“Listen to the crowd. There’s no violence. It’s a media fabrication,” Republican frontrunner Donald Trump told People magazine in a recent interview.
The latest “fabrication” came Tuesday in Janesville, Wisconsin, when a 15-year-old girl was assaulted at a Trump rally—the kind of event that the reality show star has previously described as a “love-fest.”
In a video posted by ABC News, the girl—who was there to protest the mogul—can be heard accusing a gray-haired man of “touching her breasts.” As the crowd taunts her, she reached out to push or hit someone off camera. Then she is maced at very close rage—as several in the crowd cheered.
“You goddamn communist n***er-lover, get the hell out of here!” a person in the crowd can be heard yelling.
On Wednesday morning, the Janesville police released a statement detailing the incident.
“A male in the crown [sic] groped the 15-year-old girl, when she pushed him away; another person in the crown [sic] sprayed her,” the statement said. “We are currently looking for two suspects, one for the sexual assault and one for the pepper spray.”
A love-fest, indeed.
The Daily Beast has kept a running tally of arrests and police reports filed in connection with Donald Trump rallies since January 2016. Thus far, we’ve found police-reported criminal activity (including assault, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and disturbing the peace) at a minimum of 12 of his rallies, resulting in 55 arrests or citations. The Beast has also found at least 12 reports filed by victims alleging they had been pushed, shoved, punched, called racial slurs, or had their signs ripped from their hands.
That means in total, police-reported crimes have occurred at one in seven of Trump’s rallies. But when you look at only the last month, the number jumps, suggesting a ramp-up in violence as Trump’s campaign gathers steam.
In March alone, police arrested someone or filed incident reports at eight of Trump’s 20 rallies, meaning one in every 2.5 recent rallies is the scene of criminal activity, usually as a result of protesters clashing with Trump supporters.
While police-reported activity is important, it hardly paints a complete picture of the violence one is likely to encounter at a Trump rally.
Even at rallies where law enforcement agencies reported no activity of note, local media documented situations that most people would consider to be unsafe.
Take a Feb. 3 event at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas. Local police and the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office reported no arrests or incidents, but someone recorded a rough removal of a protester, the video of which shows him being thrown into a tree.
At a Feb. 29 rally at Valdosta State University where no incidents were recorded by police, some 30 black students were asked to leave. One booted sophomore told Time that Trump supporters chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and said “n***er” and “go home” and “get out of here” as the students were escorted out by police.
“I was scared,” the sophomore told the reporter. “You don’t know if somebody is going to come up and hit you, throw something at you. It’s really terrifying.”
And a video taken at a March 5 rally in Orlando, Florida, shows more than 60 protesters being escorted from the event, and on their way out, being pushed, manhandled, and hit by Trump supporters. One man at the University of Central Florida arena slammed a protester to the ground.
At that rally, as Trump has at many, he made sure to warn the crowd not to hurt the protesters, but he appeared barely able to contain his glee at the violence that ensued. “It’s sort of exciting, isn’t it? Sort of exciting!” Trump said as another protester was removed. “Aren’t the Trump rallies the greatest?”
In at least one case, the violence got out of hand before Trump even arrived.
Scrums broke up in the back of the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion on March 11, where a Trump supporter wearing an “All Lives Matter” shirt yelled at protesters to “go do something” instead of interrupting the event. “You’re a cocksucker for a fascist,” a young man who identified himself as Mexican shot back.
Punches were thrown in the area of the heated exchange before the night’s proceedings were called off by a voice on the loudspeaker.
Trump later blamed violence at his rallies on the protesters, who he claims are supporters of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
But Paul Wertheimer, a crowd control specialist once called the “marshal of the mosh pit” by The Washington Post, said the power to control the crowd ultimately lies with Trump.
“This is no different than if he were a rock star on stage,” Wertheimer said. “You can whip up the mosh pit or you can calm it down. He’s holding the mic. He’s in control.”
Wertheimer said the way Trump encourages the crowd concerns him.
“In crowd management, the idea is to get individuals in a crowd to work together for the common good, but when you split the crowd up and you divide it, into a confrontational situation you have dangerous moments and a chance things will spin out of control and people will be injured,” he said.
“What is troubling to me is that Mr. Trump seems to enjoy it and seems to encourage it and to manipulate the crowd into situations that are beyond his control. If he doesn’t become more cautious, it’s going to be beyond his control to manage.
“It’s not a board of directors that he’s used to dealing with,” Wertheimer added.
While The Daily Beast did not conduct a similar investigation of police arrests and reports at Sanders’s rallies, a news search for such incidents found just one: Two topless women protesting for gender equality were arrested for indecent exposure outside a Sanders rally in Los Angeles on March 23.
Still, not everyone is worried about the mounting confrontations at Trump gatherings.
Karl W. Bickel—a retired senior policy analyst at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services who began his career trying to contain Vietnam War demonstrations in Washington, D.C.—described the violence at Trump rallies as “relatively minor.”
“Given the nature of Trump’s rhetoric, the makeup of the crowds he draws, and the media attention that has been generated... disorderly conduct and minor assaults should be expected,” Bickel said. “It is surprising that there hasn’t been more disorder than what I have seen reported thus far.”
He praised law enforcement and private security for keeping things safe in “an environment that has the potential of erupting into something very unpleasant.”
But Bickel added, “By the way, I am not a Trump fan. I believe that he is doing the process irreparable harm.”
—with additional reporting by Gideon Resnick