6:15 p.m.: Thousands attend Trump rally
Ted Budd, a Republican running for US Senate, took the stage a little before 5:30 p.m. to a cheering crowd. Budd has been endorsed by Trump in his race against Democrat Cheri Beasley.
“I’m running because of everything Joe Biden has done and the policies that have made your life worse,” Budd told the crowd after taking the stage a little before 5:30 p.m.
Budd told the crowd he would vote to get food and energy prices under control, to “finish that wall” and fully fund the border patrol, and to give parents more authority in their student’s schooling. He said Beasley would be a “rubber stamp” for President Joe Biden’s agenda.
“I will always vote to make life better for you and your families,” Budd said.
— Sydney Hoover
6 p.m.: ‘The talk has changed since he left’
Shortly after 6 p.m., most event goers had filed into the rally, with a few hanging back waiting for Trump to take the podium.
Perusing the Trump related merchandise on offer all along the road leading to the rally, friends Cathy Amour and Isabelle Myers lamented the country’s trajectory post-Trump presidency.
“The talk has changed since he left,” Amour, 66, said. “The discourse has just gotten a lot meaner.”
While economic issues were their main concerns politically, more importantly, they both felt that the country better united and more God-centered under Trump.
— John Orona
4:30 p.m.: Time for vendors to head to the next stop
As 4 p.m. passed and the event officially began inside, outside vendors felt the day calm.
Dawn Kenny traveled from her home state of South Carolina Friday to sell merchandise at the rally.
Commuting to Trump rallies across the nation has been part of Kenny’s life since Trump’s first campaign for president in 2016.
Kenny said the day had proven calmer in comparison to some of Trump’s other rallies in various states, and her printed T-shirts, sweatshirts and selection of bags were selling slowly.
Her best seller — a black T-shirt with “Raise Lions Not Sheep” printed in white ink — proved popular among the Wilmington crowd. She said the inspiration came from another shirt boasting “Lion, Not Sheep.”
“I took that as the individual wearing the shirt, but thought we need to raise our children up into lions as well, so I added that,” she said.
Tennessee native Phil Colwell rolled a blue cart filled with hats down the strip lined with other venders. He was selling them for $5.
No one was selling more than another Friday, he said.
“If it’s got his name on it, it’ll sell,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vachery Hopkins said he’s has followed Donald Trump around the country since 2016.
The Lexington resident started by selling buttons, shirts and other Trump paraphernalia and now rents folding chairs to rallygoers who sometimes wait hours in line before events.
Hopkins, a Black man, said Trump supporters never gave him grief even at the more chaotic rallies.
“It was only people against Trump who would say, ‘What are you doing here? Why are you supporting him?'”
After the rally, he and other vendors will move on to Michigan.
— John Orona
3:30 p.m.: Gates open for Trump’s visit to Wilmington
Hundreds of rallygoers began shuffling into the Aero Center shortly after 3 p.m.
Some, like Mike Reed and Amber Blue, had already waited for hours but were happy to stay to show their support.
The engaged couple traveled from the Fayetteville area to see former President Trump and N.C. Lt. Governor Mark Robinson.
Reed, 46, said he supports Trump for his policies like lowering taxes, but more than anything else trusts him to “not take anything from anyone.”
Blue, 45, said the couple weren’t politically active before Trump came to power, and aren’t particularly interested in the candidates he’s endorsing.
“We like to think for ourselves,” Reed said. “He’s endorsed people before and gone back.”
— John Orona
3 p.m.: ‘He’s the only politician to tell the truth’
Gary Lewis’ political awakening began in 2009, shortly after the housing market crash.
He built homes in the Southport area for most of his life, but suddenly found it hard to make a living during the downturn.
“I never went to college,” Lewis, 44, said. “I thought I’d always be able to support my family building homes; everyone needs a home.”
Since then he started paying closer attention to politics and the economy. Following the crash, he became a Tabor City police officer and loyal Republican.
Between mini doughnut bites, he described the issues that brought him to the rally: immigration, sex trafficking, qualified immunity, and making Democrats angry.
Lewis said Trump’s visit to Wilmington is important because it gives hope to people like him, who for so long felt they didn’t have a voice in politics.
“He’s the only politician to tell the truth,” Lewis said. “The rest are hypocrites.”
— John Orona
1:45 p.m.: Our ‘superhero president’
Edward Young has big expectations for the moment Donald Trump takes the stage in Wilmington Friday night.
“My expectations are that something big is going to happen,” he said. “It’s not just going to be the same old rally.”
