The first tomato 28-year-old Andrew Alemao threw at Donald Trump had been falling apart in his pocket, and barely even made it onstage. That tomato, ultimately, would prove to be his ticket to jail. It had been in the compost bin at his work, and was in some stage of decomposition.
The history of throwing rotten tomatoes during public performances goes back quite some time (think of the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes as continuing the tradition).
According to London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre website, tomatoes weren’t available during the time of Shakespeare; however, actors would announce the following day’s features after a performance, and, if people did not like it, then they might have thrown things. Never tomatoes, however.
Alemao won’t go down in history as the first documented tomato pelter. On October 28, 1883, The New York Times reported that aspiring actor John Ritchie was hit with a tomato during his trapeze act. The article, entitled “Actor Demoralized By Tomatoes”, states that Ritchie never performed in Hempstead again.
"The first act opened with Mr. Ritchie trying to turn a somersault. He probably would have succeeded had not a great many tomatoes struck him, throwing him off balance and demoralizing him. It was some time before the audience could induce him to go on with the performance. He next attempted to perform the trapeze. As he lay upon the bar with his face towards the audience, a large tomato thrown from the gallery struck him square between the eyes, and he fell to the stage floor just as several bad eggs dropped on his head. Then the tomatoes flew thick and fast, and Ritchie fled for the stage door. The door was locked and he ran the gauntlet for the ticket office through a perfect shower of tomatoes. He reached it, and the show was over."
Tomato pelting over time has become a tradition, most often associated with protests. The act, nonviolent in nature, aims to make a big mess in an inexpensive manner, hence wherefore protesters choose foods like tomatoes, eggs, spaghetti and so on. The history of tomato pelting is relatively short considering the fruit originated in the New World.
On January 27, Alemao threw two tomatoes at Donald Trump while the GOP presidential candidate spoke on a stage at the University of Iowa Field House, according to the Des Moines Register. Police arrested him, and he spent the night in jail. His court date was set for Monday, and he reached a plea bargain with the district attorney.
The first toss landed short of the stage. The second went flew over his shoulder. According to reports, Alemao was taken into custody by Secret Service and university police. Reporters posted photos online of the aftermath.
Mr. Alemao, booked at Johnson County Jail that night, charged with disorderly conduct, facing misdemeanor charges and fines upwards of $625 or 30 days in prison.
“Shut The Fuck Up, Donnie!”
That’s what Alemao shouted before pelting the tomatoes. Prior to the rally, he worked. It was there where he hatched his plan.
“I was at work at the restaurant,” he told MERRY JANE. “I found four roma tomatoes in their compost basket so I took those out and stuffed them in my coat. The next day was a normal kind of hectic day. I fed my cat a little extra in case I didn’t come back that night.” Alemao knew it was a possibility he might not come back.
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Alemao had decided he would pelt tomatoes at Donald Trump. After work, he met with some friends at a bar, then walked to the fieldhouse where the rally would be held. He gave his male friend, clad in a woman’s dress, two of the four tomatoes. Alemao’s friend - and the tomatoes he held - would be thrown out before the rally began.
Alemao and his friends bided time for nearly an hour before Trump took the stage. In the interim, Trump played a unique selection of classic rock jams - mostly British rock. Songs like “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin, “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones, and “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne fly in the face of Trump’s “American Made” brand. The only American band Alemao remembers hearing were The Eagles. Alemao passed the time best he could.
“I had a bag full of condoms, and a few people started protesting,” Alemao recalls. “Trump supporters were calling them names, so I told them not to breed and gave them condoms. There was an elderly woman protesting that was ordered out. Some frat guy next to me called her ‘bitch.’ I gave him a condom, and he was like ‘what is this for?’ I told him, ‘I don’t want you to breed.’ He assumed I was a protestor, but I pointed to my American flag bandana and said, ‘Would a protestor wear this?’ That was enough to shut him up.’”
Alemao didn’t make it a goal to get as close to Trump as possible. Instead, he tried to remain near an exit. “I really had no idea how it would go down,” he detailed. “So I positioned myself at a close enough shot but also close enough to an exit.” The moments wore on Alemao.
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“I was starting to get nervous, I was also starting to get a little lightheaded,” he said. “I’d been waiting there for an hour for something I didn’t actually want to watch. I was very concerned with just getting the fuck out of there. I didn’t hit anyone in the front row.” Alemao blew a whistle, the idea of his friends as a means of disrupting the rally, then yelled, “Shut the fuck up Donnie!” He threw them and bolted.
“They almost let me leave the gym and go into the parking ramp next to it,” he said. “At first I don’t think they realized, but Secret Service said to stop me, and police cuffed me, asked if I had thrown anything. I don’t care about going to jail, but there were a lot of people at this protest who had devised a number of tactics to get it shut down. So I was just denying it not to take all the credit. I said I was just passing out condoms. But, when they searched my pocket, they found tomato seeds. The first one I threw was coming apart and it leaked a bit. That’s why it looks like a wounded duck in the video.”
At that point, Alemao knew he was going to jail. He didn’t learn of whether he’d hit Trump the next day or not, news he said came as partial relief to him.
“I figured I had missed,” he said. He was under the impression the authorities were somewhat amused.
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“I can’t prove this by anything they said,” Alemao caveats. “I expected them to treat me more as a terrorist. I can’t tell if they did not because I obviously wasn’t. I felt like Secret Service was throwing shade on Trump, but I couldn’t give an example. The Secret Service officer who interviewed me said he usually worked for the Clinton and Carson campaign, and had only recently been following Trump around. He told me he didn’t consider me an actual threat to Trump’s safety but had to ask me a battery of questions anyway.”
They asked him basic questions to create a profile of him. He declined to answer most of the questions, so they interviewed Alemao’s mother the next day.
“Mostly, I got the impression they resented having to protect Trump, not that they ever said this aloud,” Alemao imparts. As for his mom?
“She was skeptical at first, but she received some praise, so she is okay with it now,” Alemao said.
At the jail cell, where Alemao spent just over twelve hours (from approximately 9:00pm to 9:30am CST), a man with Hepatitis C, and a jarring sleep apnea that kept other inmates awake, picked at his scabs. “That’s all I remember about jail,” Alemao said.
The other inmates were unaware of the charges against Alemao until arraignment: “The judge was broadcast on a screen to the courtroom,” Alemao described. “So, at that point, she said the charges against me and why they were filed.” Many inmates, provided they were paying attention, would have found out Alemao’s charges then, though others called Trump a “fag” upon hearing Alemao’s story in jail.
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Alemao is an artist, and, in a way, a dreamer. He’s also a realist. He plays in a band called Vietcong Man Son, a name undoubtedly offensive to many. But, his reasoning behind the name is nuanced: “I wanted a band name to reference the paranoia of the sixties Vietnam Era, not knowing who was on your side, because I feel a lot of the time I can relate to that today, though I didn’t live through it then.” The band name comes from Inherent Vice, a novel by Thomas Pynchon, and also made into a feature film. I ask him what it feels like to be a part of the history books, even if it’s a small part.
“What I’d like to see is enough people doing this shit so I don’t have to be the one in history books,” he expresses. “The guy and gal who makes contact should be. I’ve been called a hero a few times, there’s no right way to respond to that, it’s really not heroic unless other people find ways to do it better, and it inspires people to fight back. I’d rather be a pioneer than a hero and come before people who did it better, or more accurate, at least.”
An outpouring of support led to a GoFundMe campaign - setup by his girlfriend, who herself has been reviled online by people displeased with Alemao’s actions - which exceeded its goal promptly. That money was donated to two non-profits: the Johnson County Crisis Center Organization, a food bank and crisis counseling center. “I used to eat there when I had less money,” Alemao admits. Also, the funds were donated to the Center for Worker Justice, which fights employers alleged to have stolen wages from employees. Alemao is happy for the support he’s received.
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“I had no idea at that rally what the support to backlash ratio would look like when I got out,” he said. “Its much higher on the support side than I imagined.”
His case was settled Monday. The plea bargain he signed meant only a $65 fine, and the state won’t bring assault and other charges against him.
Alemao won’t have to go to jail, something he faced if he took the charges to jury trial.
Why did he do it? Alemao said Trump made some comments which just did not sit right with him.
“He said he could, 'shoot someone in downtown Manhattan' and wouldn't lose any supporters over it,” Alemao said. “I thought talking like that, he should feel a little heat.”