Donald Trump took on protesters again during a Kansas City speech Saturday night as police used pepper spray to disperse crowds outside.
Trump’s stop at the Arvest Bank Theater at the Midland came at the most volatile point yet in a unorthodox campaign year. As Trump supporters clashed with protesters in Chicago on Friday night — a handful of people were arrested and three were sent to hospitals with minor injuries — the candidate canceled a rally in the heart of that city.
“We’ve had an interesting couple of days,” Trump said as he began speaking in Kansas City.
Soon after he spotted some protesters. “Get’ em out of there, get ’em out,” he said. But, he said, “We don’t want to hurt the protesters.”
He spend many minutes having protested cleared from the auditorium.
“These are bad, bad people, and now we’re going to take our country back from these people,” he said.
“I told the police there might be problems. ... They said, why aren’t you cancelling. I said no, I’m not cancelling.”
Police Chief Darryl Forté tweeted during the speech that he was aware of no discussions of canceling the event.
Trump expressed his affection for police, though, and hoped they would arrest the protesters.
“They’re violating all of us,” Trump said. “I’ll file whatever charges you want. Let them have big arrest mark.”
Two protesters outside had been arrested in the afternoon, one a woman for throwing a glass bottle outside the theater, according to Forté.
During the speech, police used pepper spray to disperse a group of 200 people who were preparing to fight, Forté said.
Then, about 7:30 p.m., a handful of protesters began to push out into the street. They were met by police officers on horseback. About 10 minutes later they were sprayed by police. The crowd scattered and some began shouting at the police, but there did not appear to be any arrests or any serious injuries.
Forté said police had removed masked protesters from the street, and that some were throwing objects.
“There's been no riot in our city,” the chief tweeted. “Most in downtown area lawfully expressed themselves while lawfully assembling.”
The scene was generally peaceful in the afternoon, although loud.
About three dozen anti-Trump protesters had engaged in a prolonged shouting match along with Trump supporters along Main Street in the hours preceding Trump’s appearance.
The protesters yelled, “Free education” and held signs saying “Make America Kind Again” while the Trump backers yelled, “Build that wall” and “USA! USA!”
About 2:30 p.m. Kansas City police erected a temporary barricade along the streetcar track to separate protesters from supporters. It stretched along the entire 1200 block of Main Street. Meantime, the line of Trump supporters waiting to enter the venue stretched north to 12th street and then to the west along 12th Street for another block.
One Trump protester, Liz Blumenthal of Kansas City, managed to walk alongside the Trump crowd holding a sign that read, “A Vote for Trump is a Vote for Hate.”
Police presence was heavy with many officers on foot and a number of squad cars driving along the street.
About 4 p.m., a small number of protesters wearing masks moved among the crowd, prompting Forté to post a warning on Twitter about “known agitators” who would “probably use the event to act out.”
Forté suggested that some protesters had come from out of state, but also said that they were welcome and weren’t suspected of anything.
At either end of Main Street, small numbers of protesters at times crossed the street to confront Trump supporters, leading to shouting and arguments, but nothing more.
Most of the protesters were young people, some of whom had never been to a political protest or rally before.
Flor Valenzuela came with her sister, Alicia, and brother, Jesus, to protest Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants. The three were born and raised in Kansas City, but their father came from Durango, Mexico.
Flor carried a sign reading “My dad didn’t fight for my future to be called a rapist.”
“My dad came here illegally,” Flor said. “He left behind his whole family to make a better life for us.”
Across the street from them, an African-American church pastor from Wyandotte County gave his name only as Kevin and said he backed Trump because traditional politicians had failed ordinary Americans.
“I don’t agree with everything he says,” Kevin said. “But your votes don’t count if you vote for a Bush or a Clinton. We’re not looking for a politician, because if they could have fixed things, they would have done it by now.”
“He’s refreshing,” said David Wainright as he waited in the Trump line. “He’s not a career politician. “
Wainright did not get a chance to see Trump, however. The doors were closed shortly before 7 p.m., about half an hour after Trump’s speech started.
A poll released Friday showed Trump with a narrow lead among Missouri Republicans. The state holds its presidential primary on Tuesday.
With televised images of angry confrontations in Chicago, sometimes showing punches thrown, the political world exploded Friday night with instant reactions.
Trump and his supporters pointed the finger Friday at their opposition. The candidate described protesters as thugs and said that demonstrators drawn to his events sometimes came “swinging” — although there had been no confirmation that protesters acted violently before the Chicago rally. He’d said from different stages that he’d like to punch a protester “in the face” and he pined for a day when protesters would have been hauled away “on a stretcher.”
Friday’s clashes prompted him to say that protesters had infringed on free speech. After all, a political rally evaporated in the face of the threat of violence.
“I spoke with law enforcement and made (the decision to cancel) in conjunction with law enforcement, and I think we made a wise decision,” Trump told MSNBC in one of several phone interviews with cable channels on Friday night.
Yet a Chicago Police Department spokesman told The Associated Press that the police did not suggest cancellation. That police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said the department had adequate manpower to cover the rally. Rather, he said, the decision to shut down came “independently” from the Trump campaign.
At a Saturday morning appearance in Ohio, Secret Service agents briefly rushed the stage to form a protective circle around Trump after a man leapt over a barricade.
The man, later identified by authorities as Thomas Dimassimo of Fairborn, Ohio, was able to touch the stage before he was tackled by security officials. He was later charged with disorderly conduct and inducing panic.
In his speech in Kansas City, Trump said the man was “ISUS or ISIS-related.” according to “my Internet people.”
In Kansas City, a Facebook page labeled “Trump Out of KC!” sprang up to organize protesters. Others on Twitter using #ShutItDown indicated they were emboldened by their success in contributing to the cancellation of the Chicago event.
“The fascist clown Donald Trump is coming to our city this Saturday,” someone wrote on the “Trump Out of KC!” Facebook page. “It is our job and our duty to unite to #ShutItDown. If you think this clown should not be President. If you think this clown’s positions on Muslims, Mexicans, women, workers and others is deplorable, then make it known and join us this Saturday!”
Protesters were asked to show up at the Midland at 3 p.m. and stay for 90 minutes or so.
“Everyone’s seen the videos. There is a threat risk here so please be aware and take the necessary precautions,” the Facebook writer said. “We plan for a counter-demonstration outside the venue, as well as doing what we can to crash the fascist-fest on the inside.”
The page directed visitors to go to Trump’s website to secure tickets for the 6 p.m. rally
City officials said they were prepared for a downtown already crowded with Big 12 basketball fans, Trump supporters and protesters — all of whom could be on edge after Chicago.
Mayor Sly James pleaded for peaceful protests.
Meantime, Trump’s Republican rivals, quickly assigned Trump at least part of the blame.
“Words have real consequences,” said Marco Rubio, who needs to beat trump in his home state of Florida on Tuesday to restore his campaign. He also wavered on his earlier vow to support any Republican nominee, even Trump.
But he also criticized the political left and said that in “Chicago, protesters are an industry.”
Ted Cruz, who also came to Kansas City on Saturday, said that responsibility “lies with protesters, who took violence into their own hands.”
“But in any campaign, responsibility starts at the top,” he continued. “When you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence … (you encourage) this sort of nasty discord.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also facing a win-or-fold primary in his home state Tuesday, said some people in Chicago “let their opposition to his views slip beyond protest into violence, but we can never let that happen. … The seeds of division Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly.”
Staff writer Ian Cummings and The Star’s wire services contributed to this report.