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CHICAGO — A strong turnout of organized protesters caused Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to postpone one of his signature rallies here Friday evening.
The event at the University of Illinois at Chicago ended before the GOP frontrunner ever took the stage, but not before dozens of people were preemptively removed from the venue by security. Pockets of isolated confrontations could be seen as tensions ran high after the event was called off, though no arrests were immediately reported.
If Trump was picking a fight by picking a school known for its strong stances on civil and minority rights and large minority student population, he almost got it. The response that emerged from the crowd upon the announcement that Trump would be a no-show suggested that, for the first time at one of these events, the amount of protesters might actually outnumber supporters — despite efforts to cull dissenters from the ranks.
Yahoo News witnessed several ejections before the event was called off, including that of two white male protesters who were wearing T-shirts that read “Muslims United Against Trump” — scrawled in black marker — on the back and “Say No to Hate” on the front.
The crowd at the UIC Pavilion on Chicago’s West Side erupts in celebration on March 11, 2016, after it is announced that Donald Trump will postpone his rally here. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)
While many individuals who were removed from the venue had at least been vocal before being engaged by security, the two young men were escorted out before apparently engaging in any disruptive behavior.
The security guard who removed the two said it wasn’t up to him who got kicked out, but that maintaining the safety of all in attendance was his primary concern at the event.
“Last time I worked here, it was for an Isley Brothers concert. As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing the same job,” the unnamed guard told Yahoo News. “This is more interesting.”
Outside, Chicago police officers on horseback corralled protesters behind barricades. Several cars drove by waving huge Mexican flags as the neighborhood was energized by both protesters and supporters, who were separated by a large law enforcement presence.
Undeterred by the evening’s setback, Trump conducted several phone interviews with TV news outlets after the postponement, crediting public frustration with the U.S. economic conditions for the open defiance in Chicago — not any reflection of his campaign positions, rhetoric or the ongoing complaints of how protesters have been handled at his events.
“Our businesses are being taken away from us, our businesses are being moved out of the country,” Trump told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren. “This is a demonstration against economic conditions on both sides.”
Liberal activist organization MoveOn, which has endorsed Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, claimed some responsibility for organizing “student leaders who organized nonviolent protest against Trump’s violence & hate.”
The behavior of those in the crowd suggests the protest was carefully planned. Despite the effort of security to weed out potential unrest in advance — Yahoo News witnessed a man in a gray suit wearing a Trump pin approach a band of young and apparently Middle Eastern men and ask them if they’d like Trump signs in an effort to establish their allegiance — when the announcement of postponement was made, the arena largely went nuts.
UIC students and dozens of faculty had initially tried to get the rally canceled. When that didn’t work, protesters planned to deliberately RSVP for tickets and show up to the event, then stay quiet at first so as not to attract attention.
High school students from suburban Cicero, Ill., were among the many young protesters inside the UIC Pavilion where Donald Trump was scheduled to hold a rally March 11, 2016. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)
Trump asserted that his First Amendment rights and those of supporters who planned to attend the Chicago rally were violated, and he vowed to come back to the area.
“If we ever did it to them, it would be a national disgrace or a national story unlike you’ve ever seen,” Trump said on Fox News, in referencing his claim that Thursday’s protesters had violated his rights under the First Amendment. He lamented that many of his supporters had waited in line “all day” to participate in the event.
He did express confidence that punting on the University of Illinois rally was the right thing to do, and told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “people could have been hurt, or worse.”
“It’s a shame,” Trump supporter Bill Tail, 43, of the Chicago suburb of Oaklawn told the Associated Press. “They scream about tolerance but are being intolerant themselves. That doesn’t make sense.”
Trump’s harsh reception in the Windy City marked the end of a long day for the real estate mogul and reality television sensation. At an earlier event in St. Louis, protesters repeatedly interrupted. Nearly three dozen were charged with disturbing the peace, police said.
According to AP, Trump called St. Louis protesters weak “troublemakers,“ and told them to “go home to mommy” or “go home and get a job” because “they contribute nothing.”
“These are not good people, just so you understand,” Trump said. “These are not the people who made our country great. These are the people that are destroying our country.”
As for Trump’s pledge to return to Chicago for another rally, he may want to carefully consider the venue.
“I think he’s scared,” Kimberly Aguilar, a student at Morton East High School in nearby Cicero, told Yahoo News. Aguilar and her friends, who wore T-shirts with the word “Hitler” printed above Trump’s face with the message “say no to drumpf,” heard about the event and assumed there’d be protests.
“I think Chicago fights for what they believe in. That means standing up to Trump.”
Caitlin Dickson reported from Chicago; Everett Starling from New York.