Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump raised eyebrows while addressing one of his fans at a Friday rally in Redding, Calif.
Trump pointed at someone in the audience and urged people to “look at my African-American over here.” The remark drew an instant reaction on social media.
Trump singled out the crowd member after talking about demonstrations that occurred after his Thursday speech in San Jose, Calif., where protesters attacked his some of supporters. He dismissed the anti-Trump demonstrators as “thugs” and contrasted their violent behavior with his supporters, who he claimed are “gentle” with opponents.
“When we have a protester inside, which isn’t even very often, I say, ‘Be very gentle. Please don’t hurt him. Take care of him. If he wants to shout, if he punches you in the face, smile as your nose is pouring blood out of it. Be very, very nice,’” Trump said.
Trump’s campaign does play announcements at events urging his supporters not to be violent with protesters. But there have been multiple incidents in which Trump’s backers got physical with demonstrators. After contrasting his audiences with the “thugs,” Trump began to recount one of the incidents where one of his “African-American” supporters “slugged” a protester.
After starting to tell the tale, Trump stopped to point out the “African-American” in the audience.
“We had a case where we had an African-American guy who was a fan of mine — great fan, great guy. In fact, I want to find out what’s going on with him. You know what? I’m — ” Trump began before stopping himself.
Trump pointed into the crowd.
“Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest? Do you know what I’m talking about? OK,” Trump said.
The remark quickly attracted attention on Twitter. Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale called it the “most memorable line” of Trump’s speech.
“Please, please tell me this did not just happen,” wrote journalist David Freedlander.
“Did he really say that?” asked former Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee.
After pointing at the audience member, Trump then continued his story. He seemed to be describing an event that occurred at one of his rallies in March in Arizona. At that event, an African-American Air Force staff sergeant named Tony Pettway was arrested and charged with assault after he was filmed punching and stomping on a protester who was being escorted out of the event. The man who was punched had accompanied another protester who was wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood.
“So, we have an African-American guy at one of the rallies a month ago and he’s sitting there behaving and we had protesters inside the arena and they were dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit,” Trump said. “And they’re running around dressed as Ku Klux Klan and the place is booing and booing. This African-American gets up and, man, he slugged these guys. He slugged them.”
Many of Trump’s critics have accused him of racism and highlighted support he has received from white supremacists including former Klan leader David Duke. Trump and his team have maintained he has strong support from African-Americans, though there is little data indicating he would perform any better with black voters than past GOP hopefuls.
Some initial reports about the March incident did not include the detail that the man who was punched was protesting with someone in Klan garb. Trump, who has repeatedly accused the media of bias against his campaign, argued the reporting around Pettway’s arrest was an example of reporters trying to smear his supporters.
“This guy, a great guy … he slugged this guy wearing the Ku Klux Klan outfit, but by the time he got up … you couldn’t see it was a Ku Klux Klan outfit. So, when the African-American cold-cocked this guy … everyone thought the African-American was against me, [but] it was the opposite,” Trump said.
Trump concluded the tale by claiming he has “tremendous African-American support.”
“The reason is, I’m going to bring jobs back to our country. We’re going to bring jobs back, but when these sleazy people, these dishonest people who never show the crowds. … When they showed that event, it made it look like the white guy was on my side,” Trump said.