That’s one reason Young drove 12 hours through the night to get to Wilmington from his home in Point Pleasant, N.J. He wanted to be in the front row for his 55th Trump rally, he said.
Young said he’s supported Trump since he announced his run for president. He volunteered for Trump’s campaign in the early days for his presidential bid and attended his first rally at Trump Tower, he said.
The crowd gathering around 1 p.m. looked “light,” Young said, compared to the number of people Trump has drawn during his campaign and presidency.
Young, who said he works in finance and acts on the weekends, said he was drawn to the “show” Trump puts on during his rallies.
“There has never ever, ever been a political candidate like this and nobody’s going to follow this act,” he said. “Donald Trump is our first rock star, superhero president.”
But he’s still anticipating Trump’s announcement of his presidential run in the 2024 election.
“We’re all waiting with baited breath…to hear him say, ‘I am running,’” he said.
11:30 a.m.: ‘I’m a Trump girl’
Just before 11 a.m. Friday, Linda Knight sat in a lawn chair outside a motorhome with the words “Trump Girls” printed on its windshield. Knight is one of several women who travelled to Wilmington Thursday from the Myrtle Beach area to attend Friday’s Donald Trump rally.
The motorhome, which is decorated with stars and stripes, is owned by Robin Holley. Holley, who lives in Georgetown, S.C., formed a group called “I’m a Trump girl” shortly after Trump announced his first presidential bid because “everyone said that women didn’t like Trump.” The Facebook group now has more than 30,000 members, Holley said.
“I wanted to do everything I could to support him,” she said.
The interior of the motorhome, too, is decked out with Trump memorabilia from rally buttons, photos of Trump and pictures of the group’s members. A framed painting at the front of the bus even appears to show the former president walking on water.
Both Holley and Knight said Trump is more than another candidate to them.
“The first time I shook his hand, there was something so spiritual that went from my toes to the top of my head,” Holley said. “I’m not saying he’s God, but I think what he did for our country, our United States of America, was fabulous.”
Knight said she considers Trump a friend even though she’s never met him personally. At Friday’s rally, the “Trump Girls” will be sitting within feet of Trump, Holley said. They have VIP tickets and plan to sit just a few rows behind him during the speech.
“We’re all excited, just waiting,” Knight said.
10 a.m.: Festival-like atmosphere
As people started filing into a holding area outside the Aero Center around 9:30 a.m. Friday, the grassy field took on a festival-like atmosphere as oldies, classic country and show tunes blared and food vendors set up shop.
Outside the holding area, Colleen Funston, Vicki Wescott and Angela Robinson stood watching rally-goers enter.
This will be the second Trump rally Funston, a small business owner from Shallotte, has attended in Wilmington. Her first was Trump’s 2020 speech from Battleship North Carolina.
Funston said she’s a long-time supporter of Trump and believes in what he stands for, including efforts to “put America first.”
“Trump is an American citizen who wants to do right by our country,” Funston said. “People want to make it seem like we’re all cultist and stuff and we’re not cultist.”
“If you look around, people here are good, decent hard-working people,” she added. “That’s what I expect from a Trump rally.”
Wescott of Bolivia said she’s looking forward to Friday night’s rally. For her, it’s a first.
“I’m hysterically excited about being here,” she said. “I watch all the rallies usually online.”
Robinson, a small business owner from Bolivia, said she supported Trump to make a better world for her children and her grandchildren.
“If we don’t stop what’s going on now you all don’t have a chance,” she said.
8:30 a.m.: Vendors at the venue
More than 10 hours before former president Donald Trump was set to take the stage at Wilmington’s Aero Center, a line more than 50 people deep had formed to get into the venue.
Meanwhile, vendors walked up and down the strip of road that served as the event’s main staging area.
Jonas Williams had traveled to Wilmington from his home in Greensboro to sell hats of all kinds embroidered with Trump’s name. Williams said he’s been selling Trump merchandise since “he came down that elevator” to announce his first presidential bid.
He said he follows Trump across the country, selling merchandise at his rallies.
Elsewhere on the grounds, a man dressed as Uncle Sam rode a motorized hoverboard in the staging area while waving a large flag adorned with Trump’s face and the words “Trump’s front row Joes.”
Trump is scheduled to appear to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd. Alongside Trump and Budd, other Republicans are scheduled to speak.
Doors are scheduled to open at 2 p.m. as entertainment begins at the Aero Center. At 4, guest speakers will deliver remarks, such as local U.S. Representative David Rouzer and Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson.
Trump is then set to speak at 7.
StarNews will cover the event live throughout the day and have updates here.