Trump rejects calls to temper tone at his campaign events
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Trump rejects calls to temper tone at his campaign events

Protesters seek to silence him, Republican front-runner says. ‘We can’t let it happen. We have a right to speak’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the I-X Center in Cleveland, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the I-X Center in Cleveland, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

VANDALIA, Ohio (AP) — One day after well-organized protesters led Donald Trump to cancel a campaign rally before it even started, the Republican presidential front-runner coldly rejected calls on Saturday to temper the tone of his events. He called such protesters a “disgrace” and blamed them for fueling violent confrontations at his rallies.

The intensity of the hostility Trump faces among those opposed to his candidacy was underscored Saturday morning in Ohio. Secret Service agents briefly rushed the stage to form a protective circle around Trump after a man leapt over a barricade and charged toward the billionaire businessman.

The man, later identified by authorities as Thomas Dimassimo of Fairborn, Ohio, was able to physically touch the stage before he was tackled by security officials. He was later charged with disorderly conduct and inducing panic.

Trump’s rallies in recent weeks have been marked by frequent clashes between his supporters and protesters, many of whom are young African-Americans and Latinos. Earlier this week, video footage captured a white man punching an African-American protester as police led him out of a North Carolina rally.

On Saturday, Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination harshly criticized Trump for what had been taking place at his events.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Trump had “created a toxic environment” that “has allowed his supporters and those who sometimes seek confrontation to come together in violence.” Marco Rubio accused Trump of “dividing both the party and the country so bitterly” that the Florida senator said he may not be able to support Trump if he becomes the GOP nominee.

But Trump on Saturday rejected the suggestion that he or his supporters were to blame, instead laying responsibility at the feet of protesters he panned as “a disgrace.”

“They want me to tell my people, ‘Please be nice.’ My people are nice,” Trump said.

Trump also railed against the protesters for preventing him from speaking Friday night in Chicago. The decision to cancel the event was made to prevent violence, he said.

“We cannot let our First Amendment rights be taken away from us, folks. We can’t let it happen,” he said. “We have a right to speak.”

Later Saturday, at a rally in Cleveland where protesters sporadically interrupted him, Trump predicted that the images of Chicago would only embolden his supporters.

“It just makes all of our friends and supporters more angry,” he said, and predicted a “resounding victory” on Tuesday.

The announcement that Trump would postpone the Friday night rally led a large portion of the crowd inside the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion to break out into raucous cheers. Many rushed onto the floor, jumping up and down with their arms up in the air to celebrate.

Several said afterward they had organized in advance with the intent of keeping Trump from speaking and were supporters of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. Trump said Saturday it was Sanders who should be telling his supporters to stop the interruptions.

“They’re Bernie fans!” Trump said in Cleveland. “Hey, Bernie, get your people in line, Bernie!”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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