Debate: Are public protests playing into Donald Trump's hands?

A Trump supporter (R) yells at a demonstrator (L) after Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump cancelled his rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago March 11, 2016. © Kamil Krzaczynski
It is not okay to be so blatantly racist and bigoted and encouraging of violence, and we are going to stand up and resist it at great risk to our bodies at your events, David Swanson from the Anti-War Movement told RT.

Thousands of protesters clashed with supporters at a packed a venue in Chicago where US presidential hopeful Donald Trump was due to speak, forcing him to cancel the rally.

Scenes of chaos erupted after the campaign team announced the billionaire businessman would not be making an appearance. Just a few hours earlier, another campaign event, this one scheduled in St Louis, was also briefly disrupted. The violence comes ahead of Tuesday's primaries in five US states with Trump so far the Republican frontrunner.

RT: This is the second fight at a Trump rally in one day. There was one earlier in St Louis, Missouri. What is behind this, do you think?

David Swanson: In part, of course, is Trump’s initiation and encouragement of violence and urging his fans to attack protesters and promising to pay their medical bills and to support them and wishing he could ‘punch someone in the face’ and suggesting he could ‘shoot someone on the street’ and get away with it. I am afraid the US media is going to try to paint Donald Trump now as responding to violence rather than initiating it. I think this is extremely encouraging that people have found the courage to stand up to Donald Trump, but they really need to do is strictly non-violently so that the story comes through clearly. And they need to not do it on behalf of some other candidate who will of course disavow it. None of the other candidates are perfect; they all need to be protested as well. But this is extremely encouraging that people found the courage and the organization to go in and protest Donald Trump as he deserves.

RT: Do you think that by trying to disrupt the rallies the protesters could actually be helping Trump by giving him more media attention?

DS: I don’t think it is possible to give him more media attention. He is now on CNN running his mouth and none of the protesters are. And so his laments about infringements on his First Amendment rights are nonsense. But he has been on the media 24/7 at his wish. He could get on by telephone from anywhere unlike the other candidates. That has been going on for many months now. Yes, the story will be painted as chaotic and the protesters will be blamed, but I think really the big message will come through that people found the courage to stand up against fascism and say it is not ok to be so blatantly racist and bigoted and encouraging of violence, and we are going to stand up and resist it at great risk to our bodies at your events. I think that is going to continue now and every Trump event is going to be protested. I think it needs to be done smartly, strategically, strictly non-violently…

RT: Trump has been winning state after state and appears to be the Republican frontrunner. Could these incidents be damaging for his campaign?

DS: They are helping and he of course is helping himself to damage his chances in any future general election, his disapproval is down to at least 65 percent of the country. It will be very difficult for him to win a general election. His only chance is if he goes up against Hillary Clinton and she continues to have scandal after scandal. But there is also the chance that the Republican nomination will turn around dramatically. The media while playing into Trump and giving him endless air time because it is good for their ratings, are also not entirely behind him. And many powerful figures and organizations in the US media want to ruin his campaign. There is the possibility that things will turn around and one of the other disastrous Republican candidates will take the nomination.

RT: There has been a racial aspect to some of the disturbances at Trump rallies (white supporters against black and Hispanic protesters). Why is that?

DS: Trump is running an openly racist and bigoted campaign promising to keep Muslims out of the country, to build a wall along the US border with Mexico. This is a phenomenon now across the US at high schools, sports games and other venues where white fans are shouting ‘Trump-Trump!’ at Hispanic opponents and Latino-dominated basketball teams. It is widely understood that Trump’s campaign is a campaign of racism, and of course that is not the only reason people are supporting him. Many people are supporting him because he is against corporate trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP. But it is very prominent in his campaign that he is promoting bigotry and hatred and violence towards the rest of the world as well…This is a phenomenon created by Donald Trump.

RT: Do you think these disruptions have actually helped Donald Trump by keeping him in the media spotlight?

Daniel Wagner, investment risk analyst: I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all somehow purposely calculated to keep Donald Trump in the media spotlight. Think about it: Trump could have been in the arena speaking to 10,000 people but instead he gets to be on all the news channels speaking to 50 million people. And it doesn’t cost him a thing. It is an interesting parallel I think which is worth pointing out and that has to do with what happened in 1964 in the election between Barry Goldwater and President [Lyndon B.] Johnson. At that point in time, the Civil Rights Act had just been passed and the race was very much focused on the issue of race and ethnic identity. Now, fifty years later, it is similar sort of orientation but maybe for different reasons…

RT: Many people have branded Trump a racist for his remarks against Latinos and other minorities. Do you think these accusations are justified?

DW: I think Trump hasn’t hesitated to cut right to the chase and go right to the core of some issues that are very much front and center in a lot of Americans’ minds. Part of that has to do with race. But it also has to do with economic disenfranchisement, fear about the future, immigration and the whole host of other issues.

Trump has proven to be a master at tapping right into that fear and that concern about the future. In that regard, it is interesting how it goes back almost fifty years to where we were in the 1964 election where race was very much front and center issue between Goldwater and Johnson. The difference is that at that time both candidates wanted to take race and remove it from the discussion. It was right on the heels of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and they knew it was an incendiary. In this case, Trump is taking a very incendiary topic and he is putting it right front and center in front of the American public and the voting issues.

RT: Reports say the protests were organized well in advance. Should we expect this to happen again?

DW: I expect that these protests are only going to strengthen his lead in states like Florida and Ohio. If you look back over the last several months nothing that he said, nothing that he has done has weakened his lead. He has only gotten stronger and stronger. I would except that he is going to have a very strong showing on Tuesday, and I would expect that once that happens he really will be unstoppable.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.