Make America Great Again t-shirt tents popping up around Orange County

M.A.G.A. pop-up tent located in Mission Viejo off of La Paz Rd and Marguerite Pkwy. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat

Throughout the city of Mission Viejo, pop-up tents are selling merchandise to President Donald J Trump supporters. The organizer of these tents has found a way to set up on sidewalks without obtaining a city permit and is selling the merchandise for profit. Mysteriously, they have managed to keep their identity hidden as well as their motive to sell imported merchandise.

Dan Chmielewski, the publisher and editor-in-chief of TheLiberalOC, featured an article back in July about the pop-ups with some need-to-know information. His investigation concluded that the merchandise has no affiliation with the Trump campaign whatsoever.

“The Trump campaign swag is officially made in the U.S.A., but almost all of the gear at the pop-ups in Orange County are made in Bangladesh, where garment workers make $94 a month,” Chmielewski said on a phone call with me. “So much for America first, it is clear that the administration is not getting a dime out of any of these pop-ups and that someone is personally profiting from Trump’s name, which amuses me.”

The workers that I spoke with at a few locations wouldn’t give their names and they couldn’t share any information on who they work for, so the organizer’s identity remains unknown.

These locations are allocated daily via text message and their work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The application for this job is listed on craigslist and offers $15 an hour, including commission. This is a full-time job for anyone that has lost their job during COVID-19.

Merchandise displayed on tables at a pop-up tent. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat

Workers at the pop-up tents also have to endure residents heckling them while they drive by. The drivers also yell out profanities and throw objects like eggs and water bottles to discourage their presence. When I was speaking to a man at his pop-up tent, I was yelled at by a few people since they thought I was purchasing merchandise.

After speaking with the workers, I decided to reach out to the Mission Viejo City Hall and attempt to obtain the contact information of the organizer for these pop-up tents. I spoke with Joe Ames, the assistant city engineer, who gave me a name and number to call. Steve, who is the assistant of the organization, unwilling to give me any information, he would relay my interest in an interview with the organizer himself, although I never heard back.

I wanted to understand how these pop-up tents were able to easily set up shop on our city’s sidewalks. Ames explains the legality of the pop-up tents in an email sent to me.

In 2018, State lawmakers passed Senate Bill 946 – Sidewalk Vendors written by State Senator Lara and approved by then-Governor Brown. Unfortunately, the bill allows for these vendors to sell merchandise on public sidewalks as long as they are not violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and does not require them to have a permit from the City. The City and Police Services do not have the authority to prohibit this activity. We are routinely checking that placement of vendor booths meets the requirements of ADA to allow for passage of pedestrians on sidewalks.

Ames also mentioned that this is a loophole that the organizer found in the bill so they wouldn’t have to go through city hall. Each worker personally sets up their tents and must provide their own tables and pop-up tents for display.