The toxic environment that’s become a trademark of Donald Trump’s raucous campaign turned violent again on Wednesday when a protester at the Republican frontrunner’s rally in Fayetteville, N.C., was sucker-punched by one of Trump’s supporters.
In a video of the incident posted to YouTube, Rakeem Jones, a 26-year-old black protester, was seen being led out of the event by security when he was punched in the face by what appeared to be a white Trump supporter. The audience cheered, and Jones was thrown to the ground by police.
“The police jumped on me like I was the one swinging,” Jones said. “My eye still hurts. It’s just shocking. The shock of it all is starting to set in. It’s like this dude really hit me, and they let him get away with it. I was basically in police custody and got hit.”
According to ABC News, Trump’s speech was interrupted at least 17 times by anti-Trump demonstrators.
The Fayetteville Police Department said no arrests were made at the rally. But after reviewing video of the incident, police in Cumberland County arrested the man who allegedly threw the punch — John McGraw, 78, of Linden, N.C — and charged him with assault and disorderly conduct.
“No one should be subjected to such a cowardly, unprovoked act as that committed by McGraw,” Cumberland County Sheriff Earl “Moose" Butler said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Regardless of political affiliation, speech, race, national origin, color, gender, bad reputation, prior acts or political demonstration, no other citizen has the right to assault another person or to act in such a way as this defendant did. I hope that the courts will handle this matter with the appropriate severity for McGraw’s severe and gross violation of this victim’s rights.”
Shortly after the conclusion Wednesday’s rally, “Inside Edition” interviewed McGraw, who freely admitted assaulting Jones.
“You bet I liked it,“ McGraw said when asked if he liked the event, "clocking the hell out of that big mouth.”
McGraw was then asked why he punched Jones.
“Well, number one, we don’t know if he’s ISIS,” McGraw said, “We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me…and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.”
He added: “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s Democratic counterparts condemned the incident.
"No one in America should ever fear for their safety at a political rally,” Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “This ugly incident confirms that the politics of division has no place in our country. Mr. Trump should take responsibility for addressing his supporters’ violent actions.”
“Count me among those who are truly distraught and even appalled by a lot of what I see going on, what I hear being said,“ Hillary Clinton told MSNBC. "You know, you don’t make America great by, you know, dumping on everything that made America great, like freedom of speech and assembly and, you know, the right of people to protest.”
She added: “As the [Trump] campaign goes further, more and more Americans are going to be really disturbed by the kind of campaign he’s running.”
It’s not the first time a Trump rally has taken a violent turn. CBS News reports that police are investigating at least two alleged assaults that occurred at a rally in Kentucky.
And Trump himself has helped fuel the violence.
At a rally in Las Vegas last month, the brash billionaire said he wanted to punch a protester who was being escorted from the event.
“There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches. We’re not allowed to punch back anymore,” Trump said. “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher.”
He added: “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.”
In November, after a Black Lives Matter demonstrator was punched and kicked at a rally in Birmingham, Ala., Trump suggested the activist deserved to be assaulted.
“Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said on Fox News.
And it’s not just protesters who have been “roughed up” at the real estate mogul’s campaign events.
Last month, a Time magazine photographer was grabbed by the neck and slammed to the ground by a member of the Secret Service at a Trump rally at Radford University in Virginia.
And on Tuesday, Michelle Fields, a reporter for Breitbart News, was reportedly grabbed and nearly thrown to the ground by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as she was attempting to ask the GOP frontrunner a question after his press conference.
“Trump acknowledged the question, but before he could answer I was jolted backwards,” Fields wrote in a blog post. “Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.”
While Fields did not see who grabbed her, a reporter for the Washington Post told her it was Lewandowski.
“I quickly turned around and saw Lewandowski and Trump exiting the building together. No apology. No explanation for why he did this,” she wrote. “Even if Trump was done taking questions, Lewandowski would be out of line. Campaign managers aren’t supposed to try to forcefully throw reporters to the ground, no matter the circumstance.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks dismissed Fields’ claim.
"There are often large crowds aggressively seeking access to Mr. Trump,” Hicks said in a statement to ABC News. “And our staff would never do anything to harm another individual.”
In response, Fields tweeted a photo of bruises on her left arm.
— Michelle Fields (@MichelleFields)
“I guess these just magically appeared on me,” she wrote.
At Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Miami, Trump was asked if he believes he’s helped create a tone at his rallies where violence would be encouraged.
“I hope not. I truly hope not,” Trump replied. “People come with tremendous passion and love for the country, and when they see protest … when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger.”
He added: “We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous and they get in there and they start hitting people. And we had a couple big, strong, powerful guys doing damage to people, not only the loudness, the loudness I don’t mind. But doing serious damage.”