US Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump yesterday blamed organised “thugs” for protests that shut down his Chicago rally and said the incident had “energised America.”
Trump, who was to be at a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, yesterday, cancelled the Chicago event on Friday after it turned chaotic, with scuffles breaking out between protesters and backers of the real estate magnate.
“The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energised America!” Trump said on Twitter.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects freedom of speech and assembly.
The Chicago rally was scheduled ahead of five primary elections on Tuesday, including contests in Ohio and Illinois.
Trump has drawn fervent support as well as criticism for his calls to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and to impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
His rallies often attract small groups of protesters, but Friday’s was the first at which there may have been as many protesters as supporters.
Asked by CNN interviewer Don Lemon if he would take back anything he had said, Trump said: “Now, getting back to before tonight, when I talked about illegal immigration, I have no regrets whatsoever.”
“If I didn’t bring up illegal immigration, it wouldn’t even be a subject of the campaign,” he added.
At the University of Illinois-Chicago stadium rally the two sides shouted at each other until a Trump staffer appeared and said the event would be put off until an unspecified date for security reasons.
Police said five people were arrested, including CBS News reporter Sopan Deb. Two officers were injured, with one requiring stitches, police said.
The cancellation followed an appearance by Trump in St. Louis on Friday during which protests forced him to halt his speech repeatedly.
In statements, Republican rival candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both called the incident “sad” and said the protesters should have let the rally happen.
Trump has a significant lead in primary contests over the three remaining Republicans vying for the White House. He is looking to cement it on Tuesday.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, also battling Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, told reporters before a campaign event in Cincinnati that Trump had “created a toxic environment.”
“And that toxic environment has allowed his supporters, and those who seek confrontation, to come together in violence.”
Throngs of protesters, many of them blacks and Latinos angered by Trump’s incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric, had massed outside and inside the venue in Chicago, mingling with the candidate’s supporters.
Pundits said the chaos at the rally was reminiscent of violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, also in Chicago, held when the US was torn apart by opposing views on the Vietnam War.
CNN estimated there were between 8,500 to 10,000 people in the arena in Chicago when tensions erupted into chaos.
“I don’t want to see anybody hurt,” Trump told CNN afterwards. “I think we made the right decision (to cancel)... even though our freedom of speech was violated.”
One sign held by a protester inside the arena said “We are not rapists,” referring to Trump’s characterization last year of Mexicans as rapists.
Police made a total of five arrests and two officers were taken to area hospitals after sustaining minor injuries, the Chicago Police Department confirmed to AFP.
Critics have accused Trump of fuelling the toxic atmosphere.
On February 1, as protesters interrupted a rally in Iowa, he encouraged supporters to “knock the crap out of them,” and pledged to pay their legal fees.
When a protester disrupted Trump’s speech in Las Vegas, the brash billionaire said he would like to “punch him in the face.”
Trump dismissed the notion that he was responsible for whipping up tensions. In a statement, Trump’s campaign said he had determined that “for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date.”
“Please go in peace,” it added.
The sudden security concerns mark a major test for Trump as he seeks to lock up the nomination and turn his attention to doing battle against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner.
Clinton was quick to strike out at Trump over the Chicago violence, releasing a statement late Friday in which she said “we all have our differences, and we know many people across the country feel angry. We need to address that anger together.”
Demonstrators stand outside the University of Illinois venue of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s scheduled rally in Chicago on Friday.