The founder of the national group Bikers for Trump plans to be in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention next week. But Chris Cox says that despite a state law allowing the open carry of firearms, he won’t have one on him.
“I’ll be carrying a big first aid kit and perhaps a couple of extinguishers,” he told TIME.
With at least 50,000 people expected to swoop into the city during the RNC, many with conflicting viewpoints, tensions will be high. But activists are hoping the peace will hold. The City of Cleveland has issued dozens of permits to operate, whether they be for use of the parade route, speakers platform in Public Square or parks. More than 50 groups and individuals have applied in order to have a presence.
“Having a peaceful event is a priority of ours. I can’t speak to other groups, but we come hoping for a peaceful and positive week, and I hope other people come with that as well,” said Bryan Hambley, treasurer of Stand Together Against Trump.
But the reality that many communities around the country know too well is that a contentious environment can lead to violence.
“People will act as individuals,” said Toni Rozsahegyi, a local organizer for Code Pink.
When Bikers for Trump, which is one of the groups that makes up the larger Citizens for Trump, first began planning its organization in Cleveland, its members thought they would need to “stand up to the Establishment,” Cox said. But now that the nomination is all but safely in presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s hands since other candidates have dropped out, the planned presence has “shifted direction.”
Citizens for Trump will be putting on the America First Unity Rally 2016 on July 18. It is one of the only organizations that leans notably to the right in the applications, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be others.
“We just have to evolve and be prepared to move along with the times,” Cox said, adding that he hoped Bikers for Trump would be a calming presence.
Cox said it would be easy for protests during the RNC to get out of hand. Which is why Bikers for Trump requested Oath Keepers, a controversial group of former military and police who showed up to protests in Ferguson, to have a presence in Cleveland.
“I’m just looking for some cool, calm and collected individuals that will know how to handle a tense situation because we don’t want things to escalate. We are trying to be a calming factor here. We want all of our delegates to feel safe and secure,” Cox said.
But Richard Mack, a member of the Oath Keepers’ board of directors, said the organization voted against going on Thursday night.
“The consensus came down that it was just too volatile of a situation,” Mack told TIME. Mack said the “sheer numbers” made this a different situation than past ones Oath Keepers have attended, adding there was “too much of a potential for disorder.”
Specifically, Bikers for Trump requested “tactical team leadership,” Stewart Rhodes, founder and national president of Oath Keepers, told TIME before the vote.
As to whether Cox will encourage members of the organization from bringing firearms:
“I don’t want to encourage, I’m not going to discourage,” Cox said. “These guys have to do. I want them to feel safe. But I’ve also explained to them that [if] the situation gets out of hand, and they have a firearm on their side and they pull it out because they’re nervous, they could end up becoming collateral damage as a result of the police trying to calm the situation.”