During a rally in Montana on Thursday night, Donald Trump celebrated Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed a reporter last May: saying, ”Any guy who can do a body-slam ... he’s my guy.”
The remarks came amid a nationwide debate over “civility” in politics, as Republicans claim Democrats are committing violence against conservatives and far-right activists continue to commit violent acts of their own.
In fact, just before he praised Gianforte, Trump said, “The Democrats have truly turned into an angry mob, bent on destroying anything or anyone in their path,” adding, “Democrats create mobs. Republicans create jobs.”
Here's the video of Trump on Greg Gianforte body slamming Ben Jacobs: "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of guy." pic.twitter.com/8tWxLXE6Jx— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 19, 2018
The remarks by Trump were a reference to Gianforte’s assault on Ben Jacobs, a journalist for the Guardian, the day before Montanans were to vote in a special election to determine who the state would send to the House of Representatives.
According to Fox News reporters who were in the room when the assault took place:
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
Audio of the assault is here.
After his spokesperson denied the assault in his initial statement, Gianforte apologized to Jacobs during his acceptance speech following his victory in the race for Montana’s House seat, saying, “I should not have responded the way I did, for that I’m sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”
He also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, and was sentenced to a 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management, and a $300 fine along with an $85 court fee.
Trump was in Rome at the time of the assault. He said that he thought Gianforte’s act might hurt him in the election, but added, “Then I said, well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him. And it did.”
However, Montana permits absentee voting, and a large percentage of voters had already cast their ballots by the time the assault took place (one day before the special election).
In a statement to Montana’s public radio station on Tuesday, Gianforte’s campaign spokesperson said Gianforte “regrets what happened.” But his opponent in November’s midterms, Democrat Kathleen Williams, is already using audio of his assault on Jacobs in a campaign ad.