The escalating series of confrontations at Donald Trump’s rallies in recent days reveals a political campaign that has morphed from one featuring a bigoted, hate-spewing, violence-threatening individual to one of supporters heeding his rhetoric and acting upon that hate and violence unprecedented in modern American political campaigns.
Following a weekend filled with violence in and around Trump rallies, it is clear that with Trump and his supporters, it has become very much a matter of monkey see, monkey do.
Trump says he wants to punch a protester in the face; a supporter punches a protester in the face. Trump says a protester is a member of ISIS; a man of Indian descent is yelled racial slurs, called a member of ISIS and told to go back to Iraq. He later gets arrested amid a scuffle, and it turns out the man, Sopan Deb, is a CBS News reporter covering the rally.
As a leader, Trump is certainly setting an example. But the type of example has many people worried.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, fellow GOP candidate Sen. Marco Rubio said he is “very concerned” about the possibility of someone getting killed at a Trump rally.
During a town hall in Ohio Sunday evening, Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Sen. Rubio has a legitimate concern.”
In fact, the Trump supporter who, unprovoked, sucker-punched a Black protester in the face at a rally last week, said in a TV interview immediately following the incident, “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” He added, as Trump has said of other protesters, “He might be with a terrorist organization.”
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next here,” Rubio said in reference to Trump rallies. “I know that we’ve reached the point now where people in American politics have decided that if they don’t agree with you, that they can get angry at you, that you’re a bad and evil person, that they can say anything they want about you. … All the gates of civility have been blown apart.”
During a rally in St. Louis on Friday Trump was met with numerous protesters chanting “Dump Trump.” According to police, 32 protesters were arrested. Referring to the altercations between supporters and protesters, Trump said, “Can I be honest with you It adds to the flavor. It really does make it more exciting. Isn’t this better than listening to a long boring speech you can hear that from the other candidates”
The St. Louis event finished just hours before the Trump campaign abruptly cancelled a rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago on Friday night due to violent confrontations inside and outside of the venue. The Trump campaign released a statement saying it did so “for the safety of all the tens of thousands of people that had gathered in and around the arena.”
In telephone interviews with cable news outlets later that evening, Trump said, “I spoke with law enforcement and made the decision to cancel in conjunction with law enforcement, and I think we made a wise decision.”
However, a Chicago Police Department spokesman told The Associated Press that was not accurate. CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department had prepared in advance and had adequate manpower to cover the rally, adding that the decision to cancel came “independently” from the Trump campaign.
Meanwhile, speaking in Kansas City on Saturday, Trump spotted some protesters and immediately called for them to be removed, before disparaging them. “Get’ em out of there, get ’em out,” he said, adding, however, “We don’t want to hurt the protesters.”
Then he proceeded to say, “These are bad, bad people, and now we’re going to take our country back from these people.”
Like with Chicago, Trump said he consulted local police who encouraged him to cancel the event, though police have denied that. “I told the police there might be problems. … They said, why aren’t you canceling. I said no, I’m not canceling.”
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Fort tweeted during the speech that there were no discussions of canceling the event.
During a Trump rally in Cleveland, also on Saturday, news reporters documented Trump supporters being especially hateful. MSNBC national reporter TonyDokoupil tweeted footage of a Trump supporter screaming, “Go back to Africa!” at a group of Black Lives Matter protesters. And The Telegraph reported a Trump supporter shouting, “Go to Auschwitz go to f****** Auschwitz” to a group of protesters as he waved using the Nazi salute.
Another Trump supporter was heard telling others, “You belong on the other side of the wall.”
“It is clear that Donald Trump is running a very cynical campaign pitting groups of Americans against one another. He is trafficking in hate and fear,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during the town hall event at Ohio State University on Sunday night. “He actually incites violence in the way he urges his audience on, talking about punching people, offering to pay legal bills.”
Clinton added that Trump was guilty of “political arson”: “He has been incredibly bigoted towards so many groups. You don’t make America great by tearing down everything that made America great.”
During that town hall, Sanders added he “would hope Mr. Trump tones it down big time and tells his supporters that violence is not acceptable in the American political process. Trump has to get on the TV and tell his supporters that violence in the political process in America is not acceptable, end of discussion.”
Trump has blamed Sanders for the violence at his rallies and even threatened to incite violence at Sanders’ events.
“Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to my events,” Trump tweeted. “Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!”