RADFORD, VA. — A Donald Trump rally in southwest Virginia on the eve of Super Tuesday turned nasty, with repeated disruptions by protesters and a scuffle between a Secret Service agent and a photographer.
Trump addressed a crowd of thousands in a Radford University gymnasium, as many more waited outside. The Republican front-runner started his remarks by citing a new CNN poll showing him with a huge national lead. The New York billionaire is poised to win many of the states voting on Tuesday and has led the polls in Virginia. He said he's positioned to win states that historically back Democrats, including New York and Michigan.
As Trump spoke, he lamented interruptions to his message about how he'd keep jobs in the United States.
Trump was describing how he would react to companies such as Carrier moving air conditioner production to Mexico when he was interrupted by commotion in nearby bleachers. The crowd was jeering at an apparent protester.
“Are you from Mexico?” he repeatedly shouted at the woman as she stepped down from the bleachers.
On the other side of the room, three rows of young people, mostly African Americans, stood up, holding hands and shouting, "No more hate." It took nearly 10 minutes to escort them out of the room as supporters jeered, and Trump shouted to get the protesters out.
"All lives matter," Trump shouted as they left to loud cheers, mirroring similar comments made Sunday in Alabama.
Shortly after, Christopher Morris, a photographer for Time magazine, was attempting to leave the press section to photograph the Black Lives Matter protesters when he was "thrown to the ground in a choke hold" by a Secret Service agent, Time said.
Secret Service agent choke-slams reporter pic.twitter.com/jdsHOlylSB
— Joe Perticone (@JoePerticone) Feb. 29, 2016
Morris later told reporters that he "never touched" the agent. Video shows that after Morris was thrown to the ground by the agent, he kicked at the officer who was trying to restrain him. Video also shows Morris reaching for the officer's neck, which Morris says was to demonstrate what the officer had done to him. Time said Morris was briefly detained.
Trump also reiterated his calls to make it easier to sue reporters for libel, maintaining that he's a strong believer in the freedom of the press. One audience member shouted an expletive after Trump repeated a likely false story about U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing ordering Muslim insurgents shot with bullets soaked in pigs' blood more than a century ago.
Thousands waited in a line to get in the stadium that snaked around the parking lot and onto the sidewalk of the street leading in. Dozens wore white shirts touting Trump as "Finally someone with balls." Hundreds sported orange stickers saying "Guns save lives."
"The establishment needs to get behind him, just like [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie did," said James Taylor, a 43-year-old landscaper from Indian Valley, Va.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made four stops in Virginia on Sunday, tearing into Trump, calling him a con man and attacking him in unusually personal terms. He mocked Trump for having "small hands" and pores clogged with spray tan. Trump appeared unfazed by the attacks Monday, continuing to refer to the Florida senator as "Little Rubio."
Frank Pruitt, a 22-year-old Virginia Tech student, said he's been drawn to Trump as an outsider with good business chops ever since the billionaire declared his candidacy. He said he cringes at some of Trump's remarks, but added that the conservative resistance to Trump is misplaced.
"The way I see it is you are going to eventually have to vote for him if you want to support a Republican," said Pruitt, who was carrying a paperback copy of Trump's "The Art of the Deal."
"And honestly, it can't be worse than Obama."