It was a dangerous week to be at a Donald Trump event.
First, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski allegedly roughly grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields Tuesday after a press conference in Florida. She had asked Trump about affirmative action. After an eyewitness report surfaced and a transcript of the incident emerged, Trump’s team continued to deny it.
Then, 78-year-old John McGraw, a white man, was criminally charged for allegedly hitting a black protester right in the face Wednesday as the man was being led out of a Donald Trump rally. On Sunday, Trump said he was looking into paying the man’s legal fees.
“Maybe he doesn’t like seeing what’s happening to the country,” Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
But the violence between those at the Trump rallies and those protesting them took a turn over the weekend. On Friday, a Trump rally was canceled in Chicago after clashes between Trump supporters and protestors erupted. On Saturday, the Kansas City Police Department unleashed pepper spray on protesters outside of a Trump rally, according to CNN.
Trump rallies have emerged now as a stage where supporters feel empowered to take in-the-moment action against the “the other” that Trump so fervently rails against from the stump. While the huge events have often attracted chaotic crowds, the events have taken a turn for the dangerous.
Trump’s very message to build a wall, to block Muslims from the U.S., to deport millions of immigrants living in the shadows only fuels the xenophobic, anti-Islam, anti-anyone-other-than-Trump’s-core-demographic sentiment that exists on the fringes of the Republican Party.
And, it’s Trump’s own inflammatory rhetoric and demeaning tone that sends his followers the message: it’s okay to attack outsiders. It’s okay to lash out against anyone who doesn’t agree with us.
When asked about the incidents at his rallies, Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that he “should get credit, not be scorned” for the way he has handled some of the confrontations.
The episodes last week, however, were just the latest in a mounting number of collisions between Trumpmania and those who document or oppose it.
In February, Time magazine photographer Chris Morris was allegedly choked and knocked down by security at a Trump rally.
And at another rally in Oklahoma, Trump intensely stared down a protester wearing a “KKK endorses Trump” T-shirt as the crowd exploded in “Trump, Trump, Trump” cheers. Trump, a towering figure, walked right up to the edge of the stage, right up to the line of physical altercation and in doing so only revved up his crowd as if there weren’t electing a president, but watching a lion fight at the Colosseum.
The rallies are far from the sometimes-dull, substantive town halls run in school cafeterias and diners that have been the landmark of traditional campaigns for decades. Trump is an entertainer who garners arena-sized audiences ready to participate in the show. But, many of Trump’s competitors say that Trump’s rallies have crossed a line.
“He has turned the most important election in a generation into a circus, into a complete fiasco, and a carnival,” Rubio told CNN Sunday.
Sometimes Trump just straight up encourages violence. At a rally in Cedar Rapids in January, Trump told his audience that if they spotted any protesters ready to lob a tomato at the stage they should “knock the crap out of ’em.”
“Just knock the hell…I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees,” Trump said.
Other times, Trump just lets his supporters bark right to the edge of aggression.
On January 16, Trump’s security guards removed a Muslim woman who was silently standing in protest at one of the New York billionaire’s rallies. With a hijab and a shirt saying “Salam, I come in peace,” 56-year-old Rose Hamid was taken out of the rally for standing up. According to an interview with CNN, Hamid recounted how one Trump supporter began screaming “you have a bomb, you have a bomb.”
“This demonstrates how when you start dehumanizing the other it can turn people into very hateful, ugly people,” Hamid told CNN after the incident.
The media is just the latest demonized group to be assaulted, but Trump’s been sending a message to supporters since the early days of his campaign that the media is another group against him, another problem to be dealt with.
While Trump has been covered more than any other Republican candidate in the field, he dismisses the media’s credibility regularly and dishes out personal attacks against well-known reporters from Fox to the New York Times. In an especially cruel stunt, Trump flailed his hands wildly from a podium as he spoke about Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter with medical condition that does not allow him to fully extend his arms. Trump denied that he even knew Kovaleski nonetheless was mocking his condition.
After an August debate in which Fox News’s Megyn Kelly asked Trump to comment on his misogynistic name-calling of women, Trump dismissed Kelly’s credibility on Twitter and told CNN in a subsequent interview that “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Trump has actually made cracking down on press freedoms a key promise in his campaign. He wants to make it easier to win libel lawsuits agains the media, and he has said that if he were president he would go after newspapers he believed treated him unfairly.
“If I become president, oh do they have problems,” Trump said. “They’re going to have such problems.”
Perhaps surprised that the media has been physically harmed in a space where the candidate on stage says that “the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met.”
Trump’s campaign is built on harnessing American anger. It is little surprise that when he leads his flock right up to the line, somebody is going to be fired up enough about Trump’s message to cross it.