “The Andy Griffith Show,” a 1960s TV series, where everybody knows everyone else.
The Booing Continued
When Graham took to the stage prior to Trump’s appearance, he tried to quiet the jeers and heckling without success by repeatedly saying, “Thank y’all. Thank y’all for comin’.”
He pushed through his speech, saying, “Let me tell you why I want to help President Trump … I was on the front row of his presidency and I’d never seen anybody this tough for America.”
Graham called Trump “the most pro-life president in my lifetime,” and praised him for appointing conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices who helped overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, returning authority for that procedure back to the states. He also commended Trump for his toughness that made foreign powers respect America.
“We need him back in the White House right now. So let me tell you how you win elections, folks,” Graham said. “You get people together that don’t agree all the time to agree on the most important things. My hope is we can bring this party together.”
He said Trump is the only Republican candidate who “has the ability to change this country.”
“He did it once, he can do it again. And I’ve gonna help him all over this country … and he is going to win South Carolina. This is the pathway to the presidency.”
Trump later thanked Graham for his support, which again drew booing. But Trump said that Graham has been known to step up when he’s really needed. The crowd chuckled when Trump said he would “straighten him out.”
‘Flip-Flopping’ Causes Disapproval
Catherine Whiten, who lives in Graham’s hometown, told The Epoch Times that she and others disapprove of Graham’s “flip-flopping” on Trump.
After violence erupted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Graham turned his back on Trump and said he was fed up with Trump’s opposition to the election results. Graham also praised Biden as the incoming president. Since then, Graham has been on the outs with many Trump supporters.
Whiten, decked out in patriotic Trump gear, said she told her son and daughter-in-law, “You were just part of history” after they attended the Trump rally.
Although forecasts had called for severe thunderstorms during the afternoon, that threat shifted to the evening. No matter what the weather, Leese, a two-time Trump voter, said the crowds wouldn’t be deterred from coming to see the former president.
“A solid 65 percent of these people would stand through a tornado for this guy,” he said.
Even though he’s “an entertaining guy who whips the crowd into a frenzy,” Trump’s real appeal is rooted in what people have seen him accomplish for America, Leese said. Supporters credit him with gas prices under $2 per gallon and a stronger overall economy, Leese said.
Missing the Trump Years
Whiten is among the people who look back at 2017–2021, the years of the Trump presidency, wistfully; she thinks he kept his promises to America very well and “didn’t have enough time to get everything done.”
She and others in the crowd grew emotional toward the end of Trump’s speech; some people appeared to be on the verge of tears as Trump listed a litany of woes facing the nation.
Crime is out of control, the economy is collapsing, the supply chain is broken, and the educational system is “ranked at the bottom of every single list,” Trump said. The nation “has become a joke” on the world stage and the people in power are “hostile to liberty and freedom,” he lamented.
But as instrumental music swelled, Trump changed the mood by promising to rectify those problems if reelected.
“We will rescue freedom,” Trump said. “We will propel that spirit of July 4, 1776,” the date when America declared its independence from Great Britain.
And, repeating a scene typical of Trump rallies across the nation, the crowd joined Trump in unison and recited his famous campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Whiten, reflecting on those remarks afterward said, “I feel like he’s the man to do it.”
Update: This article has been updated to include comment from Pickens Police Chief Randall Beach.