Hillary Clinton hate for sale on the streets of Cleveland

Story highlights

  • Surrounding the convention is a collection of private merchants selling anti-Clinton gear
  • Some of the messages being sold include sexist and vulgar language

Cleveland (CNN)On the streets outside the Quicken Loans Arena, in the shadows largely tucked away from most media coverage, there is a booming market for cheap, privately made and often viscerally sexist paraphernalia targeting Hillary Clinton and her supporters.

Sometimes only steps from the cloistered convention hub, where attacks on Clinton have often escalated beyond the typical election year rhetoric, there is a more virulent strain of anti-Clinton language dashed across scads of t-shirts, hats, pins and bumper stickers. A block from the arena, on Euclid Avenue, dozens of vendors are hawking items with messages like, "Life's a b----, don't vote for one!" and others mocking Clinton's physique.
Walking toward the arena Wednesday night, a middle-aged GOP delegate, wearing the traditional slacks and a blazer combination, stopped to buy a shirt from a street vendor. He threw it over his shoulder and ducked inside the security perimeter after declining to be interviewed.
    The front of his new purchase featured caricatures of Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. It read, "Hillary Sucks, but not like Monica." On the flip side, that recurring meme: "Trump that b----!"
    There are dozens of variations on the theme. Pins and tees with the phrase, "Life's a b----, don't vote for one," were available from at least seven street vendors Wednesday night. Steve Scanlon, who drove here from his home in Connecticut, manned a table displaying a shirt that featured a cartoon image of Trump riding a motorcycle with Clinton falling off the back.
    "If you can read this," it says on the illustrated Trump's jacket, "the b---- fell off." Underneath is the familiar slogan: "Make America Great Again."
    Asked if he thought the message was objectionable in any way, Scanlon said, "Women come up and buy it."
    "I mean, look in the dictionary," he continued after a pause. "What does it say for 'bitch'? Female dog. And to me, she's a dog."
    The merchandise comes from private merchants unaffiliated with RNC organizers. CNN reached out to RNC organizers and the Trump campaign for comment on the merchandise and has not heard back. CNN has also reached out to the Clinton campaign and not heard back.
    Like so many of the more vocal anti-Clinton demonstrators in Cleveland this week, Scanlon openly holds Clinton responsible for the deaths of four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens, killed during a terrorist raid on an American outpost in Benghazi during her time as secretary of state. They also point to her email server case, holding it up against the scandal that cost retired Gen. David Petreaus his job running the CIA. The former top intelligence official took a plea deal after it was revealed he shared classified information with his biographer-turned-lover.
    "Look at Gen. Petraeus," Scanlon said. "He got caught with classified documents in his desk. His desk wasn't locked when he had that girl in his office. Loses his career, loses everything."
    Most prevalent are the "Hillary for prison" t-shirts and pins. There are at least three or four designs. The most popular is sold by conspiracy theorist radio host and Infowars founder Alex Jones. Jones led a long "Hillary for prison" chant during the pro-Trump "America First Unity Rally" on Monday.
    A variation on that message has often popped up, in paler tones, among delegates on the convention floor. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's faux indictment was interrupted on multiple occasions Tuesday by chants of "Lock her up!" Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi heard it a day later and offered an endorsement: "Lock her up," she said, "I love that."
    Those words have not sat well with some high-profile Republicans, including Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, who tweeted early Wednesday morning, "Hillary Clinton now belongs in prison? C'mon. We can make the case that she shouldn't be elected without jumping the shark."
    Nasty rhetorical attacks on presidential candidates -- on their looks, their spouses and children -- have featured in high-stakes political campaigns since the Founding Fathers slurred each other in letters and through the partisan press. But Clinton, as the first woman to become the presumptive nominee for a major party, has been faced with a unseen brand of vitriol.
    Corrogan Vaughn, a Maryland Republican running to unseat Rep. Elijah Cummings, who spoke before Jones on Monday called Clinton "busted" -- a slang insult about her appearance. Someone in the audience yelled back, "Put the b---- in the box."
    The next day, Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative, told a radio host Tuesday that Clinton "should be put in the firing line and shot for treason," causing an uproar that led to a Trump campaign to issue a statement saying it "does not agree with those statements."
    Outside a bar on Prospect Avenue on Wednesday, a few blocks from the secured convention perimeter, Kyle Smith and Steve Jones were hanging out with friends, talking Cleveland Indians baseball and drinking a few beers.
    Jones, 26, was in a "Hillary for prison" t-shirt. He bough it six months ago from the Infowars website, his reaction to a campaign he believes should have been a non-starter after Benghazi.
    "When the company goes, the CEO goes," Jones said, suggesting Clinton should have resigned after the attack. "If Facebook were to mess up, Zuckerberg would go. No matter if he played a part or not, he'd have to step down."
    Both Jones and Smith, 25, agreed they would wear the "Trump that b----" shirt at home, but not in public.
    "If you try to tell these liberals what's going on they don't want to listen to anything you have to say," Smith said. "But when they have something to say, you better listen up or you're just some kind of racist or sexist or whatever."
    Jones agreed and added that the word itself, on a shirt or in conversation was not sexist: "B---- is a common word, that's used all the time."
    Back in Public Square, where most of the four-day convention's protests have been held, Michael Rine, in his own "Hillary for prison" tee, pointed to the consequences faced by Petraeus and Martha Stewart, who spent time in prison after being convicted of lying about a shady stock deal, as unflattering contrasts.
    "How many laws can (Clinton) break and not pay a price for it?" he asked. "If I did what she did I would be in jail. Petraeus shared some emails with a girlfriend. Martha Stewart went to prison for perjury."
    "I think a lot of people are uninformed and I think a lot of people want to vote for (Clinton) just because she's a woman," he said.
    Did he believe that it also cut the other way, that others planned to vote against her for the same reason?
    "No," he said. "I don't think that even enters the equation."