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Saying No to Hate: Meet the Chicago Activists Who Forced Trump to Cancel Campaign Rally

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Republican front-runner Donald Trump is facing growing criticism for appearing to condone violence by supporters. Speaking on Meet the Press, Trump told Chuck Todd he has instructed his staff about paying the legal fees for a Trump supporter who punched an African-American protester in the face. On Friday, Trump canceled a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago after thousands of people staged an anti-Trump protest outside. At least five people were arrested after multiple scuffles broke out both inside and outside the rally venue. One Trump supporter was photographed giving a Nazi salute. In the wake of the protests, Trump blamed supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the unrest. On Sunday, Trump wrote a message on Twitter saying, “Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!” We speak to a student and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago involved in organizing the protest.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is facing growing criticism from across the political spectrum for appearing to condone violence committed by his supporters against protesters. Speaking on Meet the Press on Sunday, Trump said he has instructed his staff to look into paying the legal fees for a Trump supporter who punched an African-American protester in the face at a recent rally in North Carolina.

DONALD TRUMP: No, as I told you before, nothing condones. But I want to see. The man got carried away.


DONALD TRUMP: He’s 78 years old. He obviously loves this country, and maybe he doesn’t like seeing what’s happening to the country. I want to see the full tape. But I don’t condone violence.

CHUCK TODD: So you might pay for his legal fees?

DONALD TRUMP: I don’t—well, I’m going to look at it. I’m going to see, you know, what was behind this, because it was a strange event. But from what I heard, there was a—you know, there was a lot of taunting, and a certain finger was placed in the air. Not nice.


DONALD TRUMP: Again, I don’t condone the violence. I don’t condone what he did. … I’ve actually instructed my people to look into it, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump’s comment came two days after he canceled a rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago after thousands of people staged anti-Trump protests inside and outside the venue. After Trump canceled the event, scuffles broke out both inside and outside the rally venue. Five people were arrested. One Trump supporter was photographed giving a Nazi salute.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, at least 31 people were arrested Friday at a Trump rally. The cover of Saturday’s New York Daily News showed a bloodied African-American protester in St. Louis. The headline read: “Blood on Don’s Hands.” Then, on Saturday, a man in Dayton, Ohio, charged through a security barricade toward the stage where Trump was speaking.

Following the Chicago protests, the anti-Trump super PAC, Our Principles, released an ad highlighting Trump’s endorsement of violence.

NARRATOR: Donald Trump campaign violence.

DONALD TRUMP: I’d like to punch him in the face, knock the crap out of him. They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.

NARRATOR: Now Trump’s campaign manager faces criminal charges for allegedly assaulting a female reporter.

JULIANNA GOLDMAN: Today, Michelle Fields, a reporter for the conservative website Breitbart, said earlier this week Trump’s campaign manager “grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down.”

TOM LLAMAS: Fields showed us the bruise where she says Trump’s campaign manager grabbed her.

MICHELLE FIELDS: They’re not telling the truth. There’s videos. There’s pictures. There’s an eyewitness of a Washington Post reporter.

NARRATOR: Another supporter arrested for assault.

SCOTT PELLEY: A Trump supporter is under arrest tonight after punching a protester at a rally.

JULIANNA GOLDMAN: The latest in what some believe is a growing hostile atmosphere at Trump events.

JOHN McGRAW: The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.

NARRATOR: Donald Trump’s too reckless and dangerous to be president.

AMY GOODMAN: In the wake of the violent protests, Trump blamed supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the unrest. On Sunday, Trump wrote a message on Twitter saying, quote, “Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!” he tweeted. On Sunday night, Bernie Sanders appeared at a town hall forum on CNN and was asked about this weekend’s developments.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Some of you may have read, just a few hours ago, that Mr. Trump said that he is prepared to pay the legal costs of an individual who sucker-punched somebody at a recent event. He’s going to pay the legal fees of somebody who committed a terrible act of violence. What that means is that Donald Trump is literally inciting violence with his supporters. He is saying, “If you go out and beat somebody up, that’s OK. I’ll pay the legal fees.” That is an outrage, and I would hope that Mr. Trump tones it down big time and tells his supporters that violence is not acceptable in the American political process.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaking last night.

