CNN debate moderator Jake Tapper confronted Republican frontrunner Donald Trump on Thursday over an incident at a rally this week in which a man allegedly punched a protester.
Tapper asked Trump if the tone of his campaign incites violent behaviour at his rallies, and Trump defended his rhetoric.
“People come with tremendous passion and love for country,” Trump said.
“And when they see protests — in some cases — you’re mentioning one case, which I haven’t seen. I heard about it, which I don’t like. But when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger. They love this country,” he continued.
Still, Trump distanced himself from the man, who was charged with assault and battery Thursday, and condemned the alleged incident.
“I certainly do not condone that all Jake,” Trump said.
Tapper then confronted Trump with a laundry list of past quotes that Tapper suggested encouraged violence at his rallies.
On February 23, Tapper noted, Trump said of a protester: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
“February 27: ‘In the good ol’ days, they’d have ripped him out of that seat so fast.’ February 1: ‘Knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously, OK just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise,'” Tapper continued, quoting Trump’s past statements.
Trump insisted he had “bad dudes” at some of his rallies, and that it’s “usually” the police and event staff, not his personal security, who clash with protesters at his event.
“We have some protesters who are bad dudes,” Trump said. “They have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous, and they get in there, they start hitting people.”
“We should give our police — they’re incredible people — we should give them a great deal more respect than they receive,” Trump added.
Multiple videos posted online showed the alleged perpetrator of the Wednesday incident apparently throwing a punch at Rakeem Jones, identified by reports as the victim, as Jones was being escorted out of the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
After Jones was hit, he was thrown to the ground by law-enforcement officials who were escorting him out of the event.
The incident was the latest instance of Trump’s events featuring episodes of violence.
Most recently, a Time magazine photographer was thrown to the ground by a Secret Service agent in what the publication called a “chokehold.” And this week, a reporter for Breitbart News claimed that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed her by the arm and yanked her down as she was trying to ask Trump a question after a post-election press conference on Tuesday.
Allan Smith and Colin Campbell contributed to this report.
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