Then, out of nowhere, the man is punched in the face by a pony-tailed man, who appears to be white, in a cowboy hat, black vest and pink shirt as the crowd begins to cheer. The protester stumbles away, and then is detained by a number of the men in uniforms.
“Chill, chill!” an onlooker says. “You don’t gotta grab him like that!”
Rakeem Jones, the man who was hit, said the punch came out of nowhere.
“Boom, he caught me,” Jones told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “After I get it, before I could even gain my thoughts, I’m on the ground getting escorted out. Now I’m waking up this morning looking at the news and seeing me getting hit again.”
John McGraw, 78, was charged with assault and disorderly conduct in connection with the incident, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sean Swain told The Post on Thursday.
McGraw is due in court in April, Swain said. It was not immediately clear if he already has an attorney.
“We did the mission last night, we’re doing the follow-up, we’ve got the guy in custody,” said Swain, who also added: “People here in Cumberland Country realize what this sheriff does, and they didn’t have a complaint about what happened last night.”
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton addressed the incident during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
“Count me among those who are truly distraught and even appalled by a lot of what I see going on, what I hear being said,” Clinton said. “You know, you don’t make America great by, you know, dumping on everything that made America great, like freedom of speech and assembly and, you know, the right of people to protest.”
She added: “As the campaign goes further, more and more Americans are going to be really disturbed by the kind of campaign he’s running.”
Jones said he and four friends — a “diverse” group that included a white woman, a Muslim, and a gay man — had gone to the rally as a “social experiment.” He said the woman with them started shouting once Trump’s speech began.
“She shouted, but at the same time, they were shouting too,” Jones, a 26-year-old inventory associate, said. “Everyone was shouting, too. … No one in our group attempted to get physical.”
Jones blamed the Cumberland County officers escorting him from the rally for failing to protect him — then detaining him instead of the man who attacked him.
“It’s happening at all these rallies now and they’re letting it ride,” Jones said. “The police jumped on me like I was the one swinging.” He added: “My eye still hurts. It’s just shocking. The shock of it all is starting to set in. It’s like this dude really hit me and they let him get away with it. I was basically in police custody and got hit.”
Swain, however, said he didn’t think the officers who were filmed coming up the stairs saw what happened to Jones.
The incident is now the subject of an internal review, Swain said. Authorities are combing through video footage of the rally and conducting interviews to try to determine what happened.
“No one should be subjected to such a cowardly, unprovoked act as that committed by McGraw,” Sheriff Earl Butler said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Regardless of political affiliation, speech, race, national origin, color, gender, bad reputation, prior acts, or political demonstration, no other citizen has the right to assault another person or to act in such a way as this defendant did. I hope that the courts will handle this matter with the appropriate severity for McGraw’s severe and gross violation of this victim’s rights.”
In footage published by Inside Edition, a man identified as McGraw is asked if he liked the event.
“You bet I liked it,” he says.
When asked what he liked, he responds: “Knocking the hell out of that big mouth.”
“We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American,” McGraw added. “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
Ronnie C. Rouse, a man who shot one of the videos, was with Jones at the rally.
“We’re definitely anti-Trump,” Rouse told The Post.
Rouse said as soon as Trump’s speech began, someone in the crowd singled out him and his friends, screaming, “You need to get the f— out of there!” Rouse said that his group had not said anything and that the comment was unprovoked. But he said they were almost immediately surrounded by eight Cumberland County sheriff officers, who escorted them out. On the way up the stairs, the attack came.
Rouse, a 32-year-old musician, said he didn’t see the punch but saw the aftermath — his friend “slammed” by officers to the ground. Noting that someone in the crowd shouted, “Go home n—–s,” he said he was taken aback.
“We’ve been watching all this stuff happen to everyone else,” Rouse said. “This isn’t Biloxi. This isn’t Montgomery. This is Fayetteville. … It’s a well-cultured area.”
Noting Fayetteville’s proximity to Fort Bragg, he added: “I wanted to take my 11-year-old child, to give him a touch of what’s happening political-wise. I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve never been more embarrassed to be from here in my life. It’s just appalling.”
Fayetteville is in Cumberland County, but an official from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, reached by The Post early Thursday, said officers from that jurisdiction were not the ones who detained the man. The Fayetteville Police Department also told The Post it did not detain anyone at the rally, held at the city’s Crown Coliseum. Jones said he and his friends were not arrested.
Trump rallies are getting a reputation for violence by Trump supporters against disruptive protesters. Police in Fayetteville had to form a line separating pro- and anti-Trump groups outside the coliseum.
According to CBS New York, police are investigating at least two alleged assaults at a recent Kentucky rally. One involved a young African American woman who was repeatedly shoved and called “scum.”
Trump himself has not been quick to criticize the violence. After a fight erupted between protesters and police last year in Birmingham, Trump said: “‘Maybe he should have been roughed up.” Of a protester in Nevada last month, Trump said: “I’d like to punch him in the face.” In Kentucky, he said: “Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do I’ll defend you in court. … Are Trump rallies the most fun? We’re having a good time.”
According to CBS New York, he referred to an incident at a New Hampshire rally where a protester started “swinging and punching.” Trump said some people in the audience “took him out.”
“It was really amazing to watch,” he said.
At Thursday night’s Republican debate in Miami, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump whether the candidate had “done anything to create a tone where this kind of violence would be encouraged.”
“I hope not,” Trump said. “I truly hope not. I will say this. We have 25 [thousand], 30,000 people. You’ve seen it yourself. People come with tremendous passion and love for the country, and when they see protest — in some cases — you know, you’re mentioning one case, which I haven’t seen, I heard about it, which I don’t like. But when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger.”
“They love this country,” Trump continued. “They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, they don’t like seeing higher taxes, they don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know — I mean, I see it. There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects. But I certainly do not condone that at all, Jake.”
At the Fayetteville rally, Trump called protesters “professional troublemakers,” as ABC reported. As video posted by the Raleigh News-Observer shows, his speech was repeatedly interrupted as protesters were escorted out and the crowd chanted, “USA.” He criticized one protester for wearing a “very dirty undershirt.”
Nor were the protesters enamored of Trump.
“He spreads hate,” protester Marianna Kuehn told WRAL.
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This report has been updated.