Scuffles between Trump backers and protesters in the arena led to the cancellation of the event, and followed episodes of tension and violence this week in Missouri, Florida and North Carolina.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Tonight in Chicago, the Donald Trump campaign called off a rally out of what they called safety concerns. Clashes broke out in the arena where thousands of people were waiting for the candidate to speak. Soon after the crowd dispersed, Trump started calling in to various cable news networks. This is from MSNBC.
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DONALD TRUMP: Rather than having everybody get in and mix it up, I thought it would be a wise thing - and after speaking with the law enforcement, I just thought it would be a wise thing for us to postpone this rally.
SHAPIRO: We’re going now to Tony Arnold of member station WBEZ who was there in the Chicago arena as this all unfolded. And Tony, begin by just telling us what you saw.
TONY ARNOLD,: Hi, Ari. This really - you know, I got in to the arena around 3 o’clock. The arena seats about a little less than 10,000 people, and the line was already around the block like you’ve seen at many other Trump events. And the arena itself is really just kind of on the near West Side of the city. It’s not that far from downtown, but it is on the college campus of the University of Illinois, Chicago. And about an hour before the speech was scheduled to begin here, an entire section of the arena started to get filled with people who were obviously not Trump supporters. They made it very well-known right away. And one by one, the police started taking some of them out, ones that were directly involved in confrontations with some Trump supporters. And at one point, Trump supporters who were on the floor of the arena went over to the section of the stadium, and they had - the two sides kind of had this stare down going on for a while with the police in between. And then right - maybe Trump was scheduled to speak around 6 o’clock Chicago time, and about half an hour later, they came on the PA and said because of safety concerns, they would - they were going to cancel it. And at that point, it became just kind of a free-for-all - just Trump supporters booing immensely and the supporters cheering, chanting the words party because they felt like they had one.
SHAPIRO: Now you talk about a confrontation, people starting each other down. We have also seen footage of violence - people throwing punches. Did you see any of that?
ARNOLD: I saw people who had - were throwing things at the opponents. I did certainly see some of that. And here outside - since it ended, since it was disperses, they came on the PA and told the crowd to leave immediately. And within a few minutes, the whole stadium had been emptied out. When that happened, you had all these Trump supporters going outside to where all the protestors were. The protestors, at this point, had been outside. And then there was this mix of that. And the police had completely - still has the streets completely blocked off. So there was this mix, though, of Trump supporters and the protestors outside. And when that happened, I did see a chase ensue where it looked like a Trump supporter was being chases by some of the opponents. I saw another stare down, but nothing happened because the police presence was so strong of the different groups of Trump supporters and opponents. And just now that I’m talking to you, we’re starting to see the Trump supporters leave the parking garage. They’re being escorted by police. And as that’s going on, they’re passing this line of protestors who - and, honestly, both sides are extending the middle finger at each other. And you can hear police sirens behind me.
SHAPIRO: All right, that’s Tony Arnold…Tony Arnold of member station WBEZ reporting to us from the scene where the Trump campaign has called off a scheduled rally for tonight. Thanks very much, Tony.
ARNOLD: Thanks, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Now, here in the studio with us is NPR’s Scott Detrow who has reported on violence at Trump rallies leading up to tonight. And Scott, how unusual is what we’ve seen in Chicago this evening?
SCOTT DETROW: Well, we haven’t seen anything on this scale yet, but there’s been growing concern about violence at Trump events. Earlier this week, a Trump supporter punched a protestor at a North Carolina rally. And Trump’s basic approach has been to blame protestors, saying they’re the aggressors. He was asked about it this morning at a press conference in Florida, and Trump basically said that supporters of his had been justified when they’re confronted protestors and these rallies.
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TRUMP: He was swinging. He was hitting people. And the audience hit back. And that’s what we need a little bit more of.
SHAPIRO: Now, as we’ve said, after tonight’s rally in Chicago was called off, Trump called in to MSNBC, Fox, CNN. Tell us about what his response to this evening’s events has been.
DETROW: All right. Well, as we heard, Trump said that he didn’t want to see any conflict, that he had consulted with law enforcement and thought it made sense to cancel this event. In the statement Trump’s campaign sent out, he asked people to go in peace, but it was interesting that Trump quickly pivoted to kind of talking points from his campaign. He talked about the economy. This is on MSNBC and Fox News. He talked about trade issues, President Obama. And he made the argument that these protestors were angry about the economy as opposed to his policies and what he’s been talking about on the campaign trail.
SHAPIRO: It really did feel like he was giving his typical talking points almost like a version of a stump speech when he called in to these networks, not sort of the - let’s take a step back and assess what’s happening this moment.
DETROW: Exactly - talking about China, things like that.
SHAPIRO: Well, if you would, Scott, take a step back and put into context what is happening at this moment. You know, how has the mood been at these rallies lately? Give us the big picture.
DETROW: Well, there have been isolated incidents at Trump rallies for a while now. That cut that we heard a moment ago, he was talking about an event back in November in Los Vegas where, on the stage, Trump had said that he wanted to take a swing at the protestor at that point in time. But there’s been a lot more focus on this lately, and that’s because of that event in North Carolina where the protestor - rather, an attendee of the event basically sucker-punched a protestor who was being escorted out. There was also an event - an incident that happened in Florida on Tuesday night after Trump won several primaries where a reporter says Trump’s campaign manager grabbed her, nearly threw her to the ground. Trump and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, both deny this. But the Jupiter, Fla., Police Department are investigating it. This afternoon, Donald Trump had a rally in St. Louis that was incredibly tense, incredibly contentious. It was interrupted by several protests, and Trump was very confrontational with these protestors.
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TRUMP: They’re allowed to get up and interrupt us horribly, and we have to be very, very gentle, very gentle. They can swing. They can hit people. But if we hit them back, it’s a terrible, terrible thing, right?
SHAPIRO: And still eight months to go until the election (laughter).
DETROW: Exactly - and more campaigns. At this event in St. Louis, there was video of scuffles and arguments outside, so it’s been happening.
SHAPIRO: That’s NPR’s Scott Detrow. And just to repeat, we’ve been following news of clashes at the scene of a Donald Trump campaign rally that was called off tonight in Chicago.
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