Photos by Keeley Smith.
Perched on an unassuming block of Cambodia Town, in a building that once housed the United Cambodian Community, sit two glass doors.
Each door is adorned with square signs, emblazoned with the recognizable phrase, “Make America Great Again.”
The Donald Trump headquarters in Long Beach, the second-most diverse city in the U.S., declares its existence with just those signs. A bold statement on paper, unseen in the dark of the night.
Much like Trump supporters in this city, some might say. A “red” enclave in a city that is notoriously blue.
“I feel like I’m living in Nazi Germany,” said Mark O’Bannon, a registered Libertarian and Trump supporter who contributes to a grassroots social media effort for the presidential candidate’s campaign on his down time. He moved to Long Beach a few months ago, he said. As a self-identified screenwriter and fantasy-fiction novelist, O’Bannon told the Post about his liberal friends while sitting on leather couches in a room surrounded by Trump paraphernalia.
“I can’t tell my friends because I’ll get blacklisted,” he said. “The Democrats have become very hateful.”
With 51.5 percent of the city identifying as Democratic, according to California Secretary of State and Census records, and a majority of Democrats sitting on the Long Beach City Council, along with the first openly-gay Latino mayor at its helm, Long Beach would appear to be an odd place in which to situate Trump Headquarters in the Los Angeles area—never mind survive as a diehard Trump supporter.
The location became a reality due to the involvement of Gary Fultheim, a Trump supporter who lives in Malibu, and owns the rather exotic building at 2338 East Anaheim Street. While Fultheim is not working with the Trump campaign in an official capacity, he has offered his space to the campaign for free. He said he donated the space after growing frustrated with what he saw on a daily basis.
Gary Fultheim (L) shaking hands with Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia (R). Photo courtesy of Gary Fultheim.
“[On] Anaheim street there’s been lots of vandalism, there’s crime, there’s burglaries, there’s break-ins, we’re overtaxed, they have the Anaheim Street PBID, which was supposed to clean the streets, and it doesn’t do it,” said Fultheim. “The city’s collecting about $900 per parcel from the property owners. There’s bicycles on the sidewalks… people are throwing trash everywhere, the police don’t do anything to stop it, and the city just continues to allow the criminals to walk all over the taxpayer.”
From his point of view, years of inefficient city government has resulted in Long Beach sinking deeper and deeper into financial uncertainty, and created problem upon problem for its citizens.
“When we see it so long in our city government… this is why we have to have Trump,” said Fultheim. “Do you want to see eight years of disaster repeated? Who’s out there running that’s in the same caliber as Trump? Nobody. He’s got more smarts and bread than Romney. There’s a strength and ability this man has that no one else has.”
Meanwhile, the Post has chronicled local and nationwide economic developments in the last eight years, such as the dwindling unemployment rate in Long Beach (down to 5.5 percent from a high of 14.6 percent in 2010) and across the country.
“It’s hard for me say what’s going on on a national scale,” said Fultheim. “I see what’s going on in Long Beach, Southern California every day. I only see the problems of California businesses getting bigger.”
Fultheim also lamented the possibility of rent control from the city—a legislative proposal the council has yet to even faintly suggest, in fact at one point standing in opposition to such a move —stating that any steps toward it would cause irreparable harm to landlords like himself in the city.
“They’re making it worse,” said Fultheim on rent. “They’re stopping landlords from raising rents and collecting rents, adding extra fees and taking money away from the landlords.”
The Post has followed the rise of rent in the city. A Coldwell Banker report listed Long Beach as one of the most expensive places in the country to buy a house a few months ago, and increasing rental prices have been an issue of contention between housing nonprofits in the city like Housing Long Beach and the city council itself.
Many have noted the gentrification of downtown Long Beach as continuing the trend of pushing affordable housing out of the city, increasing investment in affluent areas and hurting many low-to-medium income tenants, as current protections sought by renters do not exist within the city’s boundaries.
Yet, Fultheim insisted the city was bound to implement a rent control program, which he said would constrict the market dynamics of the city and damage his own business practices.
O’Bannon agreed that the current government set up is problematic. He said he sees Trump’s platform as appealing to a diverse audience, and that his business practices will be a boon for Americans.
“He’s a dealmaker,” said O’Bannon. “He’ll make a deal and get it done. He’s like voting for Tony Robbins.”
O’Bannon sees many of Trump’s proposals as purely altruistic, like Trump’s plan to build a wall between California and Mexico.
“I think the wall will save lives, because if they can’t try, then they can’t be killed.”
Both O’Bannon and Fultheim distanced themselves from Trump’s comments regarding women. They also fervently agreed that a Clinton presidency would be very detrimental to America, and that the email situation denotes a wanton disregard for the law and embrace of corruption.
“She’s literally the most flawed candidate the Democrats could have picked,” said O’Bannon, who was also convinced she’d find a way to repeal the Second Amendment, despite her assertions in debates and the media to the contrary.
O’Bannon can trace his roots to Virginia and Mississippi, and is of Irish/English descent, but he says he’s often surrounded by a diverse group at Trump Headquarters. This was confirmed in the Long Beach Post visit, when a group of Latino and black Trump volunteers walked in.
So far, Fultheim said the headquarters have garnered little to no hostility, with the exception of the anti-nuclear activists who rallied at the location last Sunday.
“The message that Trump wants to convey might get twisted,” said Fultheim, regarding anger toward Trump in general. “Sometimes the media is going to bend it so they can profit, so the agenda is formatted to fit [what they want].”
O’Bannnon agreed that Trump is misunderstood by many.
“Ninety-five percent of Trump people do not trust the media at all,” said O’Bannon. “Education—colleges and universities are left wing, and they breed people who are left-wing.”
Fultheim said he was an avid reader of the news, but doesn’t believe everything he sees.
“I read everything,” he said. “I don’t trust any of it and I trust my own common sense and values more than I rely on the media. I know what’s right and wrong.”
O’Bannon and Fultheim’s statements reflect the sentiment of Americans on either side of the aisle, whose opinions have been reinforced through confirmation bias and social media posts that agree with their own views.
What is perhaps more fascinating is how the voting appears to not be split along traditional party lines; O’Bannon said the majority of people involved at Trump headquarters had not never participated in prior political campaigns.
No matter the results on November 8, the climate of the country has pointed to a harsh division.
Which raises the question: with such glaring differences in consumption of information, and intransigent adherence to one’s own beliefs, how can we move forward together? It’s a question both Clinton and Trump supporters appear to be reluctant, or unable to answer.