Trump won’t denounce violence at his rallies, defends manager accused of assault

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump © Mario Anzuoni
Despite video showing a protester being attacked at a rally, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump refused to condemn violence at his political events. He also defended his campaign manager after footage showed him grabbing a demonstrator.

Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP’s presidential nomination, has been under fire over the past month for failing to denounce violence perpetrated by his supporters. Over the weekend, events in Tucson, Arizona drew more scrutiny as video showed one supporter kicking and punching a protester at a rally. Other video obtained by CNN showed Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbing an anti-Trump activist by the collar while security was trying to get a hold of him.

At the same time, protests against Trump over his heated rhetoric regarding immigrants and Muslims have also increased in their intensity, with activists blocking the entry to a Trump rally in Phoenix.

Speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump wouldn’t condemn the violent outbursts, but he did call protesters “very disruptive” and said they are “not innocent.”

“We don't condone violence. And I say it. And we have very little violence, very, very little violence at the rallies,” he said.

The protesters are “really stopping our First Amendment rights,” he added. “If you think about, George, they blocked the road. They put their cars in front of a road. We had thousands and thousands of people wanting to come. They were delayed for an hour because of these protesters. And, you know, at what point do people blame the protesters?”

When asked if he was condemning the protester rather than the individual kicking and punching them, Trump said no before arguing his detractors are “professional agitators.”

“These are professional agitators, and I think that somebody should say that when a road is blocked going into the event so that people have to wait sometimes hours to get in, I think that's very fair, and they should be blamed there, too,” he said.

“When signs are put up, lifted up, with tremendous profanity on them. I mean the worst profanity. And you have television cameras all over the place. And people see these signs. I think maybe those people have some blame and should suffer some blame also.”

In the same interview, Trump defended campaign manager Lewandowski, initially arguing that he didn’t touch any protester, before saying he “gave him credit for having spirit.”

“The video there showed that he touched him. Your private security pulled him,” Stephanopoulos said.

“That was somebody else pulling him. I mean, I get ‒ I give him credit for having spirit. He wanted them to take down those horrible profanity-laced signs,” Trump responded.

Lewandowski’s behavior was already in the spotlight after a reporter from conservative website Breitbart News accused him of assaulting her. The Trump campaign vigorously denied any wrongdoing, leading to a rash of resignations at Breitbart as employees accused the outlet of being biased in favor of Trump.

Many people, including a large number of Republicans, have become increasingly concerned as Trump’s events become marred by violence, especially as the candidate himself seems reluctant to tell his supporters not to respond physically. Earlier this month, a Trump supporter punched a protester in the face as he was being escorted out by security, and Trump responded by saying he might pay for the assaulter’s legal fees before backtracking on the comment.

Before that, at a January campaign event in Iowa, Trump told supporters to “knock the crap” out of anyone planning to throw tomatoes at him, promising that he’d pay for their legal fees.

Meanwhile, Trump has also cautioned the GOP about not nominating him as their candidate even if he fails to receive the required number of delegates to secure the nomination. He has said that his supporters may be angry enough to riot, and suggested to Stephanopoulos that may still be the case.

“I would certainly tell” supporters not to riot, Trump said,