- Says protesters deserve some blame for confrontations
- Calls campaign manager who yanked protester 'spirited'
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will add security to larger events so campaign staffers don’t assist in removing protesters, as boisterous confrontations between the Republican front-runner’s supporters and detractors escalate.
The decision follows instances this month during which Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, helped local authorities remove protesters. That included an incident caught on video in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday in which Lewandowski grabbed the collar of a demonstrator who wouldn’t leave the venue. Trump’s campaign has said another man pulled the protester to the ground.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, said she like her boss didn’t condone violence at the campaign events, while saying protesters have used profanity to provoke responses.
“These are private events paid for by the campaign, and while we do not condone violence or interactions of any kind, that kind of language is not acceptable for the families and television cameras in attendance,” Hicks said in an e-mail.
Confrontations have dogged Trump’s events since a rally in Chicago was canceled on March 11 when an estimated several thousand protesters showed up. 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.
The incidents have flared ahead of the March 22 winner-takes-all Arizona Republican primary, which polls show Trump is leading by by more than 10 percentage points over Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Utah also holds its Republican nominating contest that day.
The billionaire real-estate mogul praised Lewandowski on Sunday in a telephone interview on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
“I give him credit for having spirit,” Trump said. “He wanted them to take down those horrible profanity-laced signs.” Brief footage of the incident in Tucson indicated the demonstrator who was involved with Lewandowski wasn’t carrying a sign.
A reporter has filed a criminal complaint against Lewandowski for allegedly manhandling her at an event on March 8. The Trump campaign has denied the account.
Trump on Sunday addressed other incidents from the Tucson rally, including one in which a protester was punched and kicked by a Trump supporter while being detained by police. The supporter was arrested and charged with assault with injury, a misdemeanor.
Anti-Trump activists were in part responsible for the physical confrontations, the Republican front-runner said. “These are professional agitators,” said Trump, in comments similar to those made last week tying protests to progressive groups such as MoveOn.org and the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “There should be blame there, too.”
The Trump supporter who struck the demonstrator in Tucson was a black man angered by another protester who was wearing a white sheet over her head in an imitation of a Ku Klux Klan hood. 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.”
Authorities on Saturday 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.
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.”
In Tucson, Trump was accompanied by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who endorsed the candidate in January and, like Trump, is a staunch advocate of deporting immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Arpaio, whose jurisdiction includes most of the Phoenix area, introduced Trump and criticized the protesters for trying to “intimidate” people who wanted to attend the rally. He said he would “lock up the demonstrators and throw them in jail.”
Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWit, a Republican who backs Trump, also criticized the protesters, asking the crowd if they had seen “the jerks standing outside the door” at the rally while adding, “they have a First Amendment right to be as stupid as they want.”