Donald Trump is returning to North Texas — and holding a campaign rally tonight at Gilley’s in Dallas.
The controversial New York billionaire and former reality TV star, after being rejected at venues in other places in North Texas as he sought a location to rally supporters, will be at the nightclub — expected to be packed with thousands of supporters — at 7 p.m.
Protesters are also hoping to turn out in large numbers, and Dallas police have been preparing for big crowds and the challenges that go with them.
Trump is counting on his Texas swing, which also includes stops in Houston and San Antonio, to build momentum and raise big bucks in the staunchly Republican state.
“We are excited to announce that Donald J. Trump and team are headed to Dallas, Texas, … for a Donald J. Trump for President rally and we want you to join us,” an email sent to supporters said.
His staffers ask that people not bring “homemade signs, banners, professional cameras with a detachable lens, tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, back packs or large bags.”
This is Trump’s first visit to Texas since becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. While in town, he is also expected to attend a private fundraiser.
Other private fundraisers are planned in Houston and San Antonio, as well as a public rally Friday night at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center near Houston.
Anti-Trump protests initially planned for the Highland Park Village neighborhood in Dallas have shifted, with the announcement of Trump’s rally, to across the street from Gilley’s about an hour before the rally begins.
At the same time, Dallas law enforcement has been ramping up security, preparing for any political events that could arise this presidential election year.
Although he didn’t make it to Texas in time for the state’s Republican Party convention, Trump’s visit coincides with the Texas Democratic Party’s convention that runs through Saturday in San Antonio.
After leaving Texas Friday, Trump will head to Las Vegas and Phoenix, according to his schedule.
Trump’s quest for a DFW venue became a last-minute drama because it initially appeared he might not find a place to hold a rally.
Officials with several local venues — from the Fort Worth Convention Center to the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie to the Irving Convention Center — have said they didn’t have space or time to adequately ramp up security for such a high profile event.
“It’s very unusual that the Republican nominee for president of the United States can’t find a venue to hold a rally in a deep red state like Texas,” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said before Trump’s Gilley’s event was announced.
Around noon Wednesday, Trump’s campaign announced that a rally would be held at Gilley’s, a nightclub with a capacity of 3,600.
This is the same site that hosted a political rally for then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz before the March 1 primary election in Texas.
When news broke last week that Trump would visit a handful of Texas cities for private fundraisers, critics began discussing how best to protest his visit.
Donald Trump last visited Fort Worth in February, holding a rally that drew thousands to the Fort Worth Convention Center days before the March 1 primary.
Protesters have been gearing up, holding planning meetings for a “rally against racism and hate” now that “Dufus Donald Trump [is] Coming to Dallas.”
“Donald Trump can’t just come in to Dallas and think he’s going to be King Donald Trump,” said Carlos Quintanilla, president of the Dallas-based Accion America activist group who is helping lead the protest. “This needs to happen not only in Dallas, Texas, but … anywhere Donald Trump goes … [to protest] his hate and racism.”
Quintanilla said buses will travel throughout North Texas picking up people to join the protest which should include youth leaders, activists, pastors and members of LULAC, unions and Accion America.
Protesters are asked to wear white t-shirts and carry an American flag, but leave all weapons at home.
“We want a peaceful protest,” Quintanilla said. “We are mobilizing everyone. We are hoping to get thousands.”
One group of protesters last week began protesting the popular Mi Cocina and Taco Diner restaurants because one of the company’s owners, Ray Washburne, is among those helping to raise money for Trump.
“This is to highlight the hypocrisy of Ray Washburne,” Quintanilla said. “Donald Trump has attacked our community. He’s running a political campaign based on hate against immigrants.
“And his chief fundraiser has made a fortune hiring Hispanic workers.”
Washburne serves on the Trump Victory Committee.
Dallas police have been gearing up as well, training officers as recently as Wednesday on crowd management, which includes the use of smoke, which represents tear gas.
Officers had the opportunity to practice formations, as well as replace any broken or outdated equipment.
“We are in the election year,” Dallas Deputy Police Chief Jeff Cotner told media in an interview broadcast on Periscope. “You can look across the nation and see the other jurisdictions that have had incidents.
“This is an opportunity as we move into the election year” to train.
Trump last visited Fort Worth in February, holding a rally that drew thousands to the Fort Worth Convention Center days before the March 1 primary. He announced an endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before that rally.
Attending Trump’s event
Anyone who wants to attend Trump’s rally at 7 p.m. Thursday at Gilley’s in Dallas, 1135 S. Lamar St., needs to go online to register for tickets at donaldjtrump.com.
Doors will open at 4 p.m.