(CN) – Republican front-runner Donald Trump said Saturday morning organized “thugs” violated his First Amendment right to free speech by causing the cancellation of a campaign rally the night before in Chicago.
In a post on his verified Twitter account, Trump dismissed the thousands who turned out to protest his appearance ahead of the Illinois primary, saying “The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!”
At a rally in Vandalia, Ohio, Saturday morning, Trump continued the vitriol, blaming President Barack Obama for the fracas in Chicago.
“Our president has done so much to divide his nation,” Trump said. “I call him the great divider.”
At a later event, in Dayton, Ohio, Trump said protestors in Chicago had carried out “a planned attack” that was “professionally done.”
During the same event, a man tried to rush the stage to get to Trump, but he was quickly apprehended by Secret Service officers. Trump was unhurt.
Chicago authorities estimated that as many as 4,000 of the 8,000-plus who turned up at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion, and later spilled into the streets of the city, were intent on making sure the rally either never happened or went on accompanied by a loud voice of dissent.
As tensions escalated and conflicting factions shouted “Trump, Trump” and “Bernie, Bernie,” the latter evoking the name of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic candidate for president, an announcement was made that Trump, upon arriving in Chicago, met with law enforcement officials and that due to large number of protesters and the potential for violence, the rally could not go on.
As security personnel inside slowly emptied the hall, the Trump campaign released a statement that was played over the loudspeakers.
It said: “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 statement concluded: “Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace.”
However, late Friday night acting Chicago Police Supt. John Escalante said his department had not been consulted and did not recommend Trump cancel the event.
“We assured the Trump campaign that we had more than adequate resources [at the event]” said Escalante, who went on to say that 200 officers had been assigned to work outside the venue long before the rally got out of hand.
The campaign responded with a written statement that said Commander George Devereux of the Chicago Police Department “was informed of everything before it happened. Likewise, Secret Service and private security firms were consulted and totally involved.”
Outside the pavilion, hundreds chanted “Hey, hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and “We shut Trump down.”
Trump supporters responded with an angry chorus of “Build the wall,” a reference to the candidate’s pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to stem the tide of illegal immigration, but the Chicago police quickly separated the two groups and maintained order.
Speaking from his home state of Florida, which will hold another of Tuesday’s critical primaries and where he is in a pitched, do-or-die electoral battle with Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio said of the scene in Chicago, “We are entering a kind of disturbing moment in our political discourse … that I believe has very significant repercussions, not just for this election, but for the future of this country.”
“I mean, we are being ripped apart at the seams as a nation and as a people right now,” Rubio said.
He went on to predict that if Trump is the Republican party’s presidential nominee “it will shatter the party … and shatter the conservative movement.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called the clash between Trump supporters and the protestors a “predictable consequence” of Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
Speaking to reporters outside a dinner for Illinois Republicans, he added, “I think the campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment.”
“When the candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence, to punch people in the face, the predictable consequence of that is that it escalates,” Cruz said. “And today is unlikely to be the last such instance,” he said.Ohio Gov. John Kasich also weighed in with a statement that said in part, “The seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly.”
Hillary Clinton released a statement Saturday morning saying “the divisive rhetoric we are seeing should be a grave concern to us all.”
“We all have our differences, and we know many people across the country feel angry. We need to address that anger together,” Clinton said.
” …violence has no place in our politics, we should use our words and deeds to bring Americans together,” she added before evoking the aftermath of the murder of nine in a Charleston, S.C. last year.
“In Charleston … an evil man walked into a church and murdered 9 people. The families of those victims came together and melted hearts in the statehouse and the confederate flag came down. That should be the model we strive for to overcome painful divisions in our country,” she said.
Sanders, whose name was evoked by some of the protestors, did not immediately comment on the chaos in downtown Chicago.
Speaking in a high school gym in suburban Summit, Ill., the Vermont senator clearly had the billionaire real estate developer on his mind.
“We’re not going to let Donald Trump or anyone else divide us,” he said.
Following a meeting in Chicago with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sanders stepped up his criticism of Trump.
“Donald Trump was at the forefront of the so-called ‘birther’ movement, the intent of which was to delegitimize President Barack Obama for no other reason than that his is black.” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org responded to what transpired in Chicago Friday night with a statement that said, “Mr. Trump and the Republican leaders who support him and his hate-filled rhetoric should be on notice after tonight’s events.
“These protests are a direct result of the violence that has occurred at Trump rallies and that has been encouraged by Trump himself from the stage,” Sheyman continued. “Our country is better than the shameful, dangerous, and bigoted rhetoric that has been the hallmark of the Trump campaign. To all of those who took to the streets of Chicago, we say thank you for standing up and saying enough is enough. To Donald Trump, and the GOP, we say, welcome to the general election. Trump and those who peddle hate and incite violence have no place in our politics and most certainly do not belong in the White House.”
At a news conference, Chicago Police said five people had been arrested, and that two police officers suffered non life-threatening injuries. One of those officers was reportedly struck in the head with a bottle.
– Developing story.
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