Protesters at a Trump rally/image Reuters
Trump Calls for Arrests of
Protesters & Hecklers
| published March 13, 2016 |
By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor
Republican front-runner Donald Trump sometimes plays it fast and loose with the U.S. constitution. This weekend, after several days of clashes between protesters and pro-Trump attendees at campaign events and rallies in several states, Trump has ramped up his rhetoric, demanding that noisy protesters and disruptors of his huge events be arrested.
At a massive rally with more than 16,000 in attendance in Kansas City, Missouri on Saturday night, Trump was repeatedly interrupted by noisy demonstrators and hecklers. The interruptions came on multiple occasions before police and security teams were able to begin removing some of the protesters.
Trump, as usual, called for the hecklers to be removed from the premises. But this time he went further, and at his open microphone demanded that security and police explain what happens next.
“By the way,” he asked, gesturing toward police and hecklers, “what do they do? Do they arrest these people? What happens? Do they arrest them or do they just put them outside?” Trump seemed genuinely interested in the disposition of protesters.
As the crowd surged—some cheering, some booing—and as the police moved in to round up several pockets of demonstrators, Trump engaged in a kind of running monologue on his thoughts and ideas about public protests and assemblages.
“I hope they arrest these people,” Trump declared, “because they’re really violating all of us, okay? And I hope they’re arrested. I hope they are arrested because honestly they should be…they deserve to be arrested. And some of them are very violent [there were no reported acts of violence by the protesters in the Kansas City event Saturday night]. I’m going to ask that you arrest them. I’ll file whatever charges you want. Who the hell knows?”
Trump suggested that the police throw the book at the demonstrators in order to teach them a lesson.
“We’re going to go strongly for your [the protesters] arrest,” Trump said, pointing in the direction of the disruptions, “and I’m going to do this from now on. Let’s ruin the rest of…they’re going to ruin the rest of their lives. If they want to do this sort of thing, let them have a big arrest mark.”
The subject of protesters then became a central talking point at his St. Louis rally for the next 10 minutes or more. When another smaller burst of shouts and catcalls came several minutes later from another part of the audience, Trump again doubled-down on his calls for police action. As police and event security moved in to herd the hecklers outside, Trump said “I hope you arrest them and do whatever you have to do.”
“I hope these guys get thrown in jail,” he said. “They’ll never do it again. It’ll destroy their record. They’ll have to explain to mom and dad why they have a police record and why they can’t get a job. And you know what? I’m going to start pressing charges against all these people. The only way to stop this craziness is to press charges, because then their lives will be ruined.”
During the past week Trump rallies have been interrupted or disrupted many times because of hecklers and protests—some pre-organized, others spontaneous. At rallies in several cities and states, including in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri, violence has erupted as pro-Trump attendees have hit, kicked or slammed protesters, or as demonstrators have been assaulted as they are being escorted from the event.
Reporters, too, have been subjected to varying forms of violence ranging from pushing and shoving, to being knocked down, either by Trump’s own staff and security, or by those in the audience.
The potential for violence and mass disruption at an event in Chicago on Friday forced the complete cancelation of the rally. At another event at the University of Illinois, as it became apparent that the number of protesters was substantial—even before the rally was to kick off—Trump’s own security forces and staff issued a cancelation order. The result was that more violence and scuffling then erupted between pro-Trump and anti-Trump attendees of the postponed event. More than 25 people were arrested in the melee, some with injuries after fighting broke out.
At an event in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday, protesters repeatedly interrupted the event, and one person was arrested after jumping a metal pedestrian barrier and attempting to rush the stage. Secret Service and security intervened, and no one was harmed—though Trump was shaken for a moment by the incident. Videos and photographs of Trump fans punching or kicking demonstrators have become common this week, and several pro-Trump attendees have been detained or arrested, charged with assault.
Altercations at Trump rallies have become a serious concern for Republicans and Trump’s rivals in the GOP field. Candidates John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, and Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida, have each expressed outrage and strong criticism of the way Trump himself ramps up the rhetoric at events and inflames attendees to acts of violence against protesters. Despite the pledges made by Rubio and Kasich at an otherwise acrimonious debate in Detroit earlier in March—in which all three opponents of Trump agreed to support the GOP nominee no matter who wins in the primaries and caucuses, or who wins at a brokered convention—Kasich and Rubio each expressed deep doubts about being able to support Trump if he continues to incite his supporters to acts of violence.
Some Kasich backers have taken to social media to ask all Republicans to disown the violence at Trump rallies, and to remind others that the right to free speech is a deeply ingrained part of the Bill of Rights, a guarantee asserted in the First Amendment.
On Saturday, Trump suggested that U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is quietly inciting his followers to show up at Trump rallies to engage in protest and disruption, through the Sanders campaign steadfastly disavows any part of such deliberate disruption. At two events on Saturday Trump called the protesters “Bernie’s crowd” or “Bernie’s gangsters.” The progressive/leftist organization MoveOn.org concedes that it has assisted protesters with the production of posters and signs as tools to use in anti-Trump demonstrations near Trump rallies, but it says it has done nothing to encourage violence. The group says that it is Trump and some of his most vitriolic backers who are, in fact, sparking the violence.
Trump has been known to make offhand and spontaneous remarks citing violent acts when noisy protests or loud hecklers interfere with his speeches, including telling audiences “I’d like to punch that guy right in the face” or “I’d like to knock that guy’s lights out.” Some political observers have suggested that Trump is, in his own way, inciting the acts of physical violence.
Police in Kansas City used pepper spray and nightsticks to disperse a growing crowd outside the venue where Trump was speaking. At least two additional arrests were made outside the large theater where the Trump rally was taking place. Prior to the Trump rally, angry crowds faced off only a few feet away, with anti-Trump protesters shouting at those entering the hall, and pro-Trump supporters shouting back. Scores of incidents of pushing, shoving, and brief physical altercations were followed by heavier police intervention to keep the two sides at bay.
Police departments in several cities which plan to host Trump rallies in the coming days have expressed concern over how to manage the increasingly boisterous crowds on both sides of the Trump controversy. City officials in those communities are also concerned that by ramping up the presence of police and security, and by outfitting officers with riot gear, will soon lead to an escalation in violence.
Rubio told reporters in Florida that although he would like to stick to his pledge of backing Trump if he becomes the GOP nominee, the decision “is getting harder every day.” Rival Ted Cruz has told reporters that he has come to the inescapable conclusion that Trump is deliberately fanning the flames at rallies, and in fact encourages his supporters to engage in ad hoc acts of violence against protesters. Kasich even held a brief news conference in which he denounced Trump for his incendiary rhetoric.
“Donald Trump has created a toxic environment,” Kasich said, “and a toxic environment has allowed his supporters and those who sometimes seek confrontation to come together in violence. To see Americans slugging each other at a political rally deeply disturbs me. We’re better than that.” Related Thursday Review articles:
Republicans Debate in Miami in Insult-Free Forum; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 11, 2016.
Rubio Blasts CNN Reports of Campaign Shutdown; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 8, 2016.