As told to Bryon Dudley
On Jan. 26, Andrew Joseph Alemao attended a rally for Donald Trump in Iowa City. In protest, he threw tomatoes at the candidate and was promptly arrested. The story went viral on the internet and, at a rally days later, prompted Trump to tell his audience, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” adding, “I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. They won’t be so much because the courts agree with us too.”
After resolving the situation with a plea bargain earlier today, Alemao spoke with the Informer about his experiences. This is an account of the incident in his own words.
Donald Trump’s racism and Islamophobia were all the motivation I needed to bring tomatoes to his rally. I walked to the University of Iowa Field House with three friends. Once in line outside, the four of us met up with other protesters who were distributing American flag bandannas to wear for cover. Trump was almost an hour late to the podium and he must have played “Communication Breakdown” like three times and “Brown Sugar” and “Crazy Train” at least once apiece through the PA, among other songs before he took the stage. (I couldn’t help but notice that almost all of the campaign songs were by British bands with the exception of the Eagles’ “Already Gone.”) After every few songs there would be an automated message through the PA telling supporters that if they spotted a protester not to put their hands on them but instead wave them in the air and yell “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until they were spotted and escorted out.
Roma tomatoes, because throwing anything larger than that at someone with such tiny hands just didn’t seem fair.
After telling the crowd that the Hawkeyes were “his” team, he invited the football and wrestling teams onstage with him and they obliged for whatever reason. When I saw that I was glad they got destroyed in the Rose Bowl. Fuck the Hawkeyes, man.
Some frat bro was standing next to us and he called an elderly protester who was escorted out a “dumb bitch.” I gave him a condom and told him not to breed which almost blew my cover but when he asked me if I was a protester too, I pointed to my American flag bandanna and said no and that was enough proof for him not to alert security.
My friends Annie Ventullo and Veronica Tessler came up with the idea of bringing camping whistles to the rally and blowing them intermittently as a form of heckling, which turned out to be a really good idea that anyone else who wants to disrupt a Trump rally should try. By the time Trump took the stage it was really warm in there (I’d been wearing two jackets because I dressed for the line outside) and to be honest I was in a hurry to get out of there because it didn’t seem like a very safe place to faint.
I had planned on waiting for Trump to say something racist before launching the tomatoes (Roma tomatoes, because throwing anything larger than that at someone with such tiny hands just didn’t seem fair) but I decided that calling Bernie Sanders a communist was enough reason to let ‘em fly. The first one was starting to fall apart in my pocket and it landed in front of the podium. The second was more intact and sailed over Trump’s shoulder. I didn’t see either shot land because I was more concerned with finding an exit.
I didn’t find out until the next day how close the second one was, but I figured I hadn’t hit him since there were no assault charges filed. As I tried to leave the Field House the UI police almost let me go, but someone from the Secret Service ordered them to stop me because I was seen “throwing things.” I denied throwing the tomatoes but when an officer inspected my pockets he found tomato seeds from the first one that started to split apart, and at that point I knew I was going to jail, which only bothered me in the sense that I was trying to avoid putting myself in the headlines and I knew that arrest meant my name would be on the news (although I did not anticipate it going viral on the internet, but perhaps I should have).
I got along fairly well with the university cop who was driving the vehicle I was loaded into, and we both had a good laugh when the arresting officer asked aloud how to spell “tomatoes” as he filed the report. The driving officer said, “You just pulled a Dan Quayle” and was surprised when I laughed because he didn’t think I was old enough to get that reference. From there I was taken to the university police station where I met with a very friendly Secret Service officer who gave me his business card.
I should mention right before I threw the Romas I blew my whistle and yelled, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, DONNY!” but I don’t know that anyone heard or remembers that.
Anyway, the Secret Service guy was really nice. His name was Virgil, but he preferred to be called Gus. He said he usually did security for Clinton and Carson and I got the impression he resented having to work for Trump, although he didn’t explicitly say so. He wanted to know if I would have shot Donald Trump had I been able to smuggle a firearm in, and I said something to the effect of “I wouldn’t have the balls,” which didn’t alarm him as much as you’d think. He asked me a battery of questions, most of which I declined to answer. He told me if they weren’t able to make a complete enough profile of me they’d have to visit members of my family, so I tried to answer just enough questions that he wouldn’t have to do that, but apparently I didn’t, because he paid my mom a visit at her home in Cedar Falls the next day. My mom had recently suffered a black eye while going for a backhand shot while playing pickleball, and running into the wall at her local rec center, so of course she felt obligated to explain that neither my stepdad or I were responsible for her injury.
When I got out of jail the next morning I went straight to work and finished my shift, and that’s when I realized I was blowing up on the internet.
My mother also told me that although she was initially intimidated by being visited by the Secret Service, she also came to agree that Virgil/Gus was a pretty nice guy who was just doing his job.
From the UI police station I was transferred to Johnson County’s minimum security bed and breakfast, where I attempted to sleep in the drunk tank (I stupidly admitted to having a beer earlier in the day as I was being booked into jail) next to an old man who had the most violent sleep apnea I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard lots of guys snore as I’ve spent lots of nights in the JoCo jail).
When I got out of jail the next morning I went straight to work and finished my shift, and that’s when I realized I was blowing up on the internet. Fortunately, Alexandra, my partner, created a gofundme page for me, which amassed over $2,000. I’d like to thank everyone that contributed to that; most of them were people I didn’t even know.
Today I signed a plea bargain that guaranteed I would serve no jail time, pay only a $65 fine, and I won’t be slapped with assault charges if I discuss the incident with the press. Basically it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, even though I attempted to refuse all plea bargains on principle. Because I only have to pay $65 out of the $2,000 raised, that means I can donate the rest of the money to two of my favorite local charities, the Johnson County Crisis Center and the Center for Worker Justice.
At the rally I was not very close to the stage so I’m incredibly lucky I didn’t hit anyone in the first row, because then I’d probably be looking at assault charges, and the likelihood that the victim would be able to stick around (or come back) to testify against me would have been that much higher.
Had I hit Trump, he could have sued me (but he promises to sue people all the time and almost never follows through) and the likelihood that assault charges would have been filed would have been higher, but I think (and I may be mistaken) that Trump himself would have to testify against me to make that stick.
I’d also like to add that there were people impersonating me on both Facebook and Twitter in order to con people via gofundme. For example, the Twitter handle @AndrewAlemao is not me. The Facebook impostor page was deleted by Facebook, but I couldn’t get the Twitter one to come down.
Fortunately the Twitter one includes a photo of someone else who is wearing a “Heil Trumpler” shirt, because Raw Story reported I was wearing that shirt when I was not.