Trump says punched protesters deserve some of the blame for rally violence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 12:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 12:25pm

Donald Trump said protesters who’ve dogged his recent presidential campaign appearances should bear some responsibility for violence committed against them by his supporters.

“These are professional agitators,” the Republican front-runner said Sunday on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos. “There should be blame there, too.”

Violence flared again on Saturday when a protester wearing a Confederate flag imprinted with the candidate’s face was punched by a black Trump supporter at a rally in Tucson, Arizona. The Trump partisan was also angered by another demonstrator wearing a white sheet over her head in an imitation of a Ku Klux Klan hood. As local authorities attempted to remove the protesters, the supporter kicked the man with the sign three times and punched him once.

At the time, Trump termed the protester wearing the hood “really disgusting,” saying that agitators at his events were “taking away our First Amendment rights.”

“They’re going to get a little television so their mom can say, ‘Hello’,” Trump said at the rally. He criticised the demonstrators outside the event “making it so it’s a very narrow passageway” for people to enter. “What’s the purpose?” he said. “I apologise for the people that are coming in.”

The incidents have flared ahead of the March 22 winner-takes-all Arizona Republican primary, which polls show Trump is leading by more than 10 percentage points over Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Utah also holds its Republican nominating contest that day.

In Sunday’s interview, Trump said he doesn’t “condone violence” but also didn’t condemn the man who kicked and punched the protester. Trump also praised his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who appeared - in a video of a separate incident on Saturday - to have yanked a protester to the ground.

“I give him credit for having spirit,” Trump said of Lewandowski. “He wanted them to take down those horrible profanity-laced signs.” Video of the incident showed the man in the incident was not holding a sign.

A reporter has also filed a criminal complaint against Lewandowski for manhandling her at an event on March 8. The Trump campaign has denied the account.

Authorities in Tucson also removed about a dozen protesters from the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Outside the rally, more than 100 demonstrators were positioned so close to the entrance that it was difficult for supporters to enter. Earlier on Saturday, near Phoenix, protesters blocked a major road leading to Trump’s rally, triggering three arrests.

Confrontations with protesters have continued to dog Trump’s campaign after a rally in Chicago was cancelled on March 11 in the face of widespread violence inside and outside the venue.

The insurgent candidate has also warned that his supporters will “riot” if he fails to secure the Republican nomination at the party’s convention in Cleveland in July.

On Friday in Salt Lake City, several demonstrators outside the venue where Trump was speaking were forcibly removed. About a dozen police officers in riot gear were brought in to disperse the crowd. There were no reported injuries.

Republican leaders on Sunday again urged all sides to demonstrators and supporters to engage more respectfully, and called on Trump to set an example.

“All the candidates for president ought to be discouraging that kind of activity because the people in the audience tend to listen to those who are speaking,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, also on This Week. “We ought to condemn this kind of violence and encourage the American people to engage in this political debate in a respectful way.”