Getting to the dark heart of the Trump phenomenon with filmmaker Sean Dunne, whose documentary Trump Rally explores what makes The Donald’s supporters tick.

Getting to the dark heart of the Trump phenomenon with filmmaker Sean Dunne, whose documentary Trump Rally explores what makes The Donald’s supporters tick.

“We will get the president that we deserve,” explains Sean Dunne.

The world has watched the unstoppable rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential nomination race with a mixture of amusement and derision but most of all confusion – why is he so popular?

Sean Dunne is used to parachuting himself into far-out communities on the fringes of culture, such as Insane Clown Posse fanatics in American Juggalo and Oxycodone addicts in rural Virginia in OxyanaHe admits to the same obsession with the Trump phenomena as everyone else, but shooting documentary Trump Rally guerrilla style on mobile phones at an event in Las Vegas gave the filmmaker a rare insight into the fear, loathing and cult of personality that drives Trump’s supporters.

“Over time and through the consumption of mainstream media bullshit, you start to feel you can’t be around these people with their different kind of opinions, so the idea of going to immerse myself in their world felt uncomfortable,” Sean explains. “But once we began shooting, I began to feel a deep sense of empathy for these people. Just by being around them I started to pick up on our similarities and how they’re slightly confused and chronically misled – and so am I.”

Walking around the Las Vegas conference centre with his crew, Sean couldn’t ignore the hype in the air. “This thing felt like going to an Aerosmith concert or a Rod Stewart concert,” Sean explains. “The Trump rally had the vibe of a big rock ’n roll event, not a political rally. You can see why these guys are swept up by his personality.”


But scratch the surface of the party atmosphere and the thinly veiled fears and anxieties that motivate Trump’s supporters come to light. In the film, the interviewees speak for themselves with no presenter and no narrator – it’s just their views on The Donald back-to-back – but the same phrases keep coming up. “The reason they say we need to take our country back, we need to ‘save America’ and that we’re heading in the wrong direction is that we have a black president right now,” Sean explains. “That’s the coded language Trump is using and I think his supporters are able to easily decode that.”

Since the Trump Rally shoot, multiple incidents of violent and racist attacks have come to light. Journalists have been strictly controlled, with harsh retribution for those who get out of line. When veteran TIME photographer stepped out of the press pen at rally in Virginia on February 29 to photograph a Black Lives Matter protest, he was grabbed around the neck by a Secret Service agent and thrown into a table, then to the ground.

From his podium, Trump has howled to throw out any protesters who interrupt his events. The same day Morris was attacked, 30 students at another rally at Valdosta State University in rural Georgia were forcibly removed simply for being black.

The Ku Klux Klan openly came out in support of Trump at the Nevada caucus and his candidacy has emboldened a number of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Matthew Heimbach, leader of the far-right Traditional Workers Party, is believed to have been behind attacks on a teenage black activist, who was repeatedly shoved, pushed and sworn at by members of the crowd as she was ejected from another event in Louisville, Kentucky.

“There wasn’t aggression at the event we attended,” Sean explains, but he adds the only black person at the event was a member of his crew. “The recent violence at Trump’s events is a sign of what’s to come. You can’t spew this kind of vitriolic rhetoric to the masses without some sort of physical reaction bubbling up.

“Trump’s supporters who are lashing out violently are doing what they’ve always wanted to do, only now they have a safe space to do it,” he continues. “They are only doing what they think Trump would approve. There will be more of this. Stay tuned world, this is going to get worse before it gets better. America is apparently sick with anger.”


But looking around and only seeing only old, scared white people convinced Sean that Trump could never win – and gave him hope for the future. The picture looks bleak today and the mainstream media may still be fuelling the false-consciousness and narratives of victimisation that Trump feeds off, but Sean feels their mask is slipping – and this represents a huge opportunity.

“The only thing that makes me more sick to my stomach than the candidates we have is the way that the media is portraying them and the storylines they’re concocting to try and keep their ad revenue up,” Sean explains. “Independent filmmakers, artists, this is our time to step up and show people how things are in a loving way, not through fear-brained bullshit.”

The Sanders insurgency taking on the Democratic machine from the left and Trumps’ outflanking of the Republican elite from the right could signal a seismic shift away from the centre, which has carved up power for decades. “It’s a very interesting time in American politics because we’ve never really seen anything like this,” Sean explains. “I think we’re seeing the lumbering dinosaurs of the establishment going extinct. I don’t know if there’s anything the establishment can really do about it. In a weird way, I think it’s this beautiful train wreck that we all need to learn from.”

Trump Rally, and all of Sean Dunne’s films are available to view free online at Very Ape.