President Trump is known for boasting about the size of the crowds at his rallies, sometimes exaggerating the number of people in attendance, according to press reports.
Trump has also accused Democrats of hiring paid protesters to disrupt Congressional hearings, albeit without any evidence to prove it.
So, when a Craigslist ad appeared the day before a 10 October 2018 event in Erie, Pennsylvania, soliciting “numerous people to stand in line to get into [the] Trump rally,” anti-Trump social media users were all over it:
Found on Craigslist:
“We need numerous people to stand in line for Trump Rally, Erie Insurance Arena. $100 per person. Wednesday, October 10 only, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.”
— Mollie Katzen (@MollieKatzen) October 10, 2018
He’s paying them to stand in line to get into his rally. The only disappointment will be when they don’t get paid.
— Every Vote Matters (@_blueselina) October 10, 2018
Trump currently bragging about the amount of people standing in line in Erie because they want to see him. And, they’ve been in line since last night. He couldn’t let them down, he said.
This ad asking for line standers today says that is a lie. pic.twitter.com/bdROVl1dD0
— 💙Koko ✊🏻✊🏾✊🏿💙 (@Kokomothegreat) October 10, 2018
Trump supporters responded to the claim that the ad proved Trump was paying people to attend his rally by floating a theory on Reddit that the ad was fake. They noted that Craigslist had deleted the ad after it was flagged (although it was restored intact later the same day), and pointed to a contact phone number in the ad not traceable to Trump nor to any Trump-related organizations, but rather to a man named Mike Oles, who appeared to have connections to left-leaning activist groups including one called Good Jobs Nation.
Oles’ personal Facebook page lists him as a field director for that organization, whose mission statement says they are out “to hold the president and all politicians — whether Democrat or Republican — accountable to America’s workers.”
And it just so happened that Good Jobs Nation was planning a demonstration at Trump’s 10 October rally:
We dialed the contact number in the Craigslist ad hoping to reach Mike Oles (or any party willing to claim responsibility for the ad), only to encounter a generic voicemail greeting. We left a message, but no one called back. We also e-mailed the contact address provided in the Craigslist ad. We received no reply.
We then e-mailed Good Jobs Nation and asked to be put in touch with Mike Oles, prompting a response from the organization’s communications director, Paco Fabian, who agreed to speak to us by phone. He began by confirming that Oles had indeed placed the ad and that Oles did so on behalf of Good Jobs Nation, but Fabian said the ad was neither fake nor intended to mislead.
“Good Jobs Nation has been doing a tour around the Midwest,” Fabian explained, “going to Trump rallies with laid-off workers and retirees and other folks that are calling on President Trump to stop the off-shoring of jobs and make sure that companies with huge federal contracts pay their workers a living wage.”
Some of the participants were retired Honeywell workers who lack healthcare coverage because the company failed to make good on its promise of lifetime benefits, he said.
“So, in Erie, we put up an ad on Craigslist looking for people to stand in line so the Honeywell retirees wouldn’t have to stand in line for eight hours before being able to go into the Trump rally,” Fabian said. “It’s a pretty common practice.”
According to the Ellwood City Ledger, thousands of people spent much of the day waiting in line to get into the Erie Insurance Arena where the rally took place. Fabian said his organization paid between 12 and 15 people $100 apiece to hold spots so the same number of workers and retirees, all wearing “Good Jobs Nation” t-shirts, could attend — albeit not for long.
“Ultimately, we were all kicked out,” Fabian said. Their t-shirts gave them away. “We haven’t been disruptive or anything. We haven’t been yelling at the president. But we do tell our stories to the press. I think they finally had it with us going to the rallies.”
In any case, local press reports said the 9,000-seat venue was filled to capacity for the event (no exaggeration required).