A black protester who tried to disrupt Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Alabama on Saturday was involved in an altercation with several white crowd members, according to CNN. The man, a well-known local activist named Mercutio Southall Jr., was reportedly punched, kicked, and choked by an unknown number of attendees at the rally, and on Sunday Trump suggested that the protester was “obnoxious” and “should have been roughed up” as a result.
The 31-year-old Southall was apparently shouting “black lives matter” and "dump the Trump” amidst the crowd, and was wearing a BLM shirt. The Montgomery Advertiser notes that he was one of three protesters who had entered the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex about 35 minutes into Trump’s speech in an attempt to disrupt it. Southall told AL.com that the incident began when one of his fellow protesters was recording video at the event and a Trump supporter knocked the camera-phone out of his hand.
According to Southhall, “They said 'Go home, n****r,' and somebody punched me,'' adding that, "I punched back. You know don't do the turn-the-other-cheek (expletive).” From AL.com's report:
He said people encircled him, and he was being pushed and punched from every direction. Someone hit him from behind, and the next thing he knew, he was at the bottom of pile. He was kicked in the stomach, and the chest, both men and women. "I got enough people off of me that I was able to get up a little bit,'' he said. "Somebody got behind me and started trying to choke me out."
Southall also said that he and his fellow activists were also called “monkeys” by some in the crowd, though CNN was unable to confirm that any racial slurs were used in the video they recorded. The Washington Post confirms the choking account, however, reporting that a white man punched Southall and began trying to choke him. CNN also confirms that the activist was shoved and tackled by several people — all of whom were white — and also punched by at least one man and kicked by one woman while he was on the ground. Some of this can be seen in this video of the incident shot by CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond:
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Trump event staff say they had asked the protesters to stop their disruption, and two then did while the third continued to protest. An anonymous Trump staffer said that “the guy was being disruptive. He was doing the Black Lives Matter thing and saying other phrases that were really firing up the crowd around him. He was throwing his hands around almost punching.”
Trump took note of the fracas from the stage as well, ridiculing the protest and saying “get him the hell out of here,” to applause.
On Sunday, Trump was asked about the altercation while calling into Fox & Friends, and he suggested Southall got what was coming to him:
I don't know you say roughed up, he was so obnoxious and so loud, he was screaming. I had 10,000 people in the room yesterday, 10,000 people, and this guy started screaming by himself and they — I don't know, rough up, he should have been — maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. This was not handled the way Bernie Sanders handled his problem, I will tell you, but I have a lot of fans and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy, who was a troublemaker, was looking to make trouble, but I didn't get to see the event.
Secret service and police officers eventually escorted Southall out of the rally, and on the CNN video someone can be heard chanting “all lives matter” while that happens. According to the Advertiser, the anonymous Trump staff member insisted the protester’s removal was a safety issue, because “the guy was intentionally antagonizing the crowd.” Southall did not need medical attention, and no one was arrested, though three people were reportedly asked to leave the rally after the altercation. Southall, a veteran activist who has had numerous run-ins with police as a result, told AL.com that he would support a police investigation and criminal charges against his attackers.
In addition to Trump saying he wanted the protester removed from the event, he also pointed out to the crowd that he was not politically correct like Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and would not allow protesters to take over any of his campaign events — presumably referring to the protest that interrupted one of Sanders' campaign appearances in August. As CNN notes, Trump had also said at that time, “That will never happen with me. ... I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself, or if other people will.”
Saturday was not the first time Trump supporters have gotten aggressive with protesters, but in the past Trump has asked crowds not to harm hecklers at his events, for instance telling attendees at an October rally in Miami that “You can get ’em out, but don’t hurt ’em,” though in that case a protester was indeed violently removed.
There was also an incident in August when one of two men arrested for beating up a homeless Latino man in Boston cited Trump's immigration rhetoric and the candidate originally defended the men as simply “passionate,” before eventually insisting that it was a “terrible” incident and that he did not condone violence — though his remarks on Sunday seem to set a different tone.
Regarding Saturday's scuffle, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN that the campaign “does not condone this behavior.”
This post has been updated throughout to incorporate additional details regarding the story.