When I arrived at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, for the “History Tour” featuring former President Donald Trump and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, it quickly dawned on me exactly what I was in for. Gigantic “Trump 2020” and “Let’s Go Brandon” flags and banners lined the plaza outside the arena, where conservative merchandise vendors set up to hawk their wares. Between the vendors stood a woman wearing a full American flag jumpsuit holding a poster featuring Trump’s face inside of a Q, next to a garishly painted truck advertising a group opposing the fluoridation of water.
While waiting in line, a woman in front of me asked if I was a local to Dallas and whether it was safe for her and her husband to walk eight blocks from their car to dinner after the sun went down. I told her yes, that Dallas is a relatively safe city, and that they’d be perfectly fine. “But what about those paid agitators,” she responded with serious concern. “I know they come in from out of town.”
No agitators showed up, it should be said, paid or otherwise.
The scene outside was indicative of the general tone and tenor of the event, save for the part where the crowd batted around a couple beach balls while Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” blared in the background. No one could have predicted that.
Facilitated by O’Reilly, the “History Tour,” which kicked off in Florida last week, amounted to an opportunity for Trump to offer a myriad of baseless conspiracy theory laced claims entirely unchallenged. Take for instance O’Reilly’s opening question: Is the Democratic party socialist? “I think they’re beyond socialism,” Trump said blithely. “I’m talking about the big C word.” Never mind that the Democratic party cannot manage to pass its own agenda due to the recent intransigence of Senator Joe Manchin — who was praised by name by O’Reilly and Trump.
The rest of the event went more or less the same. For a few hours, the two hucksters outlined their revisionist history of the Trump administration, the election, and the current state of the nation to an audience who hung on their every word. Trump played the conspiratorial hits that appeal to his base: the election was rigged (“That’s all the Democrats are good at, politics and stealing elections”); President Joe Biden is intentionally encouraging criminals to cross the border (“The toughest, meanest people from prison are being dumped here”); Covid-19 was an intentional biological attack from China (“What came out of the Wuhan Lab”); and January 6th was justified but the violence had nothing to do with this supporters (“BLM and Antifa were among the crowd”).
The event wasn’t exactly sold out — I moved from my cheap seats in the second section to a half-empty empty center row not far from the stage to get a better view — but the excitement in the room was palpable. People sang along to the music in the hours leading up to the beginning of the conversation. The entire crowd stood for a rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” a Christian hymn. Some folks came out dressed for church, perhaps because they had just been at the First Baptist Dallas Church Christmas service, where Trump was featured as a special guest.
“Now, you may wonder why not just have [Trump] speak right now?” Pastor Robert Jeffress said at the beginning of the service. “I’ll tell you why. Cuz I know you all! And as soon as he finished y’all would walk out of here before my sermon, and even more importantly before the offering. So we’re not gonna let you do that.”
Otherwise, the crowd looked like your typical Trump rally. Plenty of empty seats, but quite a turnout for the Sunday before Christmas. There was no shortage of hats, shirts and jackets bearing a variety of slogans — Trump 2024, Let’s Go Brandon, I Identify As Vaccinated, Trump themed Christmas sweaters, and more. Among the crowd were members of the controversial JFK-obsessed QAnon cult led by Michael Protzman that have been holed up at the Hyatt Regency Hotel for over two months, where most recently they held an informational session on alternative health (the content of which does not bear repeating). They did not all dress up in the same absurd shirts or make a major scene on Sunday afternoon, instead opting to wear more unassuming threads and blending in with the rest of the crowd. But they did catch the attention of a local conspiracy theory YouTuber who confronted Protzman, regarding all predictions that have failed to pan out, during a livestream (the contents of which does not bear repeating).
On occasion, and somewhat surprisingly, O’Reilly would ask a tough question. “Do you believe in climate change?” O’Reilly directly asked Trump, giving the former president ample room to spread misinformation, doubt, and absurd equivocations. Even when O’Reilly asked Trump the same question about climate change a second time after failing to get a direct answer, he allowed Trump to blather. Trump rarely stuck to the subject of the questions asked, rapidly pivoting and switching between topics, and no matter how absurd the segue, he often found his way to attack China or Russia.
On several occasions, the crowd audibly responded to the discussion. Whenever Trump leaned into the conspiratorial or antagonistic tones, the crowd whooped and hollered. When O’Reilly asked about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, someone in the crowd yelled “skank!” And when former President Obama was mentioned, a chorus of disapproval rang out.
Occasionally, Trump offered a stunning morsel of rational thought, delivered in his trademark stream of consciousness style.
“We saved tens of millions worldwide by creating the vaccine,” Trump said, while occasionally peppering in “no mandates” between sentences. “It would have been like the Spanish Flu without it … We should take credit for it and you play right into their hands [when you doubt the vaccine].”
For a moment, things seemed normal. In touch with reality, even. But when O’Reilly followed up Trump’s defense of the vaccine by saying “both the President and I are vaxxed. We got the booster,” the crowd booed in disapproval.
And then it got worse.
“We don’t have anyone on the left in this room, do we?” Trump asked. “Wait, no, don’t say it. We don’t want anything to happen.”