Yesterday, at a Donald Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, a local activist named Mercutio Southall Jr. started shouting "Black Lives Matter!" as Donald Trump spoke. What followed was a physical altercation between Southall and Trump supporters, captured on camera by a CNN reporter in the crowd. The video makes it a little hard to tell how the fight started, but by the Washington Post's account, "a white man punched and attempted to choke" Southall.
On Sunday morning, Fox News host Ed Henry asked Trump about the incident "of an African-American protester from Black Lives Matter who appears to have gotten roughed up." At first, Trump appeared to be ambivalent about the term "roughed up," but then he warmed to it: "Maybe he should have been roughed up."
Here's a transcript of the relevant part of Trump's response, via Media Matters:
I will tell you that the man that was — was I don't know you say roughed up, he was so obnoxious and so loud, he was screaming. I had 10,000 people in the room yesterday, 10,000 people, and this guy started screaming by himself and they — I don't know, rough up, he should have been — maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. This was not handled the way Bernie Sanders handled his problem, I will tell you, but I have a lot of fans and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy, who was a troublemaker, was looking to make trouble, but I didn't get to see the event.
Trump supporters have a history of "roughing" people up — and Trump has a history of excusing it
Since apparently this needs to be said: Someone does not deserve to get "roughed up" for protesting a campaign rally. You can disagree about what the appropriate response to protests should be. Having the protesters removed is certainly a legitimate option. But "roughing up" people for speaking their minds, however obnoxiously, is inappropriate and dangerous.
This isn't an isolated incident. Trump supporters have gotten physical with protesters at several other events this fall. A protester was dragged out of a Trump rally in Miami. A Trump supporter ripped up a protester's sign. A Trump bodyguard was filmed sucker-punching a protester outside Trump Tower in early September. And at a rally in DC, photographers captured a Trump supporter pulling a protester's hair.
Donald Trump supporter pulls the hair of a young immigrant at a rally. Yep, this is still happening in 2015. pic.twitter.com/dFbsd3saz6— Jassiel Perez (@fl_dreamer) September 9, 2015
Trump's campaign appears to understand that this sort of crap is not okay: The campaign said yesterday that it "does not condone" the behavior of his supporters. But Trump himself has an uncomfortable history of, if not condoning violence on the part of his supporters, certainly excusing it.
In August, two Boston men were arrested for beating a homeless Latino man with a metal pole. One of them told police, "Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported." When Trump was asked about it at a New Hampshire press conference, he initially said he didn't know about the incident — then added:
I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate. I will say that, and everybody here has reported it.
That was wildly unacceptable, and after Vox and other outlets called Trump out on it, he clarified on Twitter — a couple of days after the press conference — that "the Boston incident is terrible [...] I would never condone violence."
You would think that after that incident, Trump would be a lot more careful about appearing to condone violence. You would think he would be a lot more vocal in decrying the actions of his most violent supporters. But if you thought these things, you would be wrong.
Donald Trump is not directly inciting violence. But violence is happening at Donald Trump events — with some frequency. It's alarming that Trump is not saying, repeatedly, that this is wrong and needs to stop. It is even more alarming that after the August hate crime, and after the repeated incidents at Trump events since then, Trump is willing to say that someone "deserved to be roughed up."
A disturbing postscript: If the Trump campaign had had its way, the incident in Birmingham wouldn't have been witnessed by a journalist at all. It wasn't easily visible from the "pen" where reporters were being held during the event; the CNN reporter had managed to slip into the crowd. In the past week, the Trump campaign has started tracking down reporters outside the "pen" and forcing them to return there — and after the CNN reporter taped the fight in Birmingham yesterday, that's what happened to her. The campaign's attempt to keep reporters from witnessing Trump events from the perspective of attendees is worrisome in its own right. It's especially worrisome when what's happening in the crowd at those events could involve someone getting roughed up.