Amalia Pallares is with us, professor of political science and Latin American and Latino studies, and director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at University of Illinois at Chicago. She’s an adviser to the Fearless Undocumented Alliance, a student organization at UIC that helped organize and participate in Trump protests on Friday.

We’re also joined by Yasmeen Elagha, sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in political science and urban studies, president of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which is a student organization at UIC, one of the organizers of the anti-Trump rally on Friday.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Pallares, can you talk about what took place on Friday, the organizing beforehand and then what happened?

AMALIA PALLARES: Yes. About a week before the event, faculty, staff, students on the campus learned that a Trump rally would be held in the UIC Pavilion, which is on our campus. And at that point, there were different responses. There was immediately a Facebook page that was created, as a group of student organizers decided to move forward and have a protest. And then there was also a petition that circulated that was, I think, ultimately signed by 50,000 people, asking that the event be canceled. And within a day of that, the chancellor responded that the event would continue.

And then, the following week, a group of faculty and staff, we wrote a letter saying—you know, asking the university to please—you know, on the basis of security, to kind of potentially rethink its decision, but if it wasn’t going to rethink its decision, to make sure that our students, our community, everyone at the UIC, whether they were just working there or whether they were protesting, could be—could feel safe and could feel protected.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasmeen Elagha, talk about the student end of things, how you organized.

YASMEEN ELAGHA: So, what the students basically did was, on Friday, a group chat was created of all of the student organization leaders who wished to be a part of it. And throughout the weekend, from last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we were kind of planning, but it was really sporadic. So we decided to have a meeting. So, on Monday night, we all decided to meet. And we decided, that day, that we would have a protest inside, and we would have a protest outside. And the organizing, actually, surprisingly, went pretty smoothly. And throughout the week, we just talked to each other. We divided into smaller groups. And then, on Friday, we—

AMY GOODMAN: Yasmeen, what were you protesting?

YASMEEN ELAGHA: So, we were—I mean, as a coalition, we were protesting Donald Trump’s hateful speech and his attempts to divide the nation. But as students, we were protesting—we had small groups, and each group protested one different idea. So the group that I personally was in was protesting his stances on refugees and immigrants. Another group was protesting his hateful speech about Muslims, another group about Mexicans, another group about blacks and his—the things that he was saying about them. So—and these groups were dispersed throughout the audience, and that’s how we felt that we could get our point across and just reach kind of maximum disturbance kind of throughout his speech.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Pallares, why didn’t you want him to speak at the university at all?

AMALIA PALLARES: Well, I wasn’t necessarily part of—you know, created that petition that requested that. I did say—in the letter that we wrote, we said that we felt like there was a—that we respected free speech, but we felt that given the diversity in our campus, given our community, that we thought that issues of security and protection should be important considerations. And I still believe that when such an event happens on campus, when there’s a history of, you know, attacks that are violent and ostracizing of people of color—and the majority of our students are students of color—then I think it is a consideration for the university community if safety and protection of our students is important in whether the university should think about that when holding an event.

So, but having said that, sort of that was the main point, that—but having said that, we know our students. We know how organized they can be. We knew they were going to protest. Everyone knew they were going to protest. They announced it the first day. And so, our main concern was that things—you know, that the university police and that all the different security that were working there would make sure that our students would not be criminalized, would not be racialized, would not be ostracized, in the case if they were interrupted and taken out. This is the place where they graduate. This is the place where convocation happens. We didn’t want to become a place that students associated with hate.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s confusing about why this rally was canceled, Professor Pallares. Did Trump say that the police advised him to cancel it?

AMALIA PALLARES: He did say that. But CPD, the Chicago Police Department, and UIC police have stated—they have stated that they were never in conversations with Trump, requesting that he cancel it or recommending that he cancel it. So, Trump—and nor was the university. The university was prepared to do everything to make sure that the rally could be held and that Trump would have his freedom of speech protected, as were all the security that were involved. So, nobody recommended he cancel it. He canceled it because he decided to cancel it.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasmeen Elagha, do you feel that your purposes were served by Trump canceling this massive rally? And what—the building allowed 9,000 people. How many people would you say were protesters, and how many were Trump supporters?

