PHILADELPHIA — Inside the Wells Fargo arena a little after 11 p.m., Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. Outside, her opponents’ supporters called for her arrest.
Hundreds of anti-Clinton protesters gathered as close as they could get to the arena entrance on Thursday night. As was the case for the previous three days of the convention, they chanted, waved signs, bickered amongst themselves about disruptive anarcho-syndicalist infiltrators, and plotted their exit from the Democratic Party. Some, including Philadelphia native Drew Geliebter (who helped burn an American flag a few minutes after Clinton’s acceptance speech wrapped), were never going to vote for a Democrat anyway. But others were, and say Clinton and the Democratic National Committee robbed Bernie Sanders of the election.
At one point, dozens of them marched down a road parallel to the fence that enclosed the Wells Fargo Center chanting, “Hillary Clinton, you are under arrest!”
It’s above dispute: The Democratic Convention drew way more rancor—way, way, way more rancor—than the Republican convention. And that points to a larger problem sneaking up on the party: the percolating tension between moderate partisans comfortable with incrementalism and fiery progressives antsy for revolution. Donald Trump’s antics and #NeverTrump’s anemic counterrevolutionary efforts have kept Republican rifts in the forefront for the last year. But the faultlines on the left sometimes look just as deep—and that was certainly the case at the DNC.
This isn’t new. The party’s progressive wing has long wrangled with its establishment leaders, and there was always going to be a cohort of voters on the left who abhorred Hillary. But at the convention, that dissent turned disruptive (and not in the Silicon Valley way), with interruptions of floor proceedings, marches around the arena, media-protesting sit-ins, and even a much-hyped fart-in (which, for the record, generated more media coverage than odor).
Outside the arena, it looked like Occupy: A row of tents took over a corner of a public park across the street from the arena, and barefoot protesters hoisted signs charging Clinton with all sorts of crimes. A gentleman sporting a tie-dyed toga and a Bernie wig held forth from his perch on a concrete barrier about the likelihood of Trump winning California (his analysis: high). And one anti-Big-Food protester brought along his alpaca. As Clinton gave her acceptance speech, Andy Argo of Kalamazoo, Mich., led protesters in a mock trial charging her with accessory to election fraud.
“Guilty!” attendees chanted.
Earlier in the evening, chants included “Fuck you, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary” and “Hell no, DNC, this is not democracy.”
The RNC had a few protesters too. But nothing like this. In the lead-up to the Republican Convention, the general consensus was that Cleveland would turn into a post-apocalyptic hellhole, with antifascist protesters and Black Lives Matters activists flooding the streets during Donald Trump’s coronation. Inside the arena, conventional wisdom held, the #NeverTrump forces would cause a ruckus, hold up floor proceedings, and embarrass party leaders.
And there was a bit of that. The number of RNC protesters was greater than zero, and a conflict over a vote on the convention rules generated headlines that party leaders didn’t love. But Cleveland’s most visible protesters weren’t anti-Trump ideologues; rather, they were conservative religious street preachers who toted signs warning about the wrath of the world to come and yelled into megaphones about the perils of sin and hellfire. Cleveland closed down all street parking near the convention, and parking garage prices skyrocketed, so any agitators who might have wanted to make it to the Quicken Loans Arena to cause problems had logistical troubles. On top of that, there aren’t that many Clevelanders to cause trouble in the first place: Census data shows the city has fewer than 400,000 residents, and about 5,100 people per square mile. So the much-hyped riots didn’t materialize. City officials reported that just two dozen people were arrested in relation to convention protests.
Philadelphia is another story. For starters, the city is nearly four times as large as Cleveland in population, with more than 1.5 million people. And it’s twice as dense, with about 11,600 people per square mile. On top of that, it has functional public transportation—particularly the SEPTA train that runs through the city. So there were far more potential protesters close to the convention center for the DNC than for the RNC. And for two bucks, they could take a train ride quite close to the fence that walled in the DNC.
Hundreds did just that. On the first day of the convention, by Cleveland’s local Fox affiliate’s count, police detained more than twice as many protesters as they did during the entirety of the RNC. Over the course of the week, protesters inside and out provided a rolling migraine for convention organizers. On Tuesday night, for instance, Bernie Sanders read Hillary Clinton’s name into nomination in a gesture of unity.
A few minutes later, hundreds of his delegates marched out of the arena and then through the hallway that looped around it, chanting about the perceived unfairness of the party nominating process and ultimately sitting down en masse in the media tent—the same tent that had to be evacuated the night before as it was flooded by a monsoon.
Inside the arena, Bernie’s diehards put the RNC’s #NeverTrump dissidents to shame. Throughout the course of the convention, they waved anti-TPP signage, heckled speakers (CIA Director Leon Panetta was greeted with chants of “No more war!”), booed party leaders, and tried to drown out convention proceedings. When Sanders told his supporters on Tuesday night that they needed to suck it up and vote Clinton, they booed him. And some delegates in the arena toted signs calling for Clinton’s incarceration and chanted “Lock her up!”—which had also been a popular refrain at the RNC. When the convention voted on Tuesday to officially give Clinton the nomination, Sanders fans through the arena wept, openly. One in particular, dubbed “crying Peter Pan guy,” generated his own news cycle—and had to publicly note that his pointy green hat was actually a nod to Robin Hood.
Nothing at the RNC rose to that level. Sure, Ted Cruz’s boos were high drama. But Republican delegates drowned out the final minutes of his non-endorsement speech as a show of support for their chosen nominee. And though conservative stalwarts Ken Cuccinelli and Mike Lee were extremely distressed with how a vote on the convention rules went down—delegates even yelled at each other, which was broadcast on national TV—it didn’t hold a candle to the scenes at the DNC. One protester, for instance, lit himself on fire while he was trying to burn an American flag. Others successfully burned an Israeli flag while chanting about Intifada.
The whole mess culminated outside the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday as Clinton officially accepted her nomination. Mock trials, flag-burning, farm animals, anarchists—it was all there.
Ashley Bays, a socialist protester from Boston who came to Philadelphia to push for a third party, gave an explanation for why the Democrats’ convention drew so much more protesting and agitation.
“A lot of Bernie supporters are going to be looking for a new home now,” she said.