A towering "Baby Trump" balloon -- which has become a popular symbol for critics of the president -- was knifed and deflated in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday during President Donald Trump's visit to watch a collegiate football game.
A few dozen people were gathered in Monnish Park protesting the president's visit to the Alabama-LSU football game a half-mile away and holding various anti-Trump signs when a disapproving man approached the helium-balloon with a knife and slashed an 8-foot-long gash in its back. There were still two hours to kickoff in the college town when "Baby Trump" quickly deflated out and the balloon-stabbing suspect attempted to flee the scene, organizers said.
Tuscaloosa police said in a statement that officers witnessed the incident which led them to arrest Hoyt Deau Hutchinson, 32, and charge him with felony first degree criminal mischief. He was booked into the Tuscaloosa County Jail and held on a $2,500 bond. The slashing appears to have been premeditated as Hutchinson posted a Facebook Live video just hours before the incident saying he was "going down [there] to make a scene ... I'm shaking I'm so mad right now," he said. "I'm fixin’ to pop this balloon, without a doubt."
The 20-foot-high, 13-foot wide balloon -- an orange, crying, diaper-wearing, cellphone-clutching caricature of Trump -- has become a global symbol of protest against the president. Activists in London first floated the blimp-like balloon in 2018 to protest Trump's visit to the United Kingdom. Now there are several replicas in the U.S. Just this week, the inflatable, diapered-depiction was in Lexington, Kentucky, ahead of a Trump rally.
Robert Kennedy of New Jersey, a volunteer "baby sitter" who brought the balloon to Tuscaloosa, has taken it to several appearances, including to July Fourth on the National Mall in Washington. This was the first time Kennedy has experienced an attack on the balloon -- but this is not the first time a "Baby Trump" balloon has been targeted.
On June 4, 2019, near Trafalgar Square in London, a woman stabbed a balloon similar to the one Hutchinson slashed in Tuscaloosa on Saturday -- and sliced her own hand in the process.
Kennedy told the Associated Press that the day had been going mostly smoothly. Some people yelled "Trump 2020" as they passed, while others took selfies with or photos of the balloon. Then, around 1 p.m. (CST), Hutchinson stuck a knife in it and ran off.
"It is rare," Kennedy said, "to get that kind of anger."
After Hutchinson was released on bond, he posted another since-removed Facebook video, with the third quarter of the football game playing on a television behind him as people laughed and cheered.
"Some liberals tried to come to my hometown and start some trouble. That ain’t happening," Hutchinson said in the video, wearing a Trump 2020 shirt. "I did get arrested. I got charged. That’s all right. I’d do it again given the opportunity."
He then plugged a GoFundMe page, asking for public money to help the "Baby Trump Stabber" to pay "legal fees and restitutions". The page includes a video of Hutchinson's arrest which shows him handcuffed, walking backwards to face protesters and shouting "Trump 2020," while at least three police officers escort him into the backseat of a white SUV.
In eight hours, the campaign raised nearly $15,000, surpassing its original goal of $6,000. Hutchinson said he would donate extra funds to the Republican Party.
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Saturday's game marked the third sporting event Trump has attended in the last two weeks, and the first of those in a red state.
It cost organizers at least $4,000 to rent "Baby Trump" out for the game, according to a different GoFundMe page created by co-organizers of Saturday's protest. The donors raised nearly $8,000 in two days and said they would donate the extra funds to the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. It's unclear if those funds will now be diverted to repair or replace the balloon.
Designed by Matt Bonner, replicas of the balloon have also flown in France, Argentina, Ireland and Denmark.