By NBC Chicago
An hour before Donald Trump’s rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion was scheduled to begin, protesters were seen being escorted out of the venue.
Three attendees wearing shirts that read “Muslims United Against Trump” and “Make America Hate Again” were removed from the venue as protesters gathered inside and outside the pavilion.
Crowds shouted as the protesters were escorted out before several people in the audience began repeatedly chanting “U-S-A.” It was not immediately clear why the three were removed from the event.
Another man was seen being taken out of the venue as some chanted “let him stay.”
Inside the rally, an announcement could be heard telling the crowd to “not touch or harm the protesters.”
“Mr. Trump will continue his right of free speech in America,” the announcer said. “As a matter of fact, he supports the First Amendment just as much as he supports the Second Amendment. However, some people have taken advantage of Mr. Trump’s hospitality by choosing to disrupt his rallies by using them as an opportunity to promote their own political messages. While they certainly have their right to free speech, this is a private rally paid for Mr. Trump.”
The announcer also told supporters at the rally if they see a protester, they can notify law enforcement by placing a rally sign over their head and chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
Supporters of Trump began lining up at the building before sunrise Friday.
The GOP front-runner is scheduled to speak at the school’s pavilion at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 3 p.m. The first person in line to wait for a spot at the free event arrived at 3 a.m. The arena seats 9,500, though it’s not clear how many are set to attend the rally.
More than 10,000 officially RSVP’d that they will be going to the university to protest the event.
Earlier in the day, scores of protesters heckled Trump at a rally in St. Louis, interrupting his stump speech at the Peabody Opera House at least six times, NBC News reported.
They held signs and chanted “stop the hate,” while the crowd responded with “U-S-A” and Trump mocked the demonstrators. Thirty-two people were arrested, St. Louis police told NBC News.
By 6 a.m. Friday, security at the UIC Pavilion was tight. The Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, the Secret Service and the FBI have all been involved in the plan to maintain the crowds.
Protesters lined up across the street from the pavilion, carrying signs that read “Build a wall around Trump and I’ll pay for it!” and yelling to supporters in line for the rally. One Trump supporter got out of the line Friday afternoon and hopped a barricade on Harrison Street to confront a protester.
Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s and a Bernie Sanders supporter, showed up at the pavilion wearing a Sanders hoodie and scooped out free ice cream.
Ahead of Trump’s Chicago campaign stop, more than 50,000 people signed a moveon.org petition in an attempt to get the event canceled, saying it has no place in Chicago, “especially not at an institution of higher learning.” Protesters cited the Republican’s stance on immigration, his calls to bring back torture tactics on alleged terrorists, and a recent endorsement from white supremacist David Duke.
Trump is known for drawing large rallies where protesters frequently clash with supporters and security, but during Thursday night’s GOP debate he argued that he was not responsible for the incidents.
“I hope not. I truly hope not,” he said. “People come with tremendous passion and love for the country. When they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable.”
As fury over Trump’s appearance grew, the school’s chancellor, Michael Amiridis addressed the students’ concerns, clarifying that the school was “not endorsing, sponsoring or supporting any candidate for political office.” Rather, it was continuing its tradition of hosting campaign events on campus, and candidates could not be excluded “because of the views he or she expresses.”
Earlier this week, UIC faculty and staff sent a letter of concern to Amiridis, expressing that they were “deeply distressed” over the safety of students and staff who have “no choice” but to be near the highly contested event.
Local politicians have also pledged to protest the rally, including Ald. Ray Lopez (15th Ward) and Congressman Luis Guitierrez.
“We’re not going to let Donald Trump take us back to the 1950s,” said Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, who has long rallied for immigrant rights. “We’ve worked too hard.”
Despite the planned protests, many supporters couldn’t wait to see Trump. Gloria Noles told NBC 5 she drove three hours to be one of the first in line.
“I wanted to be sure I got in to see Trump because I believe in what he’s standing for and I think he can get things done,” Noles said. “Nothing has been done before and something has to be done.”
Noles said she admires the fact that although so many people dislike Trump, it doesn’t faze him.
“I just think that he’s not one of the establishment,” Noles said. “He’s not one of them. And I think that they can try to bring him down and he bounces back and hasn’t fallen yet.”
One man in line said Friday’s Trump rally would be the ninth he’s attended.
Sherry Jadaay from Orland Park told NBC 5 she stands behind Trump because she believes “we need a big change in America.”
“I’m 66 years old and things have got to change for the better,” she said.
The Friday event falls on the same night as an Illinois Republican Party fundraiser, which fellow presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz has said he will attend. Other Republican presidential candidates have also been invited. It’s not clear if Trump will make an appearance after his rally is over.
With just five days away from the state’s presidential primary on March 15, presidential candidates have zeroed in on Illinois.
Hillary Clinton kicked it off with a visit Thursday night, where more than 1,000 people packed a Vernon Hills community center to see the hometown candidate. After losing Michigan to Bernie Sanders this week, Clinton is doubling down on her home state.
Sanders will also make his way to Illinois Friday to appear at Argo Community High School in Summit. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Illinois’ presidential primary will be held March 15.