Donald Trump isn’t exactly apologetic about an incident at his rally in Birmingham, Ala., over the weekend in which a protester sporting a Black Lives Matter shirt was reportedly punched, kicked and knocked to the ground. The Republican presidential front-runner said Sunday on Fox News that “maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
But some conservative media outlets have volunteered another defense for Trump and his supporters: Perhaps the protester, Mercutio Southall, wasn’t really roughed up at all.
Breitbart is leading the way in questioning the first-hand reporting of other journalists who covered the event, which was attended by about 10,000 people. A Washington Post reporter wrote that she “watched as one of the men put his hands on Southall’s neck and heard a female onlooker repeatedly shout: ‘Don’t choke him!’ ”
CNN captured part of the altercation on video and published this summary on its Web site:
Several attendees at the rally punched and kicked a protester who tried to disrupt Trump's speech.
At least a half-dozen attendees shoved and tackled the protester, a black man, to the ground as he refused to leave the event. At least one man punched the protester and a woman kicked him while he was on the ground.
All of the attendees who were involved in the physical altercation with the protester were white.
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) November 21, 2015
Yet in a story bearing Breitbart’s customary all-caps headline (CNN’s NEW TRUMP SLAM NOT SUPPORTED BY ITS OWN VIDEO), the conservative site offers a different version of events. In this account, “it is unclear how the black protester ended up on the ground.”
Southall, “as he rises to get up, throws a punch, which fails to connect with any members of the crowd. One attendee, wearing a blue and white shirt and khaki pants, assumes a boxing stance in response, but that appears to be primarily a defensive mechanism.”
Breitbart adds that “a close look at the video offered by CNN to substantiate its account, however, does not appear to show ‘one man punch[ing] the protester,’ or ‘a woman kick[ing] him while he was on the ground.’ ”
In the tightly packed crowd, it is difficult to make out everything going on in the 30-second video. But the tape begins with the scuffle already in progress, meaning it doesn’t show the whole episode. A woman making a kicking motion is visible in the bottom left corner of the frame, though it is hard to tell whether she connects with Southall. A female voice yelling “don’t choke him!” can be heard clearly.
Breitbart noted that it had a reporter on the scene who “did not see or capture on video the events prior to the escorting of the protester out of the hall.”
Rise News, a news site that caters to the millennial generation, also had a reporter in the room and published this first-hand account:
About ten feet behind me a scrum broke out in the crowd. The guy was shouting ‘black lives matter’ and working his way through the crowd. A wall of people turned and started pushing against him. Then this group moved down like somebody had been shoved to the ground. Then the cops and security came and escorted him out. The BLM guy seemed wild eyed, then he started shouting f*** Trump as they walked him out. Many in the crowd told the man to calm down and told him that all lives mattered.
(Rise News also prominently pictures Southall giving the middle finger to Trump supporters on his way out.)
Meanwhile, the Right Scoop, another conservative site, trotted out this analysis: “But, if you’ll notice, one of the guards ushering him out is black. So why didn’t the ‘racist’ Trump supporters attack him too?! Racists just aren’t what they used to be!!” The Right Scoop also warned its readers about what to expect from the rest of the press: “The media is going to try to make this a racial incident because a Black Lives Matter guy got into a fight with several Trump supporters.”
So, let’s review: Southall wasn’t really attacked. That’s a liberal media creation on which multiple reporters who were present are apparently conspiring. And if he was attacked, he deserved it. He was, after all, “wild-eyed.” The nice people in the crowd were simply trying to calm him down while declaring their concern for all human lives. And the fact that they didn’t also attack the black security guard proves there was no racism here.
This is a real narrative that exists and will likely be embraced by people who are inclined to disbelieve the mainstream media and/or think Black Lives Matter activists are out of hand. And it helps illustrate why Trump is maintaining — nay, expanding — his lead in the GOP primary race. His supporters not only reject the notion that the ugly incidents and divisive rhetoric coming out of his campaign events are a problem; in some cases, they reject the idea that they even happened or, at least, happened the way the mainstream media says they did.
Against that backdrop, it's no wonder the many controversies that follow Trump haven't undercut his base of support. There is almost always an alternative version of events out there for supporters to embrace.