PHOENIX (CN) — President Trump used a Phoenix rally Tuesday night to thrash the news media, threaten to shut down the government if he does not get funding for a border wall, and indicate he will pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio — but not quite yet.
Ending a week of speculation on whether he would pardon the former Maricopa County sheriff for criminal contempt of court, Trump said Arpaio “can feel good.”
“He should have had a jury, but I’ll make a prediction, I think he’s going to be just fine,” Trump said. “But, I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy, is that OK?”
Arpaio faces up to six months in jail for violating a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling and arresting Latinos. He is to be sentenced on Oct. 5.
Trump spent around 20 minutes of his 75-minute speech lashing out at the news media and defending statements he made after the violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this month.
“The very dishonest media, those people right up there with all the cameras, and I mean truly dishonest people … they don’t want to report that I spoke out forcefully against hatred, bigotry and violence,” Trump told a raucous crowd of supporters.
“The media can attack me, but where I draw the line is when they attack you, when they attack the decency of my supporters,” Trump said.
It’s unclear how many were inside the Phoenix Convention Center for the rally, but around 10,000 were expected.
Trump said it was time to expose the media, and to stop them from “trying to take away our history and heritage,” referring to nationwide calls to remove statutes commemorating leaders of the Confederacy.
Supporters stood outside the convention center in 108-degree temperatures for hours.
Roger Boe, from Green Valley, made the drive north to Phoenix for his first presidential rally.
“I think it’s been since the Civil War since we’ve seen anything like this today,” Boe said.
President Obama did not receive the sort of criticism that has plagued Trump, he added.
“Whatever he did, he was golden,” Boe said.
Trump specifically called out the “failing New York Times,” The Washington Post and CNN during the rally, eliciting chants of “CNN sucks” from the audience.
Eric Smaltz, of Surprise, came to the rally with a religious message.
“I’m all about bringing faith in the political area,” said Smaltz, who has a street ministry. “God told me to hit the streets.”
Smaltz decried the media for covering events from a distance, where they can’t see supporters interact with each other or protesters.
“Does it tell the real story? I think not,” Smaltz said.
He said he let a protester use his microphone that afternoon to speak to the crowd, despite their differences.
The indication that Trump may eventually pardon Arpaio was welcomed by many in the crowd.
“(Arpaio) did a fantastic job,” said Edgar Salazar, of Phoenix, wearing a Trump flag around his neck like a cape. “He doesn’t deserve the hate.
“I love Trump,” he added.
Trump visited Yuma earlier Tuesday, where he met with Customs and Border Protection officers and received a briefing on border patrols.
“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Trump announced at the rally. He said the wall would reduce drug trafficking.
“The American people voted for immigration control … that is why the American people deserve and are going to get it,” Trump said.
Mary Aflague, a first-time voter and volunteer for the Trump campaign, said she registered to vote because felt that women like her were not represented.
“I kept hearing females don’t want him, Latinas don’t want him, Christians don’t want him, evangelicals don’t want him,” Aflague said. “I’m all four. Let me go use my voice.”
Trump was introduced by Vice President Mike Pence, who declared, “America is back.”
“If the past seven months have showed us anything, it is that President Donald Trump is a man of his word,” Pence said.
Evangelist Franklin Graham led the rally in prayer before Pence took the stage. Graham is the son of the Rev. Billy Graham.
“There are those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate, and, Father, it is my prayer that you shut their mouths like you shut the mouths of the lions years ago,” Graham said.
After the rally, officers dispersed thousands of protesters outside the event with tear gas, pepper balls and rubber bullets. At least four people were arrested.