Five planes flew over the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, on Friday writing messages in the sky that included "America is great! Trump is disgusting. Anybody but Trump, US," as onlookers craned their necks for a view.
CBS News said an Alabama businessman, Stan Pate, was behind the airborne protest targeting Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, over the heads of the hundreds of thousands of visitors at the New Year's Day event. A CBS reporter interviewed Pate on the air after the parade.
Pate did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters. But he told CBS News in the interview that he considered the billionaire candidate to be despicable, and that "this is just the start."
Pate said he had paid for anti-Trump messages at the recent Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl college football games.
"Other candidates can't get in the gutter with him," Pate said. "I can and I will if that's where he wants to continue to go."
CBS reported that Pate, who like Trump is a real estate developer, has donated to Democratic and Republican candidates in the past. In the current primary campaign leading up to the November 2016 presidential election, he has contributed to the campaign of Republican White House hopeful Marco Rubio.
Critics have called Trump a racist following his comments describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug smugglers, and his suggestion to ban all Muslims from entering the US.
Security on the ground for the parade in Pasadena, north of Los Angeles, had been tight. More than a half million spectators thronged the 5-1/2-mile (9-km) route of the 127th Tournament of Roses Parade, followed by the 102nd Rose Bowl college football game.
Spurred by last month's deadly mass shooting in nearby San Bernardino, more than two dozen federal agencies joined forces with police for the largest security operation in the history of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl.
Many of those in the crowd looked skyward as the aircraft left their short-lived statements against a deep blue backdrop.
The planes circled for almost an hour after the parade of flower-adorned floats and marching bands finished, writing variations on a theme that included messages such as "Trump is delusional," and "Trump is a fascist dictator."
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not respond to an email seeking comment.