Another person was attacked at a Donald Trump rally this weekend – in this case a Trump supporter sucker-punched a protester who was being removed from the event, knocked him to the floor and continued punching and kicking him. But the billionaire frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination continued to insist that there isn’t much violence at his events.
“We don’t condone violence, and we have very little violence. Very, very little violence at the rallies,” he told ABC News host George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning. And what violence there is, he suggested, is the result of protesters going to great lengths to provoke his supporters.
The attack at the Tucson rally occurred after two men, one wearing an improvised Ku Klux Klan hood, interrupted Trump’s speech. (The man appeared to be wearing the hood not in support of the white supremacist group, but as a protest against what many see as bigotry inherent in Trump’s campaign.)
As the men were being led out of the arena, an African-American man in attendance lunged from his seat and struck the second protestor, who was not wearing a hood, but an American flag t-shirt.
Asked to condemn the violence, Trump demurred, saying the protesters “are very disruptive people.”
He continued, “He or his partner was wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. This happened to be an African-American man, a person at the rally, who was very, very incensed at the fact that somebody, a protester, would be wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and he went wild. And frankly, that was a tough thing to watch, and I watched that, but why would a protester walk into a room with a Ku Klux Klan outfit on?”
The assault was the low point of a weekend that saw protesters temporarily block a road leading to the site of one Trump event in order to prevent his supporters from attending, as well as a large protest outside Trump Tower, the iconic New York headquarters of Trump’s offices.
“They are really stopping our first amendment rights if you think about it,” Trump said to Stephanopoulos. “At what point do people blame the protesters? These are people that are professional agitators?”
“So, you’re blaming the protesters, not the person who punched and kicked the protester?” the host asked incredulously.
“No, I’m saying this,” Trump replied. “These are professional agitators. I think that somebody should say, when a road is blocked going into the event so that people have to wait sometimes hours to get in, I think it’s very fair that there should be blame there too.”
Trump also complained about what he called an unfair double standard.
“I think it’s really unfair that these, really, in many cases, professional, in many cases really sick protesters, can put cars in the road blocking thousands of great Americans from coming to a speech, and nobody says anything about that. But they’ll say something about…whatever…let me just tell you it’s a very unfair double standard.”
He also praised his controversial campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who was caught on video wading into the protesters with a private security guard and personal grabbing one young man by the collar. Lewandowski is already facing a criminal complaint filed by a reporter who claims that he assaulted her after a Trump event in Florida.
“Why is your campaign manager out in the crowd engaging protesters?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“He didn’t touch him,” Trump replied, despite the fact that hours before, virtually every major news outlet in the country had started running footage that showed Lewandowski reaching out and grabbing the young man’s shirt collar. (The video also seemed to show that a private security guard next to Lewandowski, not the campaign manager, exerted the force that spun the young man around and pulled him backward.)
“I give him credit for having spirit,” Trump said of Lewandowski.
The fact that Lewandowski was personally helping physically remove protesters mystified Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, who also spoke to Stephanopoulos Sunday.
Without even being asked to address Lewandowski’s actions, he said, “Leave it to the professionals. I mean, the Sheriff was there in the crowd, and the Secret Service was there, and that’s their job.” He added, “Obviously, my point would be leave those things to the professionals. Don’t get involved in crowds in those altercations, and that’s why the pros are there.
The fresh incidence of violence at a Trump rally came just days after he predicted that there would be riots if he were to win the most delegates in the Republican presidential primary but fail to achieve a majority and lose the nomination at the convention.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I will say this, you’re going to have a lot of unhappy people,” he said.
Asked if he would tell his supporters not to riot if he loses, Trump said he would, but made it clear that he wasn’t sure he could control them.
“I would certainly tell them that but look, these people are fervent. They want to see positive things happen for our country. I would certainly say that. I don’t want to see riots. I don’t want to see problems.”