Donald Trump praised his campaign manager’s “spirit” for grabbing a protester at his rally in Tucson on Saturday.
“I give him credit for having spirit. He wanted to take down those horrible, profanity-laced signs,” Trump told ABC News.
In video footage of the incident captured by a CBS reporter, the Trump campaign’s Corey Lewandowski apparently yanked a protester by the collar. Another man who was behind the protester appears to have grabbed him in that same moment, since he spins around to confront him, but realizes he’s held back by Lewandowski.
Here is Donald Trump's campaign manager in the Tucson crowd grabbing the collar of a protester. pic.twitter.com/JZ9RntWlHY
— Jacqueline Alemany (@JaxAlemany) March 19, 2016
When asked by George Stephanopoulos why his campaign manager was “out in the crowds engaging with protestors,” Trump defended Lewandowsi’s actions.
“The security at the area — the police were a little bit lax,” he said. “And they had signs up in that area that were horrendous, that, I cannot say what they said on the sign, the ultimate word. And frankly the television cameras can’t take it, and they can’t do anything about it.”
This is not the first time that Lewandowski has reportedly restrained attendees at Trump events. Earlier this month, eyewitnesses said that he attacked a female reporter for the conservative website, Breitbart — a charge Trump’s campaign denied.
But Trump supporters have been increasingly violent at rallies across the country — and the Republican presidential front-runner has himself incited such responses. For his part, Lewandowski has taken a similar stance on violence.
After a Trump supporter was indicted for punching a protester at a rally in March, Lewandowski did not immediately condemn the violence and instead said that supporters are “passionate” and “express it in different ways.”
When ThinkProgress pressed Lewandowski on whether punching a protester is an appropriate way to express anger, Lewandowski clarified that the campaign does not condone the violence. But he suggested the onus was on the protesters to simply stay home.
“What we want is to have the opportunity to bring Mr. Trump’s message to everyone in a respectful manner,” he said. “That’s why we make an announcement at the beginning of our rallies to say: ‘Please if you want to protest, just feel free to leave.’ I understand the notion of free speech but you also have the privilege of being in a private setting where other people want to come and listen to Mr. Trump.”
Several other incidents of violence took place at Saturday’s rally in Tucson.
Bryan Sanders, another protester, was thrown to the ground and beaten as he was being escorted out of the arena by security personnel.
Protesters said that they were forced to leave the rally by Trump supporters.
“They’re not security and they’re not cops,” Kira Rojas, a protester who was inside the rally told Tucson News. “And they’re psychically putting their hands on us. Pushing us out for no reason. We weren’t disturbing him. We weren’t yelling anything. We were just standing in the back.”
Rojas said that she and her friends were pushed out of the rally.
Violence has broken out at Trump rallies across the country -- and has often been lauded by the real estate mogul.
Trump has called on his supporters to “hit back” if they are attacked at rallies an has promised to pay the legal fees of any of his supporters who rough up protesters.
He has himself said, on more than one occasion, that he would like to respond violently to protesters.
“I’d like to punch him in the face,” he said in response to a protester in February.