A protester at a Donald Trump rally on Wednesday was sucker-punched by a Trump supporter, who later bragged to a television reporter that the next step would be murder. On Thursday, reports surfaced that Trump’s own campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, had assaulted a female reporter who was trying to ask his boss a question after a press conference Tuesday night, leaving her bruised and shaken.
This should not surprise anybody who has been paying attention to the Trump campaign. The billionaire GOP presidential frontrunner has not just been exploiting, but fomenting anger among his supporters. And while he’s usually careful to step right up to the line of endorsing violence against the protesters who regularly interrupt his rallies, on more than a few occasions, he has crossed it.
-- At a rally in Iowa early this year, Trump was warned in advance that there might be tomato-throwing protesters in attendance. So early in his remarks, he said, “There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience. So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise. It won’t be so much ’cause the courts agree with us too.”
-- When members of his audience get physical with protesters, Trump has even brought them up on stage to honor them.
-- At a late February rally, Trump said of one protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.” He added that in the “old days” protesters would have been “carried out on stretchers.” It was clear from the context that he felt a certain nostalgia for those times.
-- Last week, when one of his rallies in Michigan was interrupted by a protestor, Trump said, “Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do I’ll defend you in court.” He later regaled the crowd with the story of how his supporters “took out” a protester at a rally in New Hampshire, saying it was “really amazing to watch.”
-- This isn’t new. Way back in November, after a protester was assaulted by members of his audience, Trump said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
It’s not hard to make the connection between Trump’s rhetoric and 78-year-old John McGraw, the supporter who blindsided a young African-American protester, Rakeem Jones, with a right hook on Wednesday night.
“Yes, he deserved it,” McGraw said in an interview with Inside Edition afterward. “The next time we see him we might have to kill him.”
For the record, after Jones was punched in the face, he was thrown to the ground by a swarm of sheriff’s deputies and handcuffed. McGraw was allowed to return to his seat and remained there for the rest of the event. No action was taken against McGraw until the next day, when he was charged with assault and battery and disorderly conduct.
The sense that violence against people who disagree with Trump is legitimate appears to have permeated his campaign staff as well. Lewandowski, the campaign manager who appears to have manhandled Breitbart.com reporter Michelle Fields on Tuesday night, went on the attack Thursday, despite the fact that the incident was corroborated by a Washington Post reporter, and further by audio tape obtained by Politico.
Lewandowski, on his personal Twitter account, labeled her an “attention seeker” and received backup from the Trump campaign. Campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said in a statement that the Trump campaign did not believe the assault – now reported by two major news organizations – had ever happened.