"We all have the right of freedom of speech," said Orteil Gay, a supporter and pastor in Philadelphia. "I don't necessarily agree with what they were saying or how they went about saying it, but they have a right to be ignorant."
Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, dismissed the idea Trump could expand his support with African Americans. He riffed off Trump's appeal to black voters four years ago, when Trump asked, "What have you got to lose?"
"The ranks of the uninsured among African Americans in Pennsylvanians dropped by over 50% because of the Affordable Care Act," Perez said. "So what'd you have to lose in Pennsylvania? Your healthcare and potentially your life."
Trump "was one of the founders of the birther movement ... a president who is enabling hate and division," Perez said, referring to the false conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. "African Americans understand ... . a president who doesn't have their back."
While political divisions are high in most every community in 2020, mixing in race and support for Trump as an African American, and it becomes even more fraught, Johnson said.
Johnson has a Trump Make America Great Again hat that he hardly ever wears. He declined to wear it for a photograph taken for this article.
"I wanna be taken seriously and I'm not sure certain people will be able to get past the hat," he said. "If I go out tonight and I wear the hat, there are some restaurants who will not treat me as nicely, people on the street who will holler some expletives. The hat, wearing it as an African American, it takes courage but it can also be more divisive than is worth it."
At the Black Voices for Trump event in January, James "Bo" Cole Jr., walked into the church, curious why people were gathering on a Thursday night. A registered Democrat and retired city worker, he recognized several of his neighbors.
"This is affecting me right now," Cole Jr., 69, whispered. "This is people I see every day, smiling in my face but at the same time they're stabbing you in the back? And then tomorrow morning they'll be walking down the street smiling in your face again?"
Asked what he thought about Trump, Cole Jr. said: "He's a racist. He's a racist and he's dividing the country. " I'm not a billionaire. I'm not a millionaire. That's who's profiting."
Cole stayed for the first 20 minutes and then quietly slipped out the back, shaking his head.
(Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this report.)
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