YASMEEN ELAGHA: I would definitely say that we reached our goal by him having canceled the rally. His original intent was to hold the rally, and despite the enormous amount of protesters that were expected to be there and that everyone knew were going to be there, he still decided to come. But after seeing the sheer amounts that actually came out and were against his coming to the university, he decided to cancel. So I think that, for us, is a success, because we—our voices came across, and they actually reached him. And like Professor Pallares said, nobody advised him to shut down the rally or to cancel the rally. So, him deciding to do that on his own, after realizing the backlash from the city of Chicago, which was a historic moment for us as students and for the city of Chicago and for this campaign, it was a success for us.

And in terms of the numbers, I think it’s safe to say that it was probably half and half. Before the announcement of the cancellation, it seemed that there were more Trump supporters. But afterwards, we realized that a lot of people who had come were actually undercover Trump supporters—or undercover protesters, I’m sorry, who had to put up the façade of being a supporter so as to be let in, because a lot of people were being rejected. One group was wearing shirts that said “Muslims are human,” something along those lines, but they were kicked out immediately in the line. So they weren’t even let in. So a lot of people went undercover. But after the announcement of the cancellation of the event, it was obvious that there was a huge amount of protesters, and I would definitely say it was probably even.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Trump tweeted, quote, “Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!” Trump was later questioned on CNN about whether he was threatening Sanders. This was his response.

DONALD TRUMP: It’s not a threat at all. Look, my people have said, 'We ought to go to his rallies,' because, you know, it’s sort of interesting. When liberals and super liberals—and I don’t even call them liberals, because I have many friends that are liberal, and I think they’re wonderful people. These are beyond liberal. These people are bad people that are looking to do harm to our country. But when these people come into mine, you know, everybody thinks I’m a bad guy. When—if my people went into one of his rallies, they’d say, “Oh, this is a terrible thing.” They’d be arrested, and all sorts of things would happen to them. If conservative Republicans ever went into his rally, you would see things happen that would be unbelievable. And Bernie would be, “Oh, poor Bernie, isn’t that a shame?” There is a horrible—there’s a horrible thing going on in the media. We are treated so unfairly.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have Donald Trump speaking. Yasmeen Elagha, as we wrap up, do you feel like what happened on Friday night was a success?

YASMEEN ELAGHA: I definitely do think it was a success. And just before I answer that, I just want to make clear that the protesters were not there as Bernie’s people, or, you know, we weren’t sent by Bernie. We were just students who are concerned. We’re not endorsing a single candidate. I think that our—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you get a message from the Bernie campaign: get out there in force, or get out there at all?

YASMEEN ELAGHA: No, no, we—there was no communication with the Bernie campaign at all. It was just, on Friday, once the announcement hit, we came together, the students, on our own, and we decided, hey, we need to counter his hateful rhetoric. We need to make sure that he knows that this campus is a place that’s diverse, it’s a place that’s welcoming. And it united us more than it divided us. So, I just want to make clear that we were not there as Bernie’s people. Many of us may support Bernie on our own, but as a coalition we were there nonpolitically.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Amalia Pallares, what do you want students to learn from this event in the midst of one of the most polarized presidential seasons in a very long time?

AMALIA PALLARES: Well, I think that many times professors, we’re learning from our students. You know, what happened was not even something I could have imagined would have happened. But what I want to tell all students and faculty and universities, that whenever an event is held, whatever it is, in their university, that is something that is going to deeply affect their community, affect their students in negative ways, in ways that would hurt students, I think, you know, it is sort of the right of all members, all citizens of a university to ask whether that is a good idea. And so, you know, what I want to end with is, like, I can’t predict what will happen, but I think that one of the things that this event did is it gave people a sense of their own power they have to say no to hate.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to continue on Chicago and the key Illinois primary. We’re going to be joined by Chuy García, who is the man who ran against the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, for mayor. Right now Rahm Emanuel is, interestingly, at the center of presidential politics. He has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders says even if he, Bernie Sanders, got the presidential nod from the Democratic Party, he doesn’t want Rahm Emanuel’s support. We’re also going to talk about another race in Chicago that is certainly getting people out in the streets. Stay with us.

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