While the primaries continue on Tuesday, multiple incidents at the Republican candidate’s rallies could galvanize his supporters.
The video taken a few days ago in Missouri is chilling. It shows Faizan Syed, a member of a Muslim association, engaging in conversation with Donald Trump’s supporters lining up to get into one of Trump’s rallies. Most of them look away, some talk and smile. Suddenly, a man wearing a cap with Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” appears on screen. He repeatedly shouts “Allah is a pig.” Then, when Syed tries to address the man, he yells, “Get out of my sight! F–k you! You’re an infidel. Islam and Sharia law can go back to where you came from.” The young man calmly replies, “I am American and I love you even if you hate me.” But his voice is drowned out by the protester’s hollering that no one tries to contradict.
While five states are voting this Tuesday, the American campaign seems to be at a turning point. If Trump wins Florida and Ohio, he will practically secure the Republican nomination at a time when his candidacy divides more than ever. Most of the billionaire’s appearances are tainted by misbehavior: insults against African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims; violence against protesters, harassing of journalists. On Friday for the first time, the Republican front-runner cancelled a rally in Chicago for security reasons. Hundreds of protesters (Democrats and members of “Black Lives Matter,” an anti-racist movement) managed to enter the room. At the announcement of the cancellation, violent clashes erupted between Trump’s supporters and opponents.
According to the journalists following the campaign of the businessman on a daily basis, each side bears a share of the responsibility. Protesters interrupt Trump’s speech at each rally. Some make insults; some make obscene gestures or throw themselves on the ground making it difficult for police to throw them out. Irritated and nervous, Trump’s supporters often react with violence pushing the protesters and spitting on them.
On Thursday, a 78-year-old man punched an African-American protester in the face in North Carolina. The man who threw the punch was arrested and charged, and told a reporter that he had no regrets. “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. He might be with a terrorist organization.”
The intensification of violence raises fears that a serious crime will occur. Last week, Tomas Kennedy, a student from Miami who has participated in several demonstrations, said, “One day, one of his supporters will pull a gun and kill a protester.”* Despite the risks, this son of Argentine immigrants thinks it is necessary to “protest to stop Donald Trump.”* Breinna Whitehurst, an activist from the city of Ferguson, a symbol of police racism, agrees. “It is extremely important to keep on protesting, to keep on trying to cancel his rallies because it is one of our weapons to fight his rhetoric full of hatred and the white supremacy that exists in our country. The simple fact that Donald Trump is a candidate is a shame and I hope that the demonstrations will show other countries that many Americans are doing their best to stop him.”*
The strategy could have the opposite effect. Excessively exposed by the media, the repeated misconduct may galvanize Trump’s supporters and rally the undecided. After the canceled rally in Chicago, the billionaire acted as if he were the victim, accusing “thugs” bankrolled by the “communist” Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, of hindering his freedom of expression. “Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours [rallies]!” he threatened on Twitter. The coming weeks will tell who benefits from all the agitation.
In the meantime, by dint of stigmatizing immigrants and Muslims, Trump has managed to harness the anger: the anger of his supporters, often white and who wish that America would stay that way, and the anger of his detractors who accuse him of playing on fears and of stirring up racism. “I don’t see where that anger goes, except into violence,” the historian Heather Cox Richardson predicted recently. Forced to react to the outbreak of tension, the three Republican candidates running against the billionaire vividly criticized him. John Kasich accused him of having created a “toxic atmosphere,” and Ted Cruz accused Trump of “encouraging the violence.” Hillary Clinton called him a “political pyromaniac.” As for Barack Obama, without naming the real estate magnate, he called on candidates on Saturday to reject “insults and violence against other Americans.”
Donald Trump assures us that he “certainly did not condone violence.” However, on several occasions these last few weeks he has encouraged the aggressiveness toward protesters, revealing his desire to “punch one of them in the face,”* and promising his supporters that he will pay their legal fees if they assault demonstrators. “The seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit,” said Ohio Gov. Kasich. Fruit with a more and more bitter taste, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate movements in the United States. Their number has increased by 14 percent in 2015, mainly due to the increase in Ku Klux Klan groups. An increase encouraged by the provocative rhetoric of Trump, say the authors of the report for whom the billionaire “has electrified the radical right.”*
*Editor’s note: Although this quote is accurately translated, it could not be verified.