As protesters clashed with police on Main Street, Republican front-runner Donald Trump delivered his usual bold promises to a rapturous Kansas City crowd Saturday night.
As he spoke, police at least twice deployed pepper spray for crowd control outside the hall. Earlier, some protesters were arrested.
The chaos erupted the night after violence prompted Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago.
But the crowd inside the packed Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland responded with thunderous applause when he described the momentum of his campaign. Constant interruptions by protesters both annoyed and energized Trump.
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“We have a movement going on the likes of which has never been seen in this country,” he said.
Trump’s sometimes wandering speech paused several times when protesters rose, yelled at the stage and then found themselves shouted down by the Republican’s supporters as police walked them from the theater.
“We’ve had an interesting couple of days,” Trump said as he began speaking in Kansas City, referring to the canceled Chicago speech and a man who rushed the stage at his first stop Saturday at a Dayton, Ohio, aircraft hangar.
Soon after, he spotted some protesters in The Midland. “Get ’em out of there, get ’em out,” he said. But he said, “We don’t want to hurt the protesters.”
He said he expected disruptions, which rose regularly and from various spots in the hall.
“I told the police there might be problems,” he said. “They said, ‘Why aren’t you canceling?’ I said no, I’m not canceling.”
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said he knew of no such discussion to cancel the event.
As rowdy as his rally was inside, outside along and near Main Street, things got more fractious as the evening wore on.
Two protesters were arrested before the speech, including 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 other arrests.
One of the protesters guzzled milk to cool his throat after the spray. Asked what happened, he said “a group of police officers on horseback sprayed a bunch of people” before he dropped to the sidewalk.
Forté said police had removed masked protesters from the street and 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.”
Earlier in the day, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas appeared elsewhere in Kansas City, offering himself as the best alternative to Trump and saying his rival was to blame for recurring violence at rallies.
The Missouri primary is Tuesday.
A poll released Friday showed Trump leading the pack in Missouri with 36 percent support, 7 percentage points ahead of Cruz. Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio trailed far behind in single digits. Kasich and Rubio also could lose their home states Tuesday, essentially dooming their chances at the nomination.
Saturday’s rally drew a capacity crowd of about 3,000, and scores more who couldn’t fit into the venue. Outside the theater, long lines formed early, populated by men and women inspired by the blunt talk and bold promises of the man who made a fortune expanding a New York real estate empire.
“I’m a big fan. He’s pretty precise on what he plans to do in a way that other politicians aren’t,” said Kevan Ockerman, a carpenter and diner worker from Gardner. “Transparency is what we need more of in government right now.”
When he wasn’t being interrupted, Trump promised that the dealmaking talents honed in his prosperous business career would transform the country with more favorable trade relations abroad and a growing job market at home.
“We don’t win anymore. We don’t win in trade,” he said. “We’re going to use the smartest people. We’re going to win on trade. … They’re ripping our jobs out of this country.”
Trump’s Kansas City stop came at the most volatile point yet in an unorthodox campaign year.
At a Saturday morning appearance in Ohio, Secret Service agents briefly rushed the stage to form a protective circle around Trump after a man leaped 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 “ISIS or ISIS-related,” according to “my Internet people.”
The comment appeared to be based on a video posted on Dimassimo’s Twitter account. Hassan Hassan, the co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” said earlier Saturday that it was “utterly farcical” to make a link with the Islamic State from that video.
Trump was separated by the stage and barricades at The Midland, and no protesters got near him. But they were active outside.
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 each 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.
One of dozens of protesters emerging from the hall after being ejected was filmmaker Brian Huther of Kansas City. He had planned to get booted.
“I really wanted to get footage of me getting kicked out,” he said. “I just yelled a little bit and they were on us pretty quick.”
Trump has said protesters infringe on free speech. After all, the Chicago 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 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.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Republican rivals quickly assigned him at least part of the blame for what happened in Chicago.
“Words have real consequences,” said Rubio, who needs to win his home state of Florida on Tuesday to restore his campaign.
Cruz 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.”
Kasich, also facing a win-or-fold primary in his home state Tuesday, said, “The seeds of division Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly.”
Chicago was not the first time Trump events roiled with incidents between those who adore and those who abhor the candidate.
On Wednesday night, a Trump supporter sucker-punched a protester with an elbow to the head as the man was being escorted out of a rally in Fayetteville, N.C. That situation was made more tense because the puncher was white and the protester was black. John McGraw, 78, was questioned, arrested and charged with assault, disorderly conduct and communicating threats in connection with the incident.
Last month, referring to a protester during one of his rallies, Trump said: “In the good ol’ days, they’d have ripped him out of that seat so fast.” At a Nevada rally, as a man was taken from an event, Trump said, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.” Yet another time, he told a crowd to “knock the crap out of (a protester), would you? Seriously. OK. Just knock the hell. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees, I promise, I promise.”
Confronted about those statements in a debate Thursday night, Trump said any fault rests with those looking to disrupt his events or local police who pull demonstrators from his gatherings.
Interruptions have become so common that they fit into a part of Trump’s familiar talking points. He complains that news cameras won’t pan a venue to show the breadth of his following when he asks. But, he insists, those lenses will peer into the crowd if a protest breaks out.
“The dishonest, disgusting media,” he said at The Midland.
Saturday night, he pledged to press charges against anyone who disrupts his speeches.
“They have to explain to Mom and Dad why they have a record!” he said. The crowd hooted in appreciation.
Three other major presidential candidates were in Missouri on Saturday or were planning events in the state. Hillary Clinton was meeting with supporters in St. Louis, while Sen. Bernie Sanders was in Springfield and planned other stops.
The attention may reflect the unique nature of the state’s primary. Unlike the four other states voting that day, Missouri doesn’t have an early voting option. That means the vast majority of the state’s voters still have time to make up their minds.
The Star’s Ian Cummings and The Star’s wire services contributed to this report.