During a Friday news conference, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump characterized protesters getting punched at his events as “very, very appropriate” because “these are people that punch, there are people that are violent people.” His comments came two days after Rakeem Jones was sucker-punched at a Trump rally in North Carolina by a man who was later charged with assault.
But there’s actually no evidence any of the protesters who have gotten roughed up at Trump events instigated anything. Video clips of altercations at Trump events don’t show that, and reporters who have been following Trump’s campaign say they haven’t seen it:
I am at almost every Trump rally. I have yet to see a single protester start swinging as Trump just said.
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) March 11, 2016
On Friday, Trump went on to say “we have had a couple [protesters] that were really violent, and the particular one when I said I’d like to bang him, that was a very — he was a guy who was swinging, very loud and started swinging at the audience and the audience swung back and I thought it was very, very appropriate.”
“He was swinging, he was hitting people and the audience hit back and that’s what we need,” he added.
Trump didn’t make clear what specific incident he was referring to. But during a rally in Las Vegas last month, Trump had this to say about a protester who was escorted away: “The guards are being very gentle with him… I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you that.” He added that the protester had been “throwing punches.”
Politico, however, spoke with security guards who worked the event, and none of them saw the protester try to punch anybody.
Trump “was just over-exaggerating,” said one security guard, who asked Politico not to use his name.
Publicly, at least, Trump has repeatedly made clear he doesn’t view violence at his rallies as a problem. The topic came up during Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate. Trump said he hopes his campaign hasn’t created a tone of violence, but then described his supporters as simply having “tremendous passion.”
“When they see protesters, when they see what’s going in on the country, they have anger,” Trump said. “They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, higher taxes, loss of their jobs.”
A day later, tensions were high outside a Trump event in St. Louis, as this pair of videos illustrates:
Protestor steps on a flag at the STL Trump rally. A Trump supporter wasn't feeling it. pic.twitter.com/ipN0CurCjj
— Junius Randolph (@JuniusRandolph) March 11, 2016
Battle lines drawn at Trump rally pic.twitter.com/Y9yRTnjOAm
— Trymaine Lee (@trymainelee) March 11, 2016