Viral videos of protesters at Donald Trump rallies being threatened and shoved have been viewed tens of thousands of times.
Among the curious viewers was the security staff at the DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., seeking clues for how to handle the crowd when the Republican presidential front-runner brings his famously raucous show to the 7,000-seat stadium on Monday.
“We are prepared,” DeltaPlex President Joel Langlois said. “Our security team does their homework, and they reviewed the videos online.”
The emotions that Trump sparks among supporters and protesters, and his willingness to stoke anger among hecklers, are adding new levels of preparedness for local police and other security personnel tasked with protecting him and trying to maintain public order at his campaign events.
The dynamic is another example of the way that the brash New York real estate magnate is upending the traditional rules of politics as he rises in the polls with tough talk and inflammatory rhetoric.
While candidates typically ignore hecklers or stop speaking as security guards intervene, Trump has shouted from the stage for protesters to be removed and recently suggested after one Black Lives Matter heckler was punched and kicked at a rally in Birmingham that “maybe he should have been roughed up.”
The latest melee came this week in Las Vegas, where a protester was taunted with shouts of “shoot him!” and “kick his ass!” as security guards detained him and police officers escorted him out.
Much of the peacekeeping burden during rallies falls on private security guards and off-duty police hired by the campaign and event venue operators, security experts said.
Local police are often on duty outside events to monitor traffic and security issues in public places, but they are not responsible for removing protesters on private property. And while the Secret Service began providing protection to Trump in November — following protocols in which the agency takes responsibility for the safety of presidential candidates drawing high polling numbers and meeting other criteria — agents are trained to intervene only if there is a direct threat to the candidate.
As a result, some experts said, if shoving or fighting breaks out, it is not always clear who is responsible for protecting the safety of the public, including protesters.
“This is the challenge of the Trump campaign — it’s a chaos campaign,” said Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who served on the protective detail for first lady Michelle Obama. “The U.S. Secret Service cannot get sucked into the chaos.”
Secret Service officials said that engaging in crowd control could divert agents from monitoring the candidate, leaving them more vulnerable.
“We’re not going to use our assets for that; we are there for the protectee,” Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said. “If someone is getting raucous, it’s up to the host staff or the campaign staff to coordinate with local law enforcement. Our only involvement would be if the person made a move toward the stage.”
In preparing for a campaign event, a Secret Service advance agent consults with Trump’s campaign staff and local law enforcement about the specific location and details of the event, mapping out how Trump will enter and exit and where he will stand.
Federal officials said Trump’s staff is responsible for approving who is invited into a campaign event and for deciding when event staff should remove — or “disinvite” — a protester. The Secret Service uses magnetometers to check guests for weapons.
That some of the most dramatic incidents have involved black and Hispanic protesters being shouted down by white supporters has added racial overtones to the spectacle. Trump, who has dominated the GOP race with his hard-line support for immigration limits and a proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, has become a focal point for immigrant rights activists and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In September, Trump’s personal bodyguard punched an immigration protester in the head outside Trump Tower, in a chaotic scene captured on video.
“That’s not a normal reaction, quite frankly, from a candidate,” said W. Ralph Basham, who served as the director of the Secret Service from 2003 to 2006. “Generally speaking, they exercise more patience.”
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not respond to email requests for comment.
Ender Austin III, a small-business owner and minister, was one of the protesters who was roughed up at the Las Vegas event this week. He said he had obtained tickets online and arrived with the intention of disrupting the proceedings.
When Trump invited a group of parents to the stage to speak about their children being killed by undocumented immigrants, Austin and a friend began shouting and chanting “Dump Trump.”
“I wanted to address the things Mr. Trump was saying, things that I do not feel represent who we are as a nation,” Austin said in an interview.
Things then turned ugly at the Las Vegas event.
A video of part of the incident shows several burly men in black suits, who appear to be private security guards, grabbing Austin, who is on the ground. Trump supporters around him filmed the scene on their cellphones, and a voice is heard saying: “Light the [expletive] on fire.”
Two uniformed members of the Las Vegas Police Department moved in and guided Austin out of the crowd before removing him from the building.
Austin said he expected to be ejected from the rally but “I did not expect anyone to physically assault me.”
By the end of the rally, which continued after the raucous encounter, between 15 and 20 people had been removed on trespassing violations, said Laura Meltzer, a Las Vegas police spokeswoman.
None was arrested or charged with a crime, but all were removed from the property and not permitted to reenter, she said.
Meltzer added that the Westgate Hotel, which hosted the Trump event, had hired several Las Vegas police officers to work with the hotel’s security division through a police department program that provides off-duty officers with overtime opportunities. A public relations firm representing the Westgate did not respond to a request for comment, and a Westgate executive did not return a phone message.
Austin, who is married and has two young children, said he felt he was improperly manhandled by the security guards and considered the event to be an “unsafe environment, not just for myself but for anyone involved.”
Asked whether he considered himself culpable for disrupting the event, he added: “If I lived in a fascist regime, I’d be lucky to not be hurt or arrested. But in a country that purports to respect free speech, that should be the case for the protesters as well as the people who are there for the rally.”
Trump’s campaign appears to have recognized the potential for problems. Ahead of a rally in Des Moines last week, the campaign played an announcement to the crowd noting that “some people are taking advantage of Mr. Trump’s hospitality by choosing to disrupt his rallies.”
If a protester disrupts the event, the campaign instructed the crowd, “please do not touch or harm the protester” but rather “hold a rally sign over your head and start chanting: ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ Ask the people around you to do likewise until the officer removes the protester.”
Just 30 minutes into the event, his supporters followed the script after a protester interrupted as someone else was asking Trump about the potential for Syrian refugees to sneak into the United States. The crowd held up signs and chanted Trump’s name as police rushed into the stands.
“That was exciting,” Trump marveled. “Out! Get him out.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.