ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- Supporters and critics of former President Donald Trump gathered Friday outside the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim, where Trump delivered an occasionally dark and profane speech.
"Number one, we are going to support him -- even if he goes to jail -- because he is a man for the people and by the people," said Antoinnette Del Peral, one of hundreds of supporters outside the Anaheim Marriott, where the convention was held.
"And, you guys," Del Peral told a reporter, "it is not an insurrection. You're all lying."
While many of Trump's remarks at the convention were familiar retreads of his attacks and grievances, his encouragement of violent retribution against criminals marked an escalation of his longstanding tough-on-crime message.
"We will immediately stop all of the pillaging and theft. Very simply: If you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store," he said, drawing loud applause. "Shot!" he added for emphasis.
Dozens of protesters, including Orange County and Los Angeles County Democrats, expressed criticism of the former president.
"I do not believe that we should put him in control again," Jacob Ortiz of the OC Justice Initiative said, referring to Trump. "If he was already with so much controversy within one term, imagine what another one's going to bring."
Trump was one of several Republican presidential contenders appearing at the event in this Democratic stronghold. While there's little hope for any of them to defeat President Joe Biden here in a general election, California will play a critical role in the slate of states voting on March 5 in the so-called Super Tuesday primaries.
With 169 delegates at stake, a win in California would move a Republican presidential candidate much closer to the nomination. And a recent rule change could give Trump, who is so far dominating the primary, an advantage. If he wins more than 50% of the vote, he would be awarded each of the state's delegates.
"We were here exercising our right to say that we don't want Trump here," Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said outside the convention, "and that we voted him out, in 2020, here in Orange County and that we'll do it again in 2024."
The intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Convention Way saw the largest gathering of demonstrators.
The Anaheim Police Department increased staffing for the event, and officers remained on standby with riot gear.
A police spokesperson said the crowd was "mostly peaceful and law-abiding."
ABC7 witnessed several angry confrontations between opposing demonstrators. Democrats cut their rally short, saying it was for the safety of their volunteers and staff.
A Public Policy Institute of California voter survey released Wednesday, but conducted in late August and early September, found Trump with support from nearly half of the likely Republican primary voters. DeSantis was far back, at 14%, with the rest of the field lagging in single digits.
Trump's comments on Friday underscored a central question surrounding Trump's effort to return to the presidency. While his focus on red meat issues plays well with the GOP base, it's unclear that it will hold much appeal with the broader set of voters needed to win a general election.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.