Before President Donald Trump even arrived in Salt Lake City, he had a crowd waiting to tell him he’d be wrong to revise the boundaries of two national monuments in southern Utah.
Hundreds of people soon became thousands at the footsteps of the Capitol, most decrying the anticipated announcement that Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments would be drastically shrunken and broken into parts.
Other protesters gathered at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Welfare Square, where Trump met with Mormon church leaders and toured the facility, which provides food and materials for the poor.
And as Trump came and went, taking monument status on more than 2 million acres with him, hundreds walked the snow-laden streets to kneel on State Street and shut down traffic on one of Salt Lake City’s main downtown arteries.
A standoff ensued with a few dozen Salt Lake City police officers equipped with shields, helmets and body armor.
Monday was the second protest in three days for some who gathered in the fresh snow at the Capitol on Monday morning, singing, chanting and holding signs in support of monuments or against Trump.
“My granddaughter wanted to be here to throw a rotten tomato” at Trump, said Gina Zhdilkov, 56, of Bountiful.
Trump, she said, was reversing any achievement from President Barack Obama, who designated the formerly 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in late December 2016.
Among the group were members of the Native American tribes that pushed for the added protection from development that comes with national monument designation.
“We are here supporting that the national monuments not be reduced or rescinded,” said Kenneth Maryboy, a Navajo tribal member and board member of Utah Dine Bikeyah, the group that fought for the Bears Ears designation.
“I’m Navajo and my whole life my grandparents taught me to fight for the earth and honor things that are sacred, and now is my chance to honor that and protect that,” said Steven Dunn, 32, from Orem. “That land is sacred to the Navajo people — it’s a place where we can go and pray and we don’t want that land to be blocked off to us and sold off to mining exploration.”
Many echoed the fear that the land that’s no longer part of a monument will be subject to mining and development.
“I’m afraid they will sell off the land to the highest bidder,” said Salt Lake City resident Denise Jobbs. “It’s such a beautiful area down there and I’d hate to see it damaged. I used to live in Florida and I’ve seen what damage that oil and oil spills can do.”
Inside, the Capitol was packed with Trump supporters who celebrated Trump’s declaration as an economic victory for rural Utahns who depend on mineral development and ranching, activities they say were stifled by the sprawling monuments.
Outside, the the antagonistic crowd was peppered with only a few people celebrating the announcement, many wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats and holding signs calling for smaller monuments.
One among them, who declined to give his name, said any reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which President Bill Clinton created in 1996, “would be an improvement.” Those in the massive crowd across the street were paid to be there, he said, and said others had been paid to travel south to Escalante in the past.
Wade Frischknecht, of Salt Lake, also wore a red hat. He stood first among protesters and later crossed the street, where Trump supporters gathered.
“I came to see my president,” he said.
Frischknecht said he supports having federally controlled land in Utah, including monuments and national parks, but added, “I just think 1 million acres is just a lot. I don’t think it needs to be that big.”
Before Trump’s move to revise the boundaries, the two monuments had a combined footprint of more than 3 million acres in southern Utah.
That was the right amount for Rupert Steele, a member of the Goshute tribe. Today’s action is “a bad precedent,” he said.
“If [Trump] can do it here, he could do it everywhere,” he said, “possibly including Indian reservations.”
Some waiting for Trump were protesting the man in general more than today’s actions in particular.
“I am against everything that this president is doing and everything he stands for, said Kerri Hopkins, 38. ”I want to use my First Amendment right while I still have it.”
Hopkins was demonstrating near Welfare Square.
“This is my neighborhood,” she said, “and this is the last place in Salt Lake he would be welcome.”
Ellen Young, 29, also at Welfare Square, said she is “disgusted” with Trump, and “everything he stands for and is about.”
“I woke up last year after the election and it was a nightmare,” she said. “Why not let him know everything he stands for is just not OK with me?”
Around 12:30 p.m., Trump’s motorcade took him from Welfare Squares to supporters waiting inside the Capitol where he would announce the monuments’ new, smaller boundaries. At the same time, a large group left the Capitol protest area and marched south down State Street.
The crowd of about 500 walked through traffic downtown and stopped in the street in front of the Wallace F. Bennett federal building at 100 South, blocking traffic from all directions. They were chanting against Trump, Hatch and the smaller monuments.
Downtown workers left their offices to watch from the streets as the protesters chanted in the heart of the city.
A police “public order unit” drove up, and several officers with body armor and shields jumped out and walked toward the crowd. Many from the crowd approached the shielded police.
The ensuing standoff lasted about 20 minutes, with perhaps 250 standing in front of a line of officers, still chanting. More police holding shields and wearing armor arrived and joined the line.
Some who were protesting called from the sidewalk for the group to exit the street and move back to the Capitol.
Without any arrests or further clashes, the remaining protesters got on the sidewalk and headed north for the Capitol.
Trump had already left town.