Donald Trump’s campaign canceled a planned Chicago rally on Friday night after chaos and clashes between protesters and attendees overtook the event.
“Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago and after meeting with law enforcement has 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,” the Republican’s campaign said in a statement. “Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace.”
The explosive scene at the University of Illinois in Chicago was broadcast live across cable networks and come amid escalating confrontations between protesters and attendees at Trump rallies this week. According to Bloomberg News, more than 10,000 people had signed up on a Facebook page to protest Trump in Chicago by Thursday evening.
Indeed, throngs of protesters had filled the arena, some wearing Black Lives Matter shirts and others chanting support for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, according to reporters on the scene. Trump supporters chanted back “USA! USA! USA!”
Trump called into MSNBC after the rally was canceled, saying his campaign made the right decision and he “just didn’t want to see people hurt.”
“Chicago was the home to some very bad rallies, I think we made a wise decision,” he continued, alluding to long simmering racial tensions in the Windy City and protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention in the city.
On Fox News, Trump denied some of his incendiary language had caused the clashes and were instead about economic conditions and worries.
“I don’t think so,” he argued. “I represent a lot of people who have great anger.”
Illinois holds their primary on Tuesday, and Trump said he thought the skirmishes on Friday night and the canceled rally could actually help him.
“A lot of people say this is a positive in terms of votes,” he said.
And continuing his round of interviews on CNN, Trump was asked whether his tone has contributed to these scenes at his rallies. In the past, Trump has said at his rallies that he would like to punch protesters in the face and “knock the crap out of” them.
“I don’t take responsibility. No one has been hurt,” Trump argued, later adding that, “I certainly don’t incite violence or condone violence.”
The confrontations were just the latest eruptions of violence at Trump events. A Saint Louis, Mo., rally earlier Friday was interrupted multiple times by protesters, and more than 30 people were arrested. Earlier this week a protester was punched in the face by an attendee at a rally in North Carolina.
Additionally, reporter Michelle Fields of the conservative news site Breitbart has alleged she was assaulted at a Trump press conference by someone who was ID’d by a Washington Post reporter as Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Trump’s GOP rivals condemned the scene that had unfolded in Chicago.
“America is better than this. We don’t have to tear each other apart,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. “When you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the president should bear some responsibility for the increasingly hostile tensions in the country.
“We are being ripped apart as a nation,” he told Fox News’s Megyn Kelly. “The president bears some responsibility for some of his rhetoric. People are angry.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign said in a statement, “The seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly.” He urged people to rise above the violence, adding, “We are stronger together, we will reject those who try to divide us for personal gain and we will do it the right way — at the ballot box.”
President Obama had commented on the increasing tension at Trump rallies while speaking in Austin, Texas, earlier on Friday, alluding back to the so-called “birther” movement Trump previously stoked.
“We’re shocked someone is fanning anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim sentiment! … We’re shocked! We’re shocked that someone could be loose with the facts. Or distort someone’s record. Shocked!” he said. “How could you be shocked? This was the guy who was sure I was born in Kenya. And wasn’t letting go … As long as it was being directed at me they were fine with it. It was a hoot … and suddenly they’re shocked!”