Protesters at recent Donald Trump campaign rallies have made almost as much news as the presidential candidate himself — getting sucker-punched, landing sucker punches, stopping traffic, stopping the rallies, claiming they were banned from the events.
Brandon Tatum, an officer in the Tucson Police Department, went to a Trump rally on Saturday as a civilian to see what was going on. In a subsequent video, he said he thought there was going to be “a full-fledged riot” at the event — but not because of Trump’s supporters.
The protesters were the problem, Tatum said.
“These people were acting so outrageous,” he said in the video, which went viral after it was uploaded to Facebook. “You were just thinking that somebody was going to lose their temper and there was going to be a full brawl.”
Tatum said he went to the rally at the Tucson Arena dressed in civilian clothes — a black shirt and khakis — to hear what Trump had to say.
The officer first met some peaceful protesters and stopped to “see their point of view.”
But at the door, he said, protesters were “verbally violent” — shouting “black lives matter,” holding up their middle fingers and screaming “f— Donald Trump.”
“I could not believe what I saw,” said Tatum, who is African American.
Someone in the crowd was wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, Tatum said, and people were “cussing and screaming” and tackling one another to the ground.
A mother was covering her child’s ears, said Tatum, a former spokesman for the police department who is now a patrol officer. (A Tuscon police dispatcher confirmed Tatum’s employment with the department.)
“People were directly yelling at me as if I’m a criminal, and all I’m trying to do is just hear what the man has to say,” Tatum said in the video.
He added: “I thought I was going to have to punch a couple of people in self-defense.”
On Saturday morning, protesters blocked traffic leading to a Trump rally near Phoenix — first with pickup trucks toting banners that read “Comb Over Racism: Dump Trump” and “Shut Down Trump,” and then on foot.
Some carried signs that said “Love Trumps Hate” and “Stand Against Racism.” One homemade sign read: “Combat White Supremacy.”
Hours later, protesters in Tucson formed a human wall in front of the entrance to a second rally site, chanting, “Shut it down!”
Inside, a man sucker-punched and stomped on a protester being escorted out by police.
The protester’s friend, who was also being escorted out, was wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood.
Trump told ABC News on Sunday that the Klan costume enraged the assailant, who was black.
“Frankly, that was a, you know, it was a tough thing to watch. And I watched it,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“But why would a protester walk into a room with a Ku Klux Klan outfit on?”
Tatum, the police officer, said on Facebook that authorities later found that “the protester that was punched did not provoke the other male,” adding: “I don’t need to state the obvious regarding my stance on assault.”
Tatum said that after attending the rally he found no issue with Trump — only with the protesters causing problems.
“I gained a lot of respect for Donald Trump,” Tatum said. “I think that if you want to know the truth about stuff, you got to examine it, you got to physically show up. You show up to events and you’ll get a perspective of what’s really going on and you won’t have to listen to what anybody else says.”
Tatum said Trump had rented out the venue and, therefore, had the legal right to remove people from the event.
It was the violent protesters who were violating people’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly, he said.
“I’m a police officer, and I have been through a lot of dramatic situations,” he said in his video, “and I have to be honest, I felt very uncomfortable there.”
As The Washington Post’s Jose A. DelReal reported, Trump indicated Sunday that his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, behaved appropriately while forcefully engaging with a protester at the rally in Tucson.
“I will give him credit, spirited,” Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner, told ABC when asked about Lewandowski being in the crowd. “I give him credit for having spirit. He wanted them to take down those horrible profanity-laced signs.”
As DelReal wrote, Trump has faced harsh criticism from detractors, who say he has set a tone that encourages violence at his campaign rallies. The front-runner strongly denies doing so. But violence has become a regular feature of Trump campaign events, culminating in a tense situation in Chicago involving brawls after one such event was canceled because of security concerns.
Trump has spoken dismissively about the violence at his events and has denied responsibility. He also has frequently winked at the incidents, saying at one event last month that he wanted to “punch a protester in the face” and telling supporters at other times that he would pay their legal bills if they got involved in physical altercations with demonstrators.
“Security at the arena, the police were a little bit lax,” Trump said Sunday. “And … they had signs up in that area that were horrendous, that I cannot say what they said on the sign. But the ultimate word — and it was all over the camera — and, frankly, the television cameras can’t take it and they can’t do anything about it.”
In a tweet, Tucson’s police chief praised his department’s efforts over Trump’s Saturday rally.
Very proud of how professionally, fairly, & capably my officers handled this afternoon's political rally & protests. pic.twitter.com/uedgwViI6b
— Chris Magnus (@ChiefCMagnus) March 20, 2016