BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Donald Trump suggested Sunday the half-dozen white attendees at his campaign rally on Saturday may have reacted appropriately when they shoved, tackled, punched and kicked a black protester who disrupted his speech.
“Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Trump said Sunday morning on Fox News, less than 24 hours after his campaign said it “does not condone” the physical altercation.
Trump was not asked by the Fox News hosts about the comments made by his campaign.
The protester, 31-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Mercutio Southall, said the attendees who attacked him also called him and two fellow protestors “monkeys” and the N-word. He told CNN he was “swarmed” by attendees at the Trump event after he and the others began chanting “Dump the Trump” and “Black Lives Matter” during the Republican front-runner’s speech to several thousand supporters.
The slurs cannot be heard on the video CNN recorded of the incident, and the network was unable to independently confirm them.
Trump had warned in August after Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a Bernie Sanders campaign event that if the movement’s activists protested one of his events, they would have a fight on their hands.
“That will never happen with me,” Trump said after Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, let Black Lives Matter activists take over one of his events.
“I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will,” Trump said then.
As Southall took blows on Saturday, Trump tried to press on with his stump speech, but paused to remark at the apparent disruption and said, “Get ’em the hell out of here.”
Southall, who said his grandparents crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, compared the experience to facing a “lynch mob.”
“I got punched in the face, I got punched in the neck. I got kicked in the chest. Kicked in the stomach. Somebody stepped on my hand,” Southall said, describing his injuries in a phone call with CNN late Saturday.
Southall said the man in a blue-checkered shirt who appears to take a fighting stance in CNN’s video of the altercation also choked him while he was on the ground. Southall said the choking only stopped when he punched the man in the groin.
A woman in the video can be heard shouting, “Don’t choke him, don’t choke him, don’t choke him.”
Southall and two other activists, including Carlos Havers of the National Action Network, entered the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex with tickets to Trump’s rally after police outside the event moved their planned protest with a dozen other activists away from the entrance to the campaign event.
The plan, Southall and Havers said, was to protest the rhetoric Trump engages in on the campaign trail — rhetoric that the two believe incited the violence they faced on Saturday.
“When you have a candidate going around spewing hatred and racism, that’s to be expected,” Havers said of the physical altercation. “He was really inciting the entire thing.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN on Saturday that “the campaign does not condone this behavior.”
She declined to elaborate on Trump’s reaction to the confrontation.
It is unlikely Trump could see the confrontation unfold from his vantage point on the stage, but was reacting to the apparent presence of protesters.
Still, Southall and Havers said they hold Trump responsible for how they were treated at the campaign event.
“He does condone it because he was the one saying, ‘Yeah, get them out of here.’ He was the one telling the supporters to do what they needed to to get them out of here,” Havers said. “We want an apology from Donald Trump himself. We want him to sit down with us and explain why he did what he did and why’s he’s going around the country spewing hatred and racism.”
Southall said he intends to press charges against those who assaulted him at the event, and said the police officers who escorted him out of the event at no point asked him if he wished to do so. He also said they did not offer medical attention.
“They were too busy trying to get me the f— out of there. They weren’t trying to be nothing but just getting me the f— out of there. That was their whole concern,” Southall said of the police officers who escorted him out of the event several minutes into the altercation between Southall and the half-dozen attendees.
Birmingham Police Lt. Sean Edwards, the department’s public information officer, told CNN on Saturday that Southall did not require medical attention and did not ask to press charges.
Edwards said the department tried to contact him later Saturday at several numbers but could not reach him.
Edwards said his officers “didn’t see” the violent confrontation take place, but said Southall is welcome to file a police report and press charges.
“I would be a little cautious with Mercutio Southall,” Edwards added. “He has been an agitator from day one. Mercutio is always the agitator.”
Speaking on the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly touted his strong relationship with minorities, from Hispanics to African-Americans — noting that he is assured victory in the general election if he can win the African-American vote.
But Trump’s controversial comments about racial and religious minorities — from Hispanics to, more recently, Muslims — have strained his relationship with people of color.
Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally “criminals” and “rapists” and lately has said he would either shut down or launch surveillance operations targeting mosques, and has appeared open to establishing a database for all Muslims in the U.S.
Southall, a father to three sons, said he was disheartened by the experience and said he hoped publicity around the incident could help serve as a wake-up call in a country that he said has ignored racial divides for far too long.
“This is the ugly truth of America. It was there like literally and figuratively in black and white. We saw it. We see it daily,” Southall said. “It shows what kind of America we live in now and what kind of America it will be with Trump at the helm.”