As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrived at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday night for a scheduled rally, thousands of protesters gathered outside to make their opposition known to Trump’s hateful and racist rhetoric.
Trump’s racist rhetoric
Hundreds more managed to find their way inside the venue, and before the event took place started to chant “shut it down” according to witnesses. As the protesters got louder, a campaign spokesperson took the stage and announced the canceling of the rally, citing safety concerns.
As protesters cheered and started to chant “we stopped Trump,” the situation quickly escalated from non-violent civil disobedience to punches and verbal confrontations. As Trump supporters hurled racist insults at the protesters and protesters called Trump’s supporters racists and bigots, the scene turned unruly and security and police on hand quickly lost control of the situation.
Trump quickly grabbed his phone and started taking phone interviews with mainstream media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. When asked directly if he believed his anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric could have led to the protesters outside and inside, Trump said he didn’t believe so and instead blamed Chicago’s economic disparity for the protesters anger. He refused on every station he visited to take any responsibility for protesters and at one point even tried to blame Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, mentioning that many of the protesters had chanted “Bernie!” after the event was called off.
Trump said he believed his first amendment right to free speech had been violated, a claim that was reiterated by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly when she said:
“And so, all eyes for the moment are on Donald Trump and how he handles this situation in Chicago, where his First Amendment free speech rights have been shut down. The right of those to listen to him, and as that one gentleman put it so well, ‘I just wanted to hear him for myself. I just want to hear him for myself.’,” Kelly said.
“That was shut down, by folks who have an agenda,” she continued, “and that’s fine. You can depose Donald Trump, go for it. But is this the way? Is this the way to shut down the ability of Chicagoans and those who have traveled in some cases for miles and miles and waited for hours and hours to get in, to have their say and hear him for themselves? For all these people know, they weren’t Trump supporters. Maybe that gentleman would have walked away saying “You know what? He’s not for me.” We’ll never know now because they shut down their right to listen.”
However, Both Kelly and Trump neglected to tell viewers that Trump canceled the rally of his own volition and was not told by anyone he could not take the stage and deliver his message. Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon that the Chicago Police Department urged him to cancel the event, but an official for the police department said they gave no such advice.
Conservative commentators like Kelly and Trump himself claimed to be shocked that such outrage would be waged against the presidential candidate, saying his campaign was about bringing the country together, not further dividing it.
Violence is all but becoming the norm at Trump events, as Trump himself has encouraged his supporters to punch protesters, said himself he wishes he could punch them, and also offered to the pay the legal fees of anyone who does beat up a protester.
“Violence at these events, which may start organically, is in effect spot lit and encouraged to the point where it becomes something that is legitimately out of control of anyone,” MNSBC’s Rachel Maddow explained. “And then the spectacle of political violence is itself seen as something that is a problem that needs to be solved by this strongman character who incited the initial event in the first place.”
Some have tried to call the actions of the protesters undemocratic and returned to the argument that no matter how hateful Trump’s speeches are, his right to deliver them is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Yet, by making the decision on his own to cancel the event with not interference by the federal or state government, Trump’s rights could not have been violated. The first amendment protects a citizen from being silenced by their government, not from being drowned out by protesters. The protesters themselves were exercising their first amendment rights and the police’s actions in not stopping them were the officers upholding their duty to the protesters.
One thing remains certain, violence and protests like this during a presidential primary is unheard of in the United States and it seems it may only increase as Trump continues to tour the country spreading a message many Americans find hateful and harmful.