With the Trump-Russia controversy ongoing and Trump’s own daily Twitter antics distracting, it’s easy to forget that Trump rallies were once an ultraviolent spectacle. At these events, Trump would regularly draw attention to protesters while shouting, “Get ’em outta here!” In response, rally attendees or Trump’s own security would forcibly and violently eject those who protested. Multiple people who were injured at one rally — allegedly at the suggestion of Trump — have now brought a federal lawsuit to claim that he incited violence. And the case’s judge has rejected Trump’s attempt to dismiss this lawsuits because of “free speech.”
Yes, Trump is trying to use the First Amendment to defend moments such as (during one February 2016 rally in Vegas) expressing the desire to punch a protester. At that venue, the crowd went wild as Trump yearned for the “old days” when “they’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” The lawsuit in question involves a March 2016 rally in Louisville, Kentucky, where Trump used his “get him out” line while pointing at two women and men who were punched by rally attendees “at Trump’s command.” Here’s how the courtroom showdown is going for Trump:
Judge David J. Hale in Louisville ruled Friday that the suit against Trump, his campaign and three of his supporters can proceed. Hale found ample facts supporting allegations that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions, and noted that the Supreme Court has ruled out constitutional protections for speech that incites violence.
“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ’em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” the judge wrote. “It was an order, an instruction, a command.”
These incidents were not infrequent, so more lawsuits are likely on the way. During a December 2015 rally in Alabama, Trump confronted a Black Lives Matter protester and yelled, “Get him out of here!” In response, Trump supporters shoved the man to the ground while they kicked and punched him. Trump did not stop the violence, and he later praised his rally attendees while stating, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
The age of smartphones means that video evidence of these events will be available in the court room, and ironically, those tiny computers that Trump uses to rage tweet aren’t his friends now. In addition, neither he nor his lawyers appear to grasp the fact that “free speech” doesn’t protect defendants who violate the constitutional rights of others, which is what Trump did by essentially commanding physical violence against those who protested him.
Further, Trump’s campaign always characterized his campaign rallies as “private events” as a means to insulate him from future legal action. Yet since Trump is attempting to evoke his own constitutional right to free speech to dismiss lawsuits, he could be removing the “private event” shield. This issue will likely arise in future lawsuits if it hasn’t already.