‘I like my guns... Hillary’s already said she don’t like guns’

Voters in rural Nevada explain why they’re backing Donald Trump in US election

 

For more than 100 miles of near-empty highway, the rocky, barren desert stretches out in every direction. Lorries trundle past. The car radio comes and goes. It may be just a few hours from Las Vegas, but by the time Alamo finally looms into view, the town feels like a far-flung outpost. In a way, it is.

In a sparsely populated region, Alamo’s 1,000 inhabitants account for almost a fifth of all those living in Lincoln County – one of the biggest in the United States. The town is the last petrol stop on the route to Area 51, a remote Air Force base surrounded by such secrecy that it has spawned a cottage industry in UFO conspiracy theories. Tourists who stop at the local convenience store can fill their baskets with alien memorabilia.

“It ain’t bad,” says Colton del Bosque, a 27-year-old road maintenance worker who lives here with his wife Stevie and three children. It’s an easy-going, friendly place with a strong community, he explains, taking a break from some work in the garden where he keeps his dogs, some chickens and two sheep. “If you get a decent job in Alamo, then you don’t really want for much.”

A presidential election takes place at a certain remove from places like Alamo. The town’s quiet, dusty streets are free of billboards and canvassing teams have not ventured this far. Del Bosque has not been paying much attention to the campaign, and he thinks he probably won’t vote. But he knows who he prefers. “I like Trump because he’s a dick,” he says, deadpan. “I like that about him. That, and I don’t like politicians”.

Of far more concern to del Bosque is a proposal on the Nevada ballot papers on November 8th that would tighten gun laws by requiring all firearm transfers to go through a licensed gun dealer. “I like my guns, and I don’t like [the idea] that you couldn’t borrow my gun,” he says.

As he speaks, del Bosque goes back into the house and emerges with two weapons – an assault rifle and a semi-automatic, just two of the seven guns he keeps at home. He demonstrates one of the weapons by aiming it at the ground and squinting through the sight; he admits to being a “gun fanatic”, and is disappointed that I can’t take up his invitation to go shooting.

“Hillary’s already said she don’t like guns,” he says. Down the road, a poster on the noticeboard in the local shop advertises a local charity raffle; first prize is a Smith & Wesson rifle with 500 rounds of ammunition.

Trump landslide

Alamo, like the rest of Lincoln County, is staunch Republican territory. In the 2012 presidential election, when Barack Obama carried Nevada with 52 per cent of the vote, his opponent Mitt Romney won 79 per cent support in the county. It would be unthinkable for Trump not to win by a landslide in Lincoln, yet the choice of candidates stirs little local enthusiasm.

“All I see is name-calling and I don’t like that,” says Sheila Thatcher, a local shop-keeper and lifelong republican. “He has some good ideas but as far as dealing with people, well, he’s rude. And she’s just as rude. It seems like neither one of ‘em tells the truth.”

After this region was first settled in the 1860s, Mormon pioneers came to establish a place of refuge for their church leaders, whose institution was in bitter conflict with the US government. Today, parts of eastern Nevada still reside in the “Mormon Corridor”, and Alamo has a substantial congregation. And just as in deep-red Utah next door, where Donald Trump is struggling to dominate, many of Alamo’s Mormons are ambivalent.

“It’s hard as a member of the church, because we believe in family values and right and wrong,” says Kris Higbee as she and her husband Ed arrive for a Sunday service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the biggest in town. “We have different values from either one of them that are running. It’s hard to give 100 per cent. You just have to pick the best of the two. The best of the worst.”

Ed is adamant, however, that a vote for a third-party candidate, or even for “None of these candidates” – an option afforded to voters on the Nevada ballot – would be a vote for Clinton. That’s a step he cannot contemplate. “I think Hillary Clinton’s the biggest crook that could possibly ever walk into the White House, which is I’m afraid what’s going to happen,” he says. “I think Donald Trump probably is only half as bad as the American news media is making him out to be.”

Ed, a part-time rancher and county official, is particularly exercised by local issues, especially the gun control proposal, which he opposes (he rarely goes anywhere without one, he says). He also rails against the federal government and the frequency with which it designates local land as wilderness areas or national monuments, thereby taking it out of private hands.

“We’re under the thumb of the federal government. What bothers us out here in the west is you’ve got people that have never been here, have no ties here, making decisions on our behalf.” What would Trump do to change that? “I think Donald Trump could at least slow down the encroachment of government,” he responds.

Clinton momentum

The church car park is filling up. Families are arriving in their Sunday best, the men all in white shirts and dark ties and many of the women in dresses. Everyone greets one another cheerfully by their first name. Among those arriving are Ray and Jamie, a young married couple who ask not to be fully identified because Ray is a policeman.

He admits to hesitating over how to vote next month, but Jamie is adamant that Trump must be supported if Clinton is to be defeated. She is fiercely critical of the media and believes too much has been made of Trump’s attitudes to women. “It’s hard to say, but the tape [of Trump bragging about sexual assault] was 11 years ago... I think you have got to let people grow. He probably was a womaniser, but he’s an old man now,” she says.

Clinton has the momentum in Nevada. In the past week she has taken a two-point lead over Trump in this important battleground, and if she can bring out a big vote, driven by minorities, in the big urban centres of Las Vegas and Reno, Trump’s strength in rural counties will count for little. It’s an insight not lost of the people of Alamo. “If Las Vegas or Reno wants it, the rest of the state is screwed,” says Colton del Bosque.

Jamie, who manages the convenience store, is resigned to a Clinton victory, leaving her feeling “jaded about the whole thing,” she says. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the people of this country. I think they follow where they’re led. A few days ago, I saw this picture: it was an aerial view of a giant sheep herd. Thousands of sheep. And they’re all going through this gate, but there’s no fence. It’s just a gate. And they’re funnelling through that gate even though there’s no fence to keep ‘em from crossing over. I just thought about the election. I thought: that’s exactly how I see America right now.”

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