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RNC Activists, Attention-Seekers Converge in Cleveland’s Public Square

Thousands expected to protest at RNC this week 6:14

From open-carry gunslingers to proselytizing church ladies, every stripe of activist or attention-seeker has made its way to Cleveland's Public Square during the Republican National Convention.

On a plaza devoid of shade a few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena, speakers with city permits share their messages from an elevated platform while those without the paperwork mill about below, hoisting signs, flying flags and shouting slogans.

In one corner, a yogi with a Black Lives Matter poster. In another, a young man in a dashiki with a perfectly legal rifle. A knot of teenagers with black bandanas weave through the crowd. Police officers from around the country watch from the perimeter.

Here are some of those who came to be seen and heard:

Shawn Witte, 31, a Marine veteran from Los Angeles, said he's a Trump supporter who hangs out in the Public Square to debate. "It's been beautiful," he said. Tracy Connor / NBC News

Shawn Witte, 31, a Marine combat veteran and construction worker from Los Angeles, drove 36 hours to be in Cleveland for the convention. He walks around the square with an American flag, telling anyone who asks why he supports Donald Trump. "Hillary Clinton is going to be the death of this country," he said.

Witte said the debate in the square has been rewarding. "Most of the people here seem to have actual backing for their opinions even if I don't agree with them," he said. "It's been beautiful."

Marni Helasa, a professional figure skater from New York City, runs an organization called "Revolution is Sexy" that helps activists stage protests that draw media attention. "A Little bit of skin helps," she said.

Marnie Helasa, a professional figure skater who lives in New York City, runs an organization called Revolution Is Sexy that helps activists stage protests that draw attention from the media.

"A little bit of skin helps," said Helasa. Originally from Ohio, she said Midwestern manners have made it easy for her to put her politics on parade. "Even the Trump supporters have been really, really friendly," she said.

Xavier Willis, 29, of Cleveland and Kim Snyder, 57, of Parma, Ohio have been offering free hugs. Willis says he's a spiritual therapist and Trump fan. Snyder, a minister, also supports Trump but says she is out in the square to "support police." Tracy Connor / NBC News

Xavier Willis, 29, and Kim Snyder, 57, don't know each other but they share a common cause: free hugs. Willis, a recent Cleveland State grad who describes himself as a spiritual therapist, said he was also showing his love of Trump. "He gets results," he said. "He's a great motivator."

Synder, a 57-year-old minister from Parma, Ohio, also plans to vote for Trump but said, "I'm down here to pray for the police, who are being ambushed." She said she had hugged about 1,000 officers since Monday. "It's my way of thanking them for serving."

Michael Patrick, 41, a construction worker and musician from Cleveland. Tracy Connor / NBC News

Asked to explain his hot dog costume and a sign that read "Trump Eats Farts," Michael Patrick, 41, said his sole aim was humor.

"Did it make you laugh?" the construction worker and musician asked. "I think the whole thing is a joke so I'm making fun of it. I can't do anything but laugh about it because if I can't laugh about it, I get really upset and want to move to France."