A video of a man wearing a “Free Hugs” shirt and approaching people at a Bernie Sanders rally and a Donald Trump rally shows some striking differences in the candidates’ supporters.
Ken Nwadike, founder of the Free Hugs Project, attended a Sanders rally in San Diego and a Trump rally a week later in Janesville, Wisconsin. He wore the same black shirt that said “Free Hugs,” and held a sign that said the same at both rallies, but the responses he received were nowhere near the same.
At the Trump rally, a man told him “there is no love in this world,” another thought he was offering him drugs and a woman told him she would punch him if he wasn’t supporting Trump.
At the Sanders rally, people welcomed him with open arms, and it took him hours to get through the line of people.
Nwadike said after he went to the Sanders rally, he wondered what the response would be if he did the same thing at a Trump rally.
“I figured there was going to be a lot of hate,” he told amNewYork.
Nwadike started the Free Hugs Project in 2014 at the Boston Marathon, a year after the bombing attack, hoping to uplift the runners. He has also gone to the Los Angeles Marathon and other races in recent years, making videos of each experience.
The political rallies were featured in his most recent video, titled “Make America LOVE Again,” which was posted on Facebook and YouTube Wednesday. It has been viewed over nine million times on Facebook and over 300,000 times on YouTube as of Thursday afternoon. The Free Hugs Project also started the hashtag #MakeAmericaLOVEAgain on Facebook and Twitter.
Nwadike said he didn’t intend for the Free Hugs Project to be political.
“It’s about being uplifting and making people smile,” he said. “But when I saw the hate, I couldn’t just sit around.”
While there were some Trump supporters who were welcoming, Nwadike said, he felt he had to show the negative responses he got when he approached people in Janesville.
“We didn’t encounter any of that at the Bernie rally,” he said.
The location of each rally “absolutely” had an effect on the response, Nwadike said.
“San Diego is a much more diverse city,” he said.
But Nwadike added that based on many news reports, violence has been a trend at Trump rallies. There were also significantly more police at the Trump rally than the Sanders rally, even though more people attended the Sanders rally, he said.
Nwadike said he may go to the other candidate's rallies to compare more responses, but he also "can't wait" for the elections to be over.