Among honorable humans, the sucker punch is not highly regarded. The attacker, it seems, is taking advantage of the victim’s defenselessness, distraction or lack of awareness. If there is such a thing as a fair fight, the sucker punch is not part of it. Merriam-Webster: “to hit (a person) suddenly and usually without any obvious reason”; “to punch (a person) suddenly without warning and often without apparent provocation.”
But after a white Trump supporter sucker punched a black Trump protester at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., earlier this week, some Trump supporters took to cable news, social media and reporters’ email inboxes to support John McGraw, the 78-year-old man who allegedly struck 26-year-old Rakeem Jones at the Crown Coliseum on March 9. Some defended McGraw’s reported actions by invoking race, blaming interlopers at Trump rallies or blaming the liberal news media.
McGraw 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.
Trump himself did not condemn the attack when asked about it during the Republican debate Thursday night. The most he could bring himself to say was he did not “condone” violence at his rallies, though he publicly said of a protester at one rally, to wild cheers, that “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”
Perhaps the most prominent McGraw backer was Andy Dean, a Trump supporter who sometimes appears on CNN.
“Well, first off, that’s guy’s 78 and throwing a punch like that?” Dean said, as Slate noted. “At his age, I must say that this is very, very interesting.” He added: “Why is it that at Trump rallies liberals come and create chaos? … At that age, that looks like good exercise…. At 78, it’s somewhat impressive.
On Facebook, the group “Prayers for John McGraw” appeared. Reached through Facebook, a person who claimed to be one of the group’s administrators wrote: “He punched an officious intermeddler.” The person added: “It’s not like this was a BLM protest. Just a little poke on the beak. Cheapest lesson in manners this kid can get.” (The person refused to speak with The Washington Post by phone, then claimed: “I’m actually a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I hate Trump’s fan base and made this page to make them look bad.”)
Responses on Twitter included: “A sucker punch does not constitute a beating. ‘Try’ to be accurate once in a while, mmkay?” And: “An old man punked a younger guy. Their race is insignificant to the story. Unless you’re the Post of course.” And: “They went looking for trouble! … Looks like a setup, the news media acts like they were innocent bystanders.” And: “Yeah, a 78 year old man who felt threatened threw a punch. Why is race always as issue with you?”
McGraw himself was not shy about defending his alleged actions.
“You bet I liked it,” he told “Inside Edition” when asked about the rally. “Clocking the hell out of that big mouth.” Of the victim, he said: “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me … and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.” He added: “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”
Not much information about McGraw’s recent activities was immediately available after his arrest.
But a 2009 profile in the Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C., describes him as a “modern-day cowboy” and Air Force veteran who “has roamed the country making a living as a horse-trainer, ranch manager, gun-slingin’ entertainer, hog hunter, artist, blacksmith, soldier and boxer.” His nickname was “Quick Draw” McGraw.
The Times-News, citing an associate of McGraw’s who asked not to be identified, confirmed Friday that the suspect in the Trump rally fracas is the same person from the July 2009 story.
“I believe in the Scripture as a road map to a way of life,” McGraw told the publication in 2009. “The Bible tells us how to live, to survive.”
The piece also noted that McGraw is a member of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) — “an international organization created to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting,” according to its website.
The group has affiliate clubs in all 50 states as well as in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Europe and South Africa. Members of the group are “required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star, or an appropriate character from fiction” — hence, “Quick Draw.” Then, “their costume is developed accordingly,” the site noted.
“You try your best to dress the part, use the appropriate competition tools, and respect the traditions of the Old West,” the website read. “Some folks would call it nothing more than good sportsmanship. We call it ‘Spirit of the Game.'”
In a telephone interview, California SASS member Marianne “Foxy Schoolmarm” Sanchez — who does not know McGraw — described the organization as “basically a reenactment type thing.”
“We were all kids; we ran around playing cowboys and Indians,” she said. “Basically it grew out of that idea.” She added: “I think part of it is the romance of it if that makes sense. The whole makebelieve — you can be anybody you want to be. You can be a good guy, be a bad guy and it’s fun and there’s camaraderie. Everyone is playing the same game, and everyone has their own idea of what it might have been like back then.”
Asked about the punch by CNN’s Jake Tapper at Thursday night’s Republican debate in Miami, Trump condemned the violence. Mostly. Here was the exchange:
TAPPER: Earlier today, a man was arrested and charged with assault after sucker punching a protester in the face at your rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. This is hardly the first incident of violence breaking out at one of your rallies.
Today, Hillary Clinton, your potential general election opponent, clearly indicated she sees this as an issue for the campaign. She said, quote, “this kind of behavior is repugnant. We set the tone for our campaigns, we should encourage respect, not violence.” Do you believe that you’ve done anything to create a tone where this kind of violence would be encouraged?
TRUMP: I hope not. 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. 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.
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.