US Elections 2016

Donald Trump blames violence at rallies on 'professional agitators'

Demonstrators protesting during a Trump rally in Tucson, Arizona, last Saturday. Scenes of mayhem are common at Mr Trump’s rallies, with the billionaire sometimes encouraging supporters who use violence against protesters.
Demonstrators protesting during a Trump rally in Tucson, Arizona, last Saturday. Scenes of mayhem are common at Mr Trump’s rallies, with the billionaire sometimes encouraging supporters who use violence against protesters. PHOTO: REUTERS

More security at big events so his campaign staff won't have to deal with protesters

WASHINGTON • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says that "professional agitators" bore much of the blame for violence at his rallies, as video showed a protester being beaten and another apparently being grabbed by Mr Trump's campaign manager.

Mr Trump's campaign says it will add security to larger events so campaign staff don't assist in removing protesters, as boisterous confrontations between supporters and detractors seem set to escalate.

The decision follows instances this month during which Mr Corey Lewandowski, Mr Trump's campaign manager, helped local authorities remove protesters. That included an incident caught on video in Tucson, Arizona, last Saturday in which Mr Lewandowski grabbed the collar of a demonstrator who would not leave the venue.

Speaking on ABC's This Week on Sunday, Mr Trump defended his campaign manager and declined to condemn supporters who have attacked protesters at his increasingly chaotic rallies.

"These people are very disruptive people. They're not innocent lambs," he said. Nor did he back down from his warning that there would be riots in the streets if the Republican Party denied him the nomination for the November election, despite his being the most popular candidate among Republican voters.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I will say this, you're going to have a lot of unhappy people," he said.

Scenes of mayhem have become increasingly common at the billionaire New York businessman's rallies, which have been frequently interrupted by protesters, many of them Democrats, who say Mr Trump's controversial remarks on immigrants and Muslims are dangerous. The 69-year-old candidate has sometimes encouraged his supporters who use violence on protesters, and, on at least one occasion, said that he would like to punch a protester himself.

Confrontations have dogged Mr Trump's events since a rally in Chicago was cancelled on March 11 when several thousand protesters showed up.

Recent incidents have flared ahead of today's winner-takes-all Arizona Republican primary, which polls show Mr Trump is leading by more than 10 percentage points over Texas senator Ted Cruz. Utah also holds its Republican nominating contest today.

Mr 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 misdemeanour.

The Trump supporter who struck the demonstrator 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 worn by members of the racist group. At the time, Mr Trump termed the protester wearing the hood "really disgusting", saying that agitators at his events were "taking away our First Amendment rights".

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

At the same time, some senior figures in the party are openly plotting to prevent Mr Trump from becoming the nominee because they view him as insufficiently conservative.

The candidate was to meet about two dozen senior Republican figures at a law firm in Washington yesterday, in what the Trump campaign described as an effort to improve "party unity", The Washington Post reported.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'Trump blames violence on 'professional agitators''. Print Edition | Subscribe