In the past 48 hours, Donald Trump has failed on national TV to resoundingly reject the support of David Duke, a former member of the KKK and white supremacist radio host. He's said he could not hear the question well. His supporters insist he did distance himself from Duke on Friday. But these people either do not care or are not aware of Trump's long and also recent history of rather equivocal statements about Duke and the KKK. We encourage you to click on the link below. Read it with care.
Folks, if this is your idea of a disavowal, you do not know the meaning of the term.
As a result, prominent Republicans around the country have rejected him and his campaign for the White House outright and begun to talk openly about third-party candidates and even casting votes for Hillary Clinton, who they presume will be the Democratic presidential nominee. And Louis Farrakhan, the semi-retired leader of the Nation of Islam, has said he too appreciates Trump for running a self-financed campaign free of money from the “Jewish community.”
To be clear, both the KKK and the Nation of Islam are included on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups operating in the United States, and Duke as well as Farrakhan have been described by the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League as purveyors of hate and hate speech. And while neither man has offered Trump an official endorsement, they have both said that they like various aspects of his campaign.
If all of that has not graced the American public with enough to think about, on this the day on which Trump could gain an nearly insurmountable delegate lead thanks to Super Tuesday, there is also this: All over cable news, there is footage of two groups of mostly black students in two different states from two different colleges being removed from Trump rallies. One group, in Georgia, sat quietly and says they were singled out by people they believed to be Secret Service officers and removed. The Secret Service has said that it does not engage in the removal of protesters. A local law enforcement official said his officers and Trump security were involved in the removals there. A second group, at Radford University, were also removed by what they believed to be Secret Service officers after standing up and chanting in protest to Trump's comments — or rather a question, really — put to another protester.
The Fix thought it might be interesting to find out exactly what went on at that second gathering at Radford — to hear it from one of the young protesters, an admitted part of the Trump opposition camp but also someone too young to remember previous presidential campaigns in great detail. Is he horrified, amazed, overwhelmed or enraged by Trump and his campaign? Did the environment inside the Trump rally strike him as hate-filled or likely to inspire hate?
What follows is a Q&A with Joshua Nehemiah Bester, a 19-year-old media studies major at Radford.
THE FIX: So Trump spoke at a facility that belongs to Radford University on Monday. You all decided to protest. Why?
Bester: I think they assumed Southwest Virginia would be receptive to his message. And he would come here and just be met with nothing but cheers or something. But I think a lot of us felt like we cannot stand silent. That is not going down. I feel like we have to show him that there are black students and Muslim students and Latino students at Radford that are not going to be silent. He is a completely disrespectful and a destructive force in our country. We felt like we had an obligation to send a message.
We're students, yes. But students at Radford are beginning to know, more and more, how big a voice we have, even though we were small in number. We did stand up for what we believe is right. And we exercised our right to protest.
How long did you all have to plan?
Bester: We didn't have time, not much. It was actually more like a surprise. I think, if I remember correctly, that we found out Trump was coming out on Thursday. And we just got together and talked about it. We brainstormed some ideas. We came up with some rules and some plans about how we would handle different situations and then, you know, it was Monday.
What did you all have in mind yesterday when the day began?
Bester: We'd been told that the rally started at 10 a.m., but we also thought there would be a long line; a lot of people who wanted to get inside. So we decided to get there at 7. Well, some of us got there at 7 to make sure we would get inside. And it's a good thing we did, because the rally actually started at noon. But some of our friends who got there at 11 — they didn't get in at all. But those of us who did, I think there were 30 to 40 of us, we had decided we were going to get in there and let Trump speak for at least a half an hour unless someone did or said something to trigger us. We weren't wearing black or matching colors or anything like that. We went in there with dress shoes and bow ties; we were dressed professional, that's all. We decided we were going to sit quietly be there long enough to be seen and be heard, if we thought it necessary. We would speak if something triggered us.
Please walk me through what happened?
Bester: Well, I think we kind of made ourselves obvious from the beginning, because when Trump came out everyone stood up, they gave him a standing ovation, and there was a lot of cheering and all that. We just stayed in our seats and were silent. But we decided to stick to our 30-minute plan. But I think, between that and all of the reporters that had come over to ask us questions before the rally began, that the Secret Service [Bester used the term Secret Service although the agency has denied that their officers remove protesters from campaign events] had noticed us. And at that point, one of the officers, he came over and stood at the end of one of the rows where we were sitting. He was really watching us. And so we started texting back and forth with each other. I told some people, "Let's practice patience here. Otherwise this will be a wasted opportunity."
But really, almost as soon as Trump got started, he was having protesters booted left and right. The thing was at right about the half-hour mark when he asked one of the protesters if she is Mexican, or from Mexico. And that was it. That was the trigger. We just stood up and started with the first chant we had discussed.
Wait, you all had pre-planned protest chants? What were you chanting?
Bester: Yep. I mean, we were doing this because we wanted Trump to know that not everyone at Radford — not everyone in this area is perfectly okay with the things he stands for, with the things he says. We were there for all POCs [people of color] we have to stand against all injustice not just our own. So we stood and held hands and — CNN got this wrong, but at this point we didn’t say "black lives matter." We were chanting "No more hate. No more hate. Let’s be equal. Let’s be great." That's what we were saying until the point right before they moved us outside. That's when we switched to "black lives matter."
What happened next? How did you wind up outside of the facility? Were you manhandled?
Bester: Actually, I would say, yes, they [the security officers] put their hands on us — yes, they moved us off the floor over to a staircase and then out. But they weren't rough. Nobody was injured. I wasn't hurt. They just removed us. And honestly, it all happened really fast. It was really loud in there because at that point people in the crowd started reacting to us, screaming at us and Trump, I think we actually stumped Trump, because he stopped talking for a little while.
What were people in the crowd saying to you?
Bester: It was loud, so a lot of it was hard to hear. But I heard a lot of "Trump, Trump, Trump." Some of my friends told me they heard racial slurs — "n*****" and some other stuff. But we knew going in there that was a possibility. We also knew the only way out was probably going to be with an escort. So I expected all of that.
Were you scared?
Bester: You know what? there was so much hate in there in the air, in the atmosphere that it felt surreal. A lot of times, it's covert. Hate is covert. Racism is certainly covert. But people get really bold when they are together. And it was just unreal inside that rally. I turned around a saw the magazine photographer trying to move around and then I saw him get slammed to the ground.
So someone — Trump security or the Secret Service, depending on whom you believe — moved you all out of the rally. What happened next?
Bester: Well, there were a lot of people outside, and they had set up screens so that people could watch Trump. I saw a guy with a sign that said, "Thanks Trump You are Bringing White Supremacy Back." But there were also a lot of people out there who don't agree with this man and his message. When we came out, the LGBT student's group and women's studies group and some of the Latino Student Alliance kids that didn't make it inside were out there. We did start chanting "black lives matter," but mostly we did "RU [Radford University] Is Not For You" and "Estados Unidos, We Are United." There were a lot of reporters around asking us questions like, "Are you a Trump supporter. Why are you here? Who do you want to win?"
Well, maybe we should talk a little about that. As you know, Trump is the leading Republican candidate, by far. What do you think that your protest can accomplish, what did it accomplish? Why do it? I'm sure you know some people think it was disruptive or maybe rude.
Bester: I think what he says is rude. His ideology is rude. His platform is rude. His agenda is disrespectful. I’m not one to stand by and say nothing. This man is to leading in the polls. So the rest of us, we can’t just stand in silence while a madman continues to gain momentum and continues to gain support. We just can't. We did have some students, mostly white students, say some stuff to us on campus. They didn't like that we went in there and protested. Some of them felt like it was wrong to interrupt Trump. But we are not okay with him, and we believe that this man is not what America needs. And we do have a right to express that. We're hoping that everywhere he goes, people are going to stand up and do the same.