CLEVELAND, OHIO — Before Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took the stage in Cleveland on Saturday, a voice blared over the P.A. system: “If a protester starts demonstrating in the area around you, please, do not harm or touch the protester. This is a peaceful rally.”
Little more than an hour later, 17-year-old Miles Wilson stood outside, visibly shaken. He had been kicked out of the rally for holding up a protest sign, but when he got outside, the shouts and slurs from the Trump supporters followed.
I just want to get my friend and get out of here before someone gets hurt.
A crowd of them surrounded him and 17-year-old Donovan Hampton. Hampton was still holding his sign, reading “Make AmeriKKKa White Again.” Wilson said he heard racial slurs, calls of “get a job,” “protect your check,” “get off your lazy ass.” Soon after, the crowd moved on to surround another protestor outside.
“I’m terrified. I’m shaking,” he told ThinkProgress. “I just want to get my friend and get out of here before someone gets hurt.”
Chaos and violence at Donald Trump’s rallies are commonplace. But things have escalated since Friday, when a mass of protesters violently clashed with Trump supporters at his rally in Chicago. Trump cancelled the event due to “security concerns,” and what followed was a louder-than-usual barrage of accusations that Trump, through his divisive rhetoric, is fostering a culture of violence at his rallies — and that he doesn’t really care.
Now, apparently seeking to combat that narrative, Trump is at least putting forth a bit of effort to calm down the atmosphere at his rallies, via the P.A. announcement. But it’s not really working, because the chaos is just moving outside.
Take Saturday’s Cleveland rally. At least for Trump rally standards, the inside was pretty tame — a few protesters removed, a few racial slurs thrown, but little threat of physical altercations or extended arguments.
Outside, however, confrontations were everywhere. Protestors ripped up Trump signs, Trump supporters got in protestors faces, and less conflict-minded people on both sides had to pull their riled up friends away from physical fights. While a protestor argued with an older Trump supporter about Islam, the supporter’s cry of “Mohammed is a pedophile!” could be heard across the parking lot.
Things got very heated outside Trump's rally in Cleveland pic.twitter.com/tqwEgWx82E
— James Arkin (@JamesArkin) March 12, 2016
Later Saturday night, at Trump’s rally in Kansas City, Missouri, what was happening outside was also objectively the main event. Protesters outside were rowdy, and eventually pepper sprayed by police. According to the New York Times, at least four cans of spray were used on protestors, and at least two of them were arrested.
Whether the police’s use of pepper sprayed was justified was a point of fierce contention. One Twitter user posted video of the incident, and argued that the pepper spray was unexpected and unnecessary. “We were far from what happened and peaceful and lawful and he still walked up to spray us,” he said.
The Kansas City Police, however, argued the officers’ actions were appropriate. Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte called it an “excellent preventive measure” that “maintained order,” and defended the use of pepper spray as a “better outcome than a riot with mass casualties.”
Either way, Saturday’s events made at least one thing clear: When it comes to Trump, violence is not limited to the inside of his rallies. If his protestors can’t get inside, they’ll readily go elsewhere. And chaos, it seems, will surely follow.