Look in later today for our On the Road piece from Wilmington, North Carolina. We’re a bit ahead of our coverage, which occasionally happens out here with the long distances, input, output and timing demands. Tonight we’ll be at the Obama-Clinton rally in Kissimmee, Florida, and we’re breaking in from Miami, where John McCain just concluded his “Joe the Plumber” rally at Everglades Lumber.
After the rally, we witnessed a near-street riot involving the exiting McCain crowd and two Cuban-American Obama supporters. Tony Garcia, 63, and Raul Sorando, 31, were suddenly surrounded by an angry mob. There is a moment in a crowd when something goes from mere yelling to a feeling of danger, and that’s what we witnessed. As photographers and police raced to the scene, the crowd elevated from stable to fast-moving scrum, and the two men were surrounded on all sides as we raced to the circle.
The event maybe lasted a minute, two at the most, before police competently managed to hustle the two away from the scene and out of the danger zone. Only FiveThirtyEight tracked the two men down for comment, a quarter mile down the street.
“People were screaming ‘Terrorist!’ ‘Communist!’ ‘Socialist!'” Sorando said when we caught up with him. “I had a guy tell me he was gonna kill me.”
Asked what had precipitated the event, “We were just chanting ‘Obama!’ and holding our signs. That was it. And the crowd suddenly got crazy.”
Garcia told us that the man who originally had warned the two it was his property when they had first tried to attend the rally with Obama T-shirts was one of the agitators. Coming up just before the scene started getting out of hand, the man whispered in Garcia’s ear, “I’m gonna beat you up the next time I see you.” Garcia described him for us: “a big stocky man wearing a tweed jacket.” He used hand motions to emphasize this was a large guy. We went back to look for the gentleman twenty minutes after the incident but didn’t find him.
The two Obama supporters had attempted to attend the event with tickets printed from the McCain website. Both were clad in Obama T-shirts, Sorando in a blue “Obama ’08” shirt, and Garcia in a white “Obama-Biden” shirt. They were told that the event was being held on private property and that wearing the shirts or carrying the signs they would be asked to either remove the shirts or not attend.
For an hour during the rally, the two had stood across the street from the lumberyard on public property holding yard signs. Some drivers honked in support, and others honked in disapproval. When the rally ended and the crowd spilled out, the disturbance began.
Garcia had a message for his stocky, tweed-clad threatener. “You tell that guy he can find Tony Garcia down at the West Dade library every day from 7 to 7 helping people early vote. I’ll be there from 1 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. You tell him if he wants to kick my ass that’s where he can find me. Come beat me up.”
Not thirty seconds later, John McCain drove by in his SUV and waved at Garcia on the sidewalk, who was happily waving his Obama